Review: ‘Four and Twenty Black Birds’ by Godfrey Joseph Pereira

‘Four and Twenty Black Birds’ is a historical fiction by author Godfrey Joseph Pereira, chronicling the life and adventures of a Charlie Strongbow – an Englishman who refused to leave India when it won independence from the British. Charlie had never been the England, India was all he knew as home. Along with his colleagues from Victoria Docks, who had their own reasons to stay back in India, they did what they do best – crime.

Cross Island – with its myths and legends including but not limited to it being cursed, having hidden gold and being a place of child sacrifices – occupied a strategic location in the Bombay harbor. Ships would have to pass by it to enter any of the docks in Bombay. Recruiting a group of twenty desperate Englishmen, Charlie and his colleagues took over it.

What follows is the story of how they set up and expanded their smuggling empire. The high and wealthy of Bombay had a taste for foreign goods, but not so much for the import duties. As profits rolled in, so did some unwanted attention. Charlie took care of the nosy detective, for good, he thought. But he forgot that a man who has nothing more to lose can be quite dangerous.

Inspired from true events, the novel combines three things I love: crime (I like to read and write about it, don’t judge), history, and Mumbai. I am also a great sucker for crime stories that are influenced by the socio-political scenario of the time and the author does a great job of weaving the narrative with the historical events of the time.

Apart from the gripping plot, what truly drives the story are the characters. Their troubled pasts, their uncertain future, and the decisions they make with the cards life has dealt them.

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