The Tree Bears Witness by Sharath Komarraju is the second installment of ‘A Birbal Mystery’ series. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the first installment ‘The Crows of Agra’ and was eagerly waiting for this second book. So, was this book worth waiting? Did I like this book? The answer is yes. It is an excellent detective novel and, in fact, much better than the first one (which was damn good itself). There is an intricate plotting. There are multiple characters any of whom might have been responsible for the murder. While the ending is not the one that will take the wind out of readers’ sail in the end, it is a satisfactory ending. And, most importantly, there are good enough reasons to read the book all the way to the final pages. A good murder mystery should be able to keep a reader hooked till the last page and this is what this book offers. You will not get bored and keep reading till the end.
The story is set in the time of Mughal emperor Akbar. After marrying Rajput princess Jodha, Akbar brings her and some of her relatives to his palace in Agra. One of these relatives is Sujjamal, Jodha’s brother. In some mysterious circumstances, Sujjamal gets killed in the gardens of the Mughal court. The needle of suspicion moves to a number of people, any one of whom could have killed Sujjamal. In other words, a number of people had a motive to kill him. To solve this mystery, Akbar turns to his most intelligent and trustworthy advisor Birbal. Now, it is up to Birbal to sort this mystery out and find the truth. On top of that, he has to solve this mystery within a short period of a couple of days. Birbal’s investigation of the case forms rest of the story.
Characters of this book have been sketched really well as the author has taken good care in developing them. While the author is not pitch perfect in his representation of the Mughal period, he meticulously brought to life the daily routines and traditions of Mughal palace life. At the same time, some vivid description of the Mughal court could have enhanced the quality of the book. The story is fast-paced and the writing flows freely throughout the book. This is not a complex murder mystery and there are no unnecessary twists. This shows that a good murder mystery can be written even without a complex plot. It is a stand-alone book and it is not necessary to read the first book to enjoy this one. However, I would still recommend reading the first book.
The novel is entertaining and has all the elements needed for writing a historical detective fiction. The book is informative, mesmerizing, vivid in detail and thoroughly enjoyable. You will savour this book even long after you have read it as the characters of this book deeply connect with you. So to sum up, this is an excellent second book of a detective series and assures that that the coming books of this series will definitely have a place among my books-to-read.