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The Strangler Vine

(Avery & Blake #1)

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  4,394 ratings  ·  771 reviews
Calcutta 1837. The East India Company rules India - or most of it; and its most notorious and celebrated son, Xavier Mountstuart, has gone missing.

William Avery, a down-at-heel junior officer in the Company's army, is sent to find him, in the unlikely company of the enigmatic and uncouth Jeremiah Blake. A more mismatched duo couldn't be imagined, but they must bury their d
Hardcover, 369 pages
Published January 30th 2014 by Penguin Books UK
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Average rating 3.79  · 
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Start your review of The Strangler Vine (The Blake and Avery Mystery Series, #1)
The Strangler Vine features two East India Company officers - Avery and Blake - on a mission to find a prominent, missing European author, Mountstuart, in India in 1837. More than that, it features India, over a 5-month period, twenty years prior to India's First War of Independence (or the Great Rebellion), which ultimately led to the dissolution of the East India Company. I enjoyed The Strangler Vine tremendously, but it's not for everyone.

First, if you're reading it for the mystery, you migh
Bonnie Shores
Jun 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
The story started off kind of slowly and, to be honest, if it wasn't for the fact that it was set in India in the early 1800s, I might have put it down. But I have an unquenchable fascination with India and Carter's depiction of life during that period was engrossing. What also kept me "reading" was that I was actually listening to this book on Audible and the narrator's voice was mesmerizing. I will defnitely listen to something else--anything else--he has done. ;)


What turned out to be great ab
Dec 05, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical, mystery
I didn’t enjoy this as much as I thought I would. It sounded exciting. A young, naive East India Company officer (Avery) sent off cross country with an old India hand called Jem Blake to track down a missing author in 1837. Sounds like lots of adventure with spies, ambushes, a violent clan of natives called the Thugs who rob and murder travellers (who actually existed). Unfortunately much of it was quite boring, with not much happening for about two thirds of the book, except for a lot of histor ...more
Aug 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This atmospheric and evocative mystery is set in the early days of the Raj. It is 1837 and William Avery is a young Ensign in the East India Company, kicking his heels in Calcutta with a mounting sense of frustration at not being summoned to his cavalry regiment in north Bengal, while he gets overlooked and in more and more debt. One day he is asked to deliver a letter to Jeremiah Blake, who has ‘gone native’ and is surly and surprisingly unimpressed by the summons by the Company which Avery is ...more
Jan 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio
I listened to the audio version of this book. The narrator did an excellent job of portraying the various characters. The story was very atmospheric, with fascinating descriptions of India during its occupation by the English. It showed the racist and disdainful treatment of the Indians by the English. It's awful to realize that the deceitful behavior of the English at the heart of this book was all true, as described in the epilogue. The only part of the book that I would have left out is the t ...more
Jul 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
It was probably a mistake to read this one on the hottest days of the year -- 90 degrees and super muggy! Even so, this one I couldn't put down; I had to see how it progressed. 1837, the Raj in India -- twenty years before the Sepoy Mutiny. A duo, former Army officer, Jeremiah Blake, who has spent years in India soaking up the culture and languages and is a master of disguises, along with a young "griffin" [inexperienced] Army lieutenant, William Avery, are tasked by the East India Co. to search ...more
Jul 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book entrenched me in India. And I read it within a 3 day period- could hardly put it down. Not that it was easy to slip into, don't get me wrong. It started slow and rather confusing at the same time. Doubled by the fact that one of the two characters I know I got "straight" was "gone" before the plot had even begun to unwind.

It was a good story, had excellent characterizations overall and was nearly a 5 star in prose flow. This has never been one of my favorite places to read about, and e
Dec 16, 2013 rated it it was ok
I deliberated for quite a long while over this review and rating. Carter has done a lot of research and I like what she aimed to do with this novel. I just don't like her execution. A well researched and interesting historical relook in on The East India Trade Company is marred by an oddly distancing first person narration that slows down the pace of the book and bogs down the middle. To add to the pacing problem, there is so much detail but very little plot progression until the end. I wanted t ...more
Jun 26, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery-thriller, e
An interesting premise/plot - the unlikely pairing of a young and very naive British soldier with an enigmatic, older special agent to track and find a popular author in the hinterlands of 1837 India.

Said author - the idol of the youngster and friend of our grizzled veteran - is either in trouble or causing trouble, depending on whom our dynamic duo questions in their endeavor to find him.

Unfortunately this adventure tale quickly bogs down with too much descriptive detail - within a couple of ch
Jul 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
This novel had a slow start, but after the first few chapters the plot really picked up in pace. I enjoyed the balance of action, mystery, and history, and loved that the plot was unpredictable. I love reading about this time in British/Indian history, it has always fascinated me, and it was great to read a book that makes this period seem exciting. The characters were moderately well developed, but the plot is what really made me enjoy the book. I would recommend this novel to anyone interested ...more
In short: Calcutta, 1837. Two very different East India Company officers are given a dangerous quest: to track down Xavier Mountstuart, the elusive, disgraced author. A fairly rip-roaring Victorian adventure story.

Carter’s first novel opens in September 1837. The voice is that of William Avery, a young East India Company recruit from Devon, England. In between longing for his countryside home and deploring the heat and the seeming barbarity of Indian customs (“any honest Christian would want to
Nov 14, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Indebted Ensigns, renegade Company men, Thuggees, Rajas
You can't get away with being Rudyard Kipling anymore. Novels set in 19th century India can present British characters as protagonists, but if they're uncritically accepting of British rule and treating the Indians as heathen savages, there are probably going to be some words for the author about "colonialism" and "cultural appropriation," etc. I give M.J. Carter credit for willing to even go there at all, let alone write a novel centered around that most sensationalist and misunderstood Indian ...more
Nov 07, 2018 rated it liked it
I have an interest in The British Raj and The Great Game , as well as thrillers. This novel is a Victorian historical, conspiracy thriller, set in the British Raj. It was entertaining, but I thought the author was better at producing atmosphere than a compelling conspiracy.

Prose was good. Descriptive prose was better than dialog. The author goes to some length to use Victorian period vernacular. The protagonist is a member of the English gentry. Having a familiarity with Wilkie Collins and H. R
Blaine DeSantis
May 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book has been sitting in my Kindle for over a year, but during a time that I am reading two other and longer books I wanted to read something different on the device. The cover was attractive, and the writeup sounded good and so I decided to give this detective novel a try. I really loved it. I am unsure as to why I have become attracted to books either by British authors, or set in Britain or in India - it could be that our cousin is engaged to a wonderful Indian gentleman who I greatly re ...more
Dec 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter is a deeply atmospheric historical thriller set in early nineteenth century colonial India.
While trying to reveal the society in Calcutta, author Xavier Mountstuart disappears and an rather unlikely pair, both working for the East Indian Company, is set off to find him. Ensign William Avery keeps being passed over, and is growing impatient to join up with his regiment when he is to find Jeremiah Blake, a political agent who has also grown frustrated, but unlike
The author has created a very interesting picture of the East India Company and British Imperialism in India in the 1800s. I enjoyed the many details about the period and the politics of India at the time. The prologue was well written and frightening and made me want to find out what happened in this story.

Unfortunately the characters and the mystery that tie the story together weren't as well developed or captivating. The main protagonist is very naïve, so naïve he seems almost a puppy without
Craig Monson
Feb 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a book that I liked much more in the reading (*****) than in the reviewing (***). It’s a historical novel of British colonial India, long on historical detail—its strength—which should appeal to readers who enjoy “thick” description. But it will likely try the patience of those in search of unencumbered, action packed, high adventure. Readers old enough to remember PBS’s “Jewel and the Crown” or the more recent “Indian Summers” should enjoy it, but more for the social-political-historica ...more
Feb 05, 2018 rated it did not like it
This one didn't end up being what I was expecting. I thought it would be more mystery and it was more historical fiction. Not a bad thing, but I just couldn't get into the highly detailed description of the settings. More character development, please.
May 18, 2019 rated it it was ok
Good descriptive writing about India, but the plot moves at a very slow pace. I skimmed alot of chapters after the half way mark. The "mystery" wasn't that interesting, either. Disappointing.
Mar 25, 2017 rated it liked it
After it got going this was a great tale of the British in India. Full of fairly bloody violence and with lots of commentary on the appalling attitudes of the time towards the Indian people. It is the first of the Avery and Blake mysteries so it spends quite a lot of time setting up the relationship between the two men. They start by being very antagonistic towards each other, I couldn't see how they were ever going to end up having a series written about the pair of them working together, given ...more
Any book that has me counting how many pages remain in the same way I might count how many shirts are still to be ironed, can't really get more than 1 or 2 stars. I will give this 3 because the afterword confirms that many of the characters in the book and associated events are historically factual. Sadly, for me, this seemed more like a comic strip adventure that had gone on far too long than an eye-opening account of colonialism and power in India.
Melissa McShane
India of 1837 is richly realized in this debut mystery (the author's previous books were nonfiction) whose two main characters, William Avery and Jeremiah Blake, are as mismatched a duo as ever graced the pages of a historical novel. The characterization is good, and Carter demonstrates an appreciation for 19th century India that kept me reading. However, the story takes a couple of obvious turns (view spoiler) and in ...more
Jason Parent
Sep 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is a perfect work of historical fiction as well as being a perfect thriller/suspense novel. Although I obviously wasn’t around during the times of the East India Company and The heyday of the British empire, this book seems to capture the ideologies and overt and innate prejudices of the British without over-voicing condemnation in the narrative - rather giving it a journalistic, “just the facts” as ugly as they were description. Of course, different views are played out through the ch ...more
Sep 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
A fascinating murder mystery full of murder, violence, human degradation, conspiracy, loyalty and friendship, set in 1837 India colonized by East India Company. Not only was the mystery and style of narration captivating but the detailed description of India during that era brought history to life. Having grown up with stories of Thugee culture, it was very interesting to read about the conspiracies that was deliberately nurtured about this creed of deadly assassins.
☼Book her,   Danno☼
Ugh, cannot remember who recommended this book to me but I thank them. It was a solidly good read.

I loved the setting, which is British controlled India, and I enjoyed the machinations and character studies. The word-smithing was excellent.

If you are looking for an intelligent and charming read, definitely consider THE STRANGLER VINE.

~Book #6 for 2016
Melanie (Mel's Bookland Adventures)
3.5 stars. I enjoyed this more than I thought. A thriller (more mystery) set in 1830ies India. I loved the critical view of colonialism, the East India company and more. It is a light read, nothing too taxing, yet I feel that within it's genre this is a pearl. It was a perfect easy, pleasant read after some hard hitting novels.
May 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
A gripping historical adventure set in 1837 India under the rule of the East India Company. Full of intrigue and engaging characters. I highly recommend this author's first foray into fiction. I look forward to her future fictional exploits.
Barbara Heckendorn
Jan 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
What a great start to a new series. William Avery is young and not long in Calcutta. He works for the East India Company and is homesick for England. He is very well read and loves the books of Xavier Mountstuart. He spends the evenings in the casino, playing and drinking too much and is therefore heavily in debt. Then he gets an assignment together with Jeremiah Blake to find the lost Mountstuart. What he does not know yet is that he and Blake should be pawn victims for the Company. Blake is a ...more
Mar 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
I have rarely been transported to a place like I was when reading this novel.

I had bought this book on a whim (that cover!) but then came here and looked at the ho-hum reviews. SO I ended up putting it off for almost a year, expecting me and the first person narration to not get along. And while it did take a few chapters to get used to, I ended up connecting with this book because of how much I liked Avery. His motivations are very easy to understand. He's sweet and stubborn and just wants to d
Renita D'Silva
Dec 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Oh I absolutely LOVED this book! A masterpiece. Brings 1830s India with all its intrigue and charm and horrors alive for the reader. Blake and Avery are a wonderful duo, so different and yet so perfect. LOVED this book!
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M J Carter, biographer, historian and thriller writer, was educated at St. Paul's Girls' School and Exeter College, Oxford. She worked as a publisher and journalist before beginning research on her biography of Anthony Blunt in 1994. She lives in London with her husband and two sons. Anthony Blunt: His lives (2001), her first book, won the Royal Society of Literature Award and the Orwell Prize, an ...more

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Avery & Blake (3 books)
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