A charming and atmospheric debut mystery featuring a 25-year-old Indian police sergeant investigating a missing persons case in colonial Fiji
1914, Fiji: Akal Singh, 25, would rather be anywhere but this tropical paradise—or, as he calls it, “this godforsaken island.” After a promising start to his police career in Hong Kong, Akal has been sent to Fiji as punishment for a humiliating professional mistake. Lonely and grumpy, Akal plods through his work and dreams of getting back to Hong Kong or his native India.
When an indentured Indian woman goes missing from a sugarcane plantation and Fiji’s newspapers scream “kidnapping,” the inspector-general reluctantly assigns Akal the case. Akal, eager to achieve redemption, agrees—but soon finds himself far more invested than he could have expected.
Now not only is he investigating a disappearance, but also confronting the brutal realities of the indentured workers’ existence and the racism of the British colonizers in Fiji—along with his own thorny notions of personhood and caste. Early interrogations of the white plantation owners, Indian indentured laborers, and native Fijians yield only one conclusion: there is far more to this case than meets the eye.
Nilima Rao’s sparkling debut mystery offers an unflinching look at the evils of colonialism, even as it brims with wit, vibrant characters, and fascinating historical detail.
About the Author
Nilima Rao is a Fijian Indian Australian who has always referred to herself as "culturally confused." She has since learned that we are all confused in some way and has been published on the topic by Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service as part of the SBS Emerging Writers Competition and now feels better about the whole thing. When she isn't writing, Nilima can be found wrangling data (the dreaded day job) or wandering around Melbourne laneways in search of the next new wine bar. A Disappearance in Fiji is her first novel, and she is currently working on the second in the series.
Praise for A Disappearance in Fiji Library Journal Best Crime Fiction of 2023 An Amazon Best Debut of 2023 An Amazon Best Mystery of 2023 So Far A Book Riot Best Mystery of 2023 So Far A Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine Best Debut Mystery of 2023 An Amazon Editors’ Choice - Best Mystery, Thriller, and Suspense An Apple Books Debut Pick for June A Historical Novels Review Editors’ Choice
“Akal finds himself learning about the harrowing effects of colonialism, indentured servitude and caste. Rao expertly juggles the weighty themes and, in Akal, has the makings of a memorable series detective.” —Sarah Weinman, The New York Times Book Review
“Alive with well-drawn characters and deftly plotted with a number of twists.” —The Washington Post
“Combining a tightly plotted mystery with a thoughtful critique of colonialism, A Disappearance in Fiji establishes debut author Rao as a writer to watch.” —Parade
“We were completely spellbound and charmed by this debut . . . Eye-opening depictions of colonial racism and the harshly enforced caste system are leavened by warm wit and humor—especially in the character of Akal—and rich historical detail. More, please.” —Amazon Book Review
“A magnetic and atmospheric mystery debut set against the backdrop of 1914 Fiji. Rao expertly layers themes of classism and racism with an immersive storyline of kidnappings and colonialism.” —Ms. Magazine
“A Disappearance in Fiji is a page turner, an impressive debut novel.” —India Today
“For fans of historical mysteries, especially with settings rarely depicted!” —Book Riot
“Rao delivers a tightly wound mystery that surprises until its stunning conclusion, spearheaded by an endearing protagonist who will delight readers. A Disappearance in Fiji is a gem of a debut novel and the start of an exciting new series not to be missed.” —BookBrowse
“With Rao’s deeply researched plotting and characterization, the novel immerses readers in a rarely explored era. Occupied Fiji is filled with colonial torments, petty striving, and lovely, if afflicted, physical atmospheres . . . While Singh is slowly changed by the dreadful realities he discovers, so, too, is the reader.” —Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine
“A Disappearance in Fiji is an easy, warm read that quickly establishes a charm and a hint of starchy humor to this far-away island . . . A story rich with place, culture, pathos and profound suspense.” —Murder Ink, The Durango Telegraph
“Recommended for fans of Sujata Massey’s Perveen Mistry and Vaseem Khan’s Malabar House series” —Mystery & Suspense Magazine
“Rao’s take on early twentieth century Fiji is pretty singular—there isn’t a lot of fiction that probes the history of Pacific islands, and fewer that are mysteries . . . The strong sense of historical place and a well-clued mystery makes for a promising debut.” —Madison Public Library
“A slow-boil, effective whodunit that exposes exploitative colonial practices.” —The Christian Science Monitor
“A pitch-perfect debut.” —The Lakshmi and Asha Show
“This is an utterly charming novel. The setting is exotic and the characters are intriguing. Nilima Rao is an author well worth discovering.” —Alexander McCall Smith, bestselling author of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series
“Meet Sergeant Akal Singh, the complex and charming hero of a thoroughly original mystery set in 1914 Fiji. Fans of Golden Age mysteries will relish this debut novel by a compelling new talent, Nilima Rao. More, please!” —Sujata Massey, Agatha Award–winning author of The Widows of Malabar Hill
“A poignant and entertaining read . . . Sergeant Akal Singh is a charmingly imperfect and captivating protagonist. I love Akal and hope we’ll be seeing a lot more of him!” —Ovidia Yu, author of the Aunty Lee Singaporean Mysteries
“A marvelous debut that beautifully paints life in a part of the world that few of us have a chance to visit. The highlight of Nilima Rao’s well-crafted novel set in Fiji in the days of British colonial rule is the collision of cultures and class and how one man is charged with the task of unlocking the mysteries they create. A pleasure to read.” —Colin Cotterill, author of the Dr. Siri Paiboun Mysteries
“A gripping, authentic and brilliantly told mystery story that brings to life colonial era Fiji with a wealth of intriguing characters and underlying tensions. I have found a new favorite mystery series!” —A.M. Stuart, author of the Harriet Gordon Mysteries “Along with a well-wrought mystery and a vivid historical setting, [Rao] has created a protagonist who is just enough of an outsider to be an informative guide, easing our introduction to a dark history with the gentle humor and generous spirit reminiscent of Colin Cotterill's Dr. Siri series.” —Reviewing the Evidence
“A vivid read . . .The novel focuses on some wide societal issues―white colonialism, systemic racism, indentured servitude, and corporate greed―in the context of an excellent story . . . [Akal is] an endearing and iconic hero.” —Historical Novels Review
“[A Disappearance in Fiji] joins the likes of Qiu Xiaolong and Alexander McCall Smith, authors who write as much about place as they are about the crimes at hand.” —Asian Review of Books
“A vivid snapshot of a landscape and a time period. With Akal, Taviti, and Holmes, Rao has created a cast that grabbed my attention and makes me want to know more about them, to follow along as they solve more mysteries.” —Kittling Books
“It’s rare to find a crime novel set in Fiji, particularly a historical one, and Nilima Rao does a great job of establishing the period and introducing the distasteful practice of indentured servitude in a way that adds to the story rather than detracts from it. She has clearly done a great deal of research into the practice, its beneficiaries, and its victims, but that research is woven organically into the story so that readers learn through Singh’s eyes as his investigation progresses.” —Crime Fiction Lover
“An absorbing mystery . . . An insightful, determined main character, the unearthing of the wrongs of indentured servitude, and a compelling plot make this a promising start to a new series. Fans of Harini Nagendra's The Bangalore Detectives Club (2022), also about the wrongs inflicted under British colonialism, should love this mystery.” —Booklist, Starred Review
“Rao skillfully weaves descriptions of the treatment and living conditions of Indian workers into the propulsive plot and draws a host of vibrant characters. This is an exceptionally promising debut.” —Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“The Punjabi Sikh Akal Singh and the mystery of colonial Fiji will appeal to fans of Abir Mukherjee’s mysteries set in India.” —Library Journal, Starred Review
“[A] debut with a relatable heart. A complex and engaging mystery given even greater weight by its important historical backdrop.” —Kirkus Reviews