Guest Harini Nagendra

News Flash: Barbara Kay is Harini’s lucky winner. Barbara, congratulations, and please check your email.

Edith writing from north of Boston on the last day of March.

I’m so pleased to host Harini Nagendra today. She made big waves (and award noms) with her debut mystery, last year’s historical The Bangalore Detectives Club. Read what Sarah Weinman wrote in the New York Times: “This is a treat for historical mystery lovers looking for a new series to savor (or devour).”

The buzz is already up for book two, Murder Under a Red Moon, which released this week!

Here’s the blurb: When new bride Kaveri Murthy reluctantly agrees to investigate a minor crime to please her domineering mother-in-law—during the blood moon eclipse, no less—she doesn’t expect, once again, to stumble upon a murder.

With anti-British sentiment on the rise, a charismatic religious leader growing in influence, and the fight for women’s suffrage gaining steam, Bangalore is turning out to be a far more dangerous and treacherous place than Kaveri ever imagined—and everyone’s motives are suspect. Together with the Bangalore Detectives Club—a mixed bag of street urchins, nosy neighbours, an ex-prostitute, and a policeman’s wife— Kaveri once again sleuths in her sari and hunts for clues in her beloved 1920s Ford.

But when her life is suddenly put in danger, Kaveri realizes that she might be getting uncomfortably close to the truth. So she must now draw on her wits and find the killer . . . before they find her.

How intriguing is that? I was also delighted to hear that my son John and Harini – wearing her day-job hat – work on related ecological issues. Harini will send a copy of of Under a Red Moon to one lucky US commenter!

Writing about Gardens and Ecology in Crime Fiction

Agatha Christie worked as a pharmacist’s assistant in World War I. Drawing on her experience, she wrote a number of mysteries where poison was the murder weapon of choice, including a number of toxic chemicals extracted from innocuous-looking garden plants. Edith Pargeter, writing under the name of Ellis Peters, had her famous amateur sleuth Brother Cadfael, the 12th century Welsh monk, manage a herbarium used to prepare potions – some that could be misused to harm, while others were used to heal. Pargeter also worked as an apothecary’s assistant, but perhaps – like Christie – she was also a keen gardener. Her love for plants is evident in the detailed descriptions of the lush plant garden that Brother Cadfael and his fellow monks so carefully tend, just like many of Christie’s descriptions of homes with heritage gardens are believed to be inspired by her .

I’m not a pharmacist, nor would I consider myself an especially skilled gardener – though I do love my plants, and have a garden with a number of trees and herbal plants that we use to prepare home remedies for minor ailments. I am an ecologist though, and as such, plants and animals make their way into my non-fiction a great deal. I was surprised when I found my favourite trees – like the rain tree, a spectacular import to Bangalore from central America – and birds, like the black shouldered kite or the gloriously plumaged kingfisher – making their way into my historical crime fiction.

Rain tree in a Bangalore cemetery

Nature can be very atmospheric, and useful for establishing mood. When my amateur sleuth, Kaveri, goes for a walk near a local lake with her husband – if they see sunlight glinting off the lake, it means success is in sight. But if they hear the keening of a kite hunting for prey, or see an owl swoop down and carry away an unwary mouse – then we know disaster is close at hand. A half-sawed branch can be a powerful weapon in the hands of a dastardly villain, and the seeds of a castor or datura plant can have terminal side effects.

But I think the main reason I add nature into my books is because I am writing about 1920s Bangalore – a time filled with nostalgia for a better past. This was the era when Bangalore still deserved its title as India’s Garden City. It still had its spectacular tree-lined avenues, idyllic waterscapes and rich animal life, with monkeys, squirrels, snakes and leopards competing for attention.

This may look like an idyllic Bangalore waterscape, but it’s teeming with threats – predatory kites, poisonous snakes and more.

Today, hundreds of thousands of trees have been cut down to make way for the growing city, and many of the lakes have been filled in. But it is still important to remember how the city once was, and could be again, to inspire new imaginations of the way people and nature can live together. Thankfully, Bangalore now has a number of citizen movements to protect trees and restore lakes, which brings some hope. If I ever write an urban fantasy set in the future, mine’s going to be an optimistic future, not a dystopian one.

Readers: do you have memories of time spent with nature in a beloved place? How has the place changed over time? What’s your favourite tree, plant or bird? I’ll send one US commenter a copy of the book.

Buy links:


Barnes and Noble

Harini Nagendra is a professor of ecology at Azim Premji University. Her non-fiction books include Nature in the City: Bengaluru in the Past, Present and Future, and the award winning Cities and Canopies: Trees in Indian Cities, with Seema Mundoli. The Bangalore Detectives Club is her first crime fiction novel. The sequel, Murder Under a Red Moon, will be published in March 2023. Harini lives in Bangalore with her family, in a home filled with maps. She loves trees, mysteries, and traditional recipes.

You can contact Harini on her website and connect with her on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook

37 Thoughts

  1. Oh, what an intriguing teaser. I love books set in foreign places, especially when set in the past. My favorite place in nature is really anywhere in Peru. Of course much had changed between the time of the Incas and when I was a frequent visitor 1987-2012. And there were a lot of rapid changes at the time I quit going. I’m happy for the progress for the citizens, but missed what was no longer there. I shudder to think what is happening there right now.

    1. I’ve never been to Peru, but I do want to see the Incan sites – I have a good friend in Guatemala, also an ecologist, and our plan is to travel together. Some day! Your trips to Peru must have been fascinating…

  2. I grew up playing in the woods in back of our house, climbing trees, making forts out of rocks and downed branches, picking strawberries and blueberries out in the fields, just discovering and enjoying nature. So I kept that wonder of nature all my life, I still absolutely require being near woods and forests. I love birds! Probably cardinals are one of my favorites. And chipmunks, squirrels – we call them our lawn pets. I like books that include lots of natural surroundings and native animals!

    1. That sounds like the perfect childhood! My father moved often because of his job, so we lived in a lot of different homes – but one of them was my favorite, as we had a large garden. I still think of the massive fig tree on which I spent many hours – it was also much-loved by monkeys and squirrels.

    2. Lawn pets! I love it. We have a yard full of every kind of critter. And, yes we feed them much to the dismay of some of our neighbors. But none of them are destructive.

      1. Monkeys are quite a challenge – very mischievous – but such fun to have around!

  3. Hubby and I took up photography before he retired, but retirement gave us the opportunity to travel to the places on our bucket list. One of those places that stands out is the Grand Tetons. In fact, we had to go back and hoping we will travel there again some time. Think what’s so special for us is that it was a place to combine both landscapes (I mean this is the GRAND TETONS) and critters, like the grizzly bears, up close and in their natural surrounds. Nothing beats getting to see the best of both worlds. As with any natural area, there is change, but most times its slow and unseen without our lifetime. We do though have to remember that nature is fragile and it’s our job to pass it on to the next generation unhurt by man.

    As for favorite animal, that changes all the time. At the present time, it’s black bears. We live in the Ozark Mountains where they not only live, but have visited us on our property. Last year we had one that we named Daisy Mae. We are in hopes that she reappears this year with little ones. The one that holds my interest all the time is hummingbirds. They are such amazing critter with the flying in all directions, often eating without landing and their beautiful colors and very small size. All that making them fun and often challenging to capture in photos.

    Think I’m one of the rare ducks that love bare trees as well as those bountiful with leaves. In a bear tree you can see it’s struggles, it’s growth and it’s beauty within its bear limbs. Some grow straight and others have been affected by time, age, weather and disease. To me they represent man and the struggles of daily life. However, they are resilient and continue to grow. And as with all things, with life there is death when they finally give up and give in to nature.

    Congratulations on the upcoming release of “Murder Under a Red Moon”! Sounds like an amazing read. I’ve most definitely added it to my TBR list. And the cover is gorgeous. Thank you for the chance to win a copy! Shared and hoping to be the fortunate one selected. I would love the opportunity to read and review it.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. Bears, hummingbirds and bare trees – that’s a lovely set! My favorites would be kites, sunbirds and banyan trees. I completely agree with you, there’s something so starkly graceful about a bare tree, which is also very inspiring. Thanks for commenting!

  4. The book sounds amazing, Harini.

    I think my favorite “nature” site is my college campus and it’s associated Franciscan mountaintop retreat center. They’ve added buildings to campus, but always with an eye to protecting the landscape. Lots of trees. And the friars at the retreat center work very hard at their gardening and keeping the grounds accessible and beautiful at the same time.

    1. Thanks Liz! Your college campus sounds absolutely gorgeous. Sacred spaces of nature usually are – there’s something about the unhurried pace of life, and the ease with which people share space with nature, that is very calming. And uplifting. (But also a great place for setting crime mysteries – a la Brother Cadfael :-0)

  5. Welcome to the blog, Harini! I’m lucky to live in a neighborhood that has miles of trails through wooded areas. Just yesterday morning we watched a fox meander through our neighbors front yard. Congratulations on your second book!

    1. Sherry, your neighborhood sounds so gorgeous. Enjoy the fox, and thank you for reading!

  6. My parents bought a house on a Levitt development on Long Island, NY, an inexpensive starter house that many returning GI’s bought in the 1950’s. The land was originally farm land and there were lots of green places in the area, including a wide swath of land with old trees that shaded the walk along a main road to the high school. When increased traffic led to widening the road, the trees were sacrificed to progress. Little by little new houses, stores and gas stations took away even more green land. My home town is still suburban, but has lost many of the natural charm of my childhood.

    1. Judith, this sounds so much like Bangalore… sacrificed to progress indeed. I hope over time we get better at defining what progress means, or should mean, to society!

  7. Congratulations Harini. What a lovely post and your cover – oh, my – so beautiful.

    When I was in college there was an old banyan tree on campus. I used to climb it’s branches and sit for hours working out the angst of youth. It was the 1970s. When I returned to campus in the 1990s, the tree sported a garbage can chained to one of his trunks. It felt like a violation. In my current world, I’m lucky enough to live on 160 wooded acres. Hiking is my solace, exercise, and adventure.

    1. I’m so glad you have your 160 wooded acres – your banyan tree sounds just perfect, and I hope it’s still around, giving solace to many more students

    2. Having 160 wooded acres sounds just wonderful. I hope ‘your’ banyan tree is still around, providing solace to other students in turn… – Harini

  8. I read and loved The Bangalore Detectives Club! What a delicious treat for the mind and senses! Can’t wait to dive into book two!

    1. Thank you Delia – so thrilled to see this, and I hope you like book 2!

  9. I’m looking forward to spending time in Bangalore of yore.

    I’ve been lucky to have spent time in so many wonderful places and enjoyed gorgeous natural settings. It’s impossible to pick a favorite plant, animal or place. They all bring joy. High on the list of favorite trees are the California redwoods and the Acacia trees on the Serengeti.

    1. I’ve always wanted to see a giant California redwood! Some day…
      We have a lot of Acacias in India, some native, some imported from Australia, but all gorgeous. I hope you enjoy your journey through old Bangalore!

  10. My happiest childhood memories were spent with my extended family in both Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and at Hampton Beach in New Hampshire. I spent a lot of time in those places with my immediate family, my cousins, and my uncles and aunts. Those places are still there, but many of my family members are now deceased. I know I could never relive the happiness that I once had there if I revisited those places today. I know that I could make new memories, but it would not be the same.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Patti. Childhood memories are so special indeed. We used to spend a lot of time with my mom’s family in her family home in Salem India – my grandmother loved trees and was a keen gardener, as was my mom. The family home was broken down to make way for apartments a long while back, and I rarely go there any more, but I visit often in my memories. She used to cut long sticks of sugarcane, freshly harvested from the nearby fields, into small pieces for us to chew the juice… we do the same at home sometimes, but it doesn’t quite have the same taste.

  11. I spent every summer walking with my parents in the Northwoods in my home state of Minnesota. We did a lot of fishing and swimming too. I still go there when I can and it really hasn’t changed all that much, which is amazing and wonderful. My favorite flower is lilacs mainly the smell and for some reason I love red winged blackbirds. Although I saw an indigo bunting once and it was beautiful.

    1. Kathy, to have a place that hasn’t changed much over the years is indeed amazing and wonderful. I hope you enjoy it for many more years! We have red crested bulbuls in our garden, and they are spectacular, I imagine somewhat similar to your red winged blackbirds.

  12. Congratulations on your new book. I’m looking forward to reading it. One of my favorite places in nature are the woods in Southern Illinois. We used to ride our horses there and it was a really beautiful place to ride. Now, there is a nice park in the area where it’s a good place to read and enjoy nature. My favorite tree is the Red Bud.

    1. Thank you Dianne. I’ve only driven through Illinois, and never stopped to wander through the forests or visit the parks, but it sounds gorgeous. I hope you enjoy reading about the very different Bangalore landscape.

  13. One of my favorite places is a redwood forest I grew up camping in. Sadly, I haven’t been there in years since I moved to a different part of the state. (Please enter me in the giveaway.)

    1. I’d be happy to enter you in the giveaway, Mark! I’ve never seen a redwood forest, even though we lived in southern California for a couple of years some time back, but always had plans to visit. Hopefully some day!

  14. I remember as a child and teen spending time at my Mom’s home place in West Virginia. The house sits in a small valley surrounded by mountains. There is a creek that is across the road. As a child, we knew everyone that would go down the road. We would go across the road to play in the creek. Many years ago, there was a flood that came through. The house was spared, but there was damage to the road as well as many large rocks and boulders came down the mountain. The state came through with large trucks moving the rocks and boulders up to the bank or the creek. You can no longer see the creek from the front porch, nor walk to the creek without climbing over a large pile of boulders. Thank you so much for sharing. God bless you.

    1. Debbie, your description of your mom’s home and the creek sounds so beautiful. It’s so sad when we try to re-engineer nature to be ‘safe’ for humans, and almost never works anyway 🙁

  15. I realize I never chimed in with my own special place in nature. I grew up tent-camping in Sequoia National Park with my family amid giant sequoia trees. We hiked and learned about trees and birds and swam in a snow-melt stream. We cooked over a camp stove and sat around the campfire singing and telling stories. At night the stars were brilliant, and my mother taught us the constellations. It was where I first felt a strong connection to something spiritual beyond me.

    I took my sons, one 18 and one turning 21, there (sixteen years ago), and my heart filled to find the forest and streams and sky largely the same. What a treat.

    1. Edith, how absolutely wonderful – and to pass these memories down across generations! Incredible. It’s a dream of mine to go to Sequoia one day.

  16. I’ve been at the same location for 48 years and am in the third (and most likely final) “mobile” home on the site. Trees that were here have grown and lost branches or been replaced by other trees. The orchard I planted when I first moved in is mostly gone; likewise the Sunny Sunday rose that lasted about fifteen years but did not survive replanting for the third time when the drainage system needed to be replaced.
    For the past four years I’ve had bluebirds nesting in a box near my kitchen window. Mama is drab compared to Papa, but they diligently poke their heads into the box, I assume to feed the brood I never see.
    The apple tree nearest the back steps is now down to only the one trunk with branches about twenty feet off the ground. Only the squirrels have ever really harvested them as they tended to fall when I was unavailable to deal with them. However, the various species of woodpecker delight in drilling the bark. Such is life as one makes the best of plans only to be thwarted by unfolding events.

    1. Such a beautiful post – thank you for sharing, Barbara! We’ve been living in our current home for a7 years, and I have tried to grow pepper vine several times, but something always happened. This year, after I gave up on it, we had our first harvest of bunches of green pepper – we pickled some, dried some, and are stocked up for the year. But our mango tree, which gave us the most delicious mangoes for many years, has been taken over by some sort of aphid and we’re battling this now. I hope the tree survives! But we still have a couple of neem trees, some bananas and papayas, an avocado, a gooseberry, curry leaf, pomegranate and a few others… what trees did you have in your orchard?

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