FICTION

The Mission House

Scribner. Feb. 2021. 272p. ISBN 9781982144838. $24. F
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Everyone in the picturesque hill town of Ooty in southern India wants something from Hilary Byrd, the newly arrived Englishman. Mr. Byrd has come to India to recover from severe depression caused by the loss of his job as a librarian in an unrecognizably noisy modern library. The Padre, who meets him on the train south, offers temporary lodging in a cottage on the church grounds. His hope is that Mr. Byrd will provide English lessons to Priscilla, his housekeeper and ward, the better to find her a husband. Although Priscilla has a secret boyfriend, she, too, wants to improve her English to better understand the lyrics of her beloved American country music. Jamshed, the auto rickshaw driver, sees Mr. Byrd as a means to a steady income. Ooly, the besotted dog, just wants his affection.
VERDICT Part mystery, part romance, this charming story is set in the present but has the feel of an earlier time. Fans of Helen Simonson’s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand and Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry will eat this spicy masala of a novel right up.
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