The Strangler Vine

The Strangler Vine

“… a splendid novel with an enthralling story, a wonderfully drawn atmosphere, and an exotic mystery that captivated me.”
Bernard Cornwell

“I do not remember when I enjoyed a novel more than this.”
A.N. Wilson · Financial Times


Shortlisted for the Edgar Award for Best Novel, CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger Award and the HWA Debut Crown

Longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year


Penguin  ·  352 pp  ·  2014

Calcutta, 1837. The East India Company rules India – or most of it, and its most notorious and celebrated son, Xavier Mountstuart, has gone missing. Young William Avery, a down-at-heel junior officer in the Company's army, is sent on a secret mission to track him down. His partner is uncouth, errant genius Jeremiah Blake. A more mismatched duo couldn't be imagined, but when their search leads them deep into the territory of the murderous Kali-worshipping Thugs, survival depends on trust. Fighting for their lives, the pair draw closer to their elusive quarry only to discover the horrifying truth behind their mission. With death and danger on all sides, is it too late to save themselves?

Read an excerpt from The Strangler Vine.

Praise for The Strangler Vine

An exciting fictional debut… The Strangler Vine represents what must be a lifetime spent reading and soaking up Indian history and geography: you feel yourself to be in India – in its grand palaces and its bazaars; in its colonial offices and in its jungles. Clothes, food, languages, and the physical appearance of all the characters, Indian and European, are evoked with Tolstoyan freshness… As well as being a rattling good yarn in the traditions of G.A. Henty or Rudyard Kipling, this is also a well-informed and enlightened modern book that has a properly sceptical view of imperialist propaganda. I do not remember when I enjoyed a novel more than this.

A.N. Wilson · Financial Times

In the great detective novel tradition of The Moonstone and the Sherlock Holmes series, by way of The Glass Books trilogy, Carter’s debut is a thriller set in 1837 India. Two mismatched men from the East India Company, William Avery and Jeremiah Blake, are sent off to rescue Byronic poet-adventurer Xavier Mountstuart from a murderous sect of Kali worshippers. With gorgeous historical detail and deft characterization, Carter creates a rip-roaring detective romp — while also casting a gimlet eye on the effects of British imperialism and colonization of India.

Susan Elia MacNeal · New York Times-bestselling author of the Maggie Hope series

Lots of fast-moving drama, but [also] a carefully researched setting in early Victorian India… Carter gives us delicious descriptions of the wonderful court of a Rao, or Rajah: the hunting cheetahs, elephants wound about with golden chains. There are horrors too: the famine surrounding this dazzling wealth, the criminals executed by elephant-trampling. But ever onwards through the jungle presses the gallant young Avery, encountering treachery and violence, finally triumphing after many perils as a hero should. It’s a great read, white tigers and all.


The best elements of an old-fashioned ripping yarn unite with a plot that makes clever use of recent historical ideas about the British in India in M.J. Carter’s The Strangler Vine… Carter’s twisting, devious narrative is enhanced by her vigorous prose and her convincing delineation of her chief characters, whose further adventures, already announced, can be keenly anticipated.

Sunday Times

From the thrilling prolog to the satisfying conclusion, former journalist and nonfiction author Carter’s (Anthony Blunt: His Lives) first foray into fiction hooks the reader into a ripping adventure ride, full of danger, conspiracy, and trickery…Carter’s clever historical thriller is a winner. The details of life in 1830s India are enthralling, as is the history of the Thugs.

Library Journal  ★ Starred Review

[An] excellent first novel… It blends John Masters, William Boyd, Wilkie Collins, and the Conan Doyle of Brigadier Gerard and the more orientalist Holmes stories to create a witty and entrancing historical thriller… An inspired mix of sensation novel and odd-couple road novel, The Strangler Vine has a smirking sense of the absurdity of the whole colonial project.


A strangler vine is a plant that chokes the life out of its host tree. In this erudite thriller, M.J. Carter uses the image to describe the relationship between the East India Company and the colonized country being suffocated in its grip… fresh and original with many surprises in store… history subtly and intelligently entwines itself around a cracking good plot.

London Evening Standard

M.J. Carter has cooked up a spicy dish: a pinch of Moonstone, a dash of Sherlock and a soupçon of Fu Manchu added to a rich stew of John Masters. A splendid romp and just the job for a cold winter’s evening in front of a blazing fire.

William Dalrymple · author of White Mugals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India

This is a gripping story of conspiracy and betrayal set in an early-Victorian India that is rendered with complete conviction. And as a historian, the author offers a thought-provoking re-interpretation of the Thuggee story.

Charles Palliser · international bestselling author of The Quincunx

Colonial India in 1837 comes alive in Carter’s superior fiction debut… [she] is masterly at keeping the reader guessing what’s really going on. The final revelation is both jaw-dropping and plausible.

Publishers Weekly  ★ Starred Review

Intelligent, extensively researched and packed with period detail, The Strangler Vine evokes both the attitudes of the British colonials and the India of the period.


The Strangler Vine is a splendid novel with an enthralling story, a wonderfully drawn atmosphere, and an exotic mystery that captivated me.

Bernard Cornwell

The story is exciting, the mystery real and its setting vividly evoked… I am already looking forward to the next one.

Literary Review

The Strangler Vine is a considerable achievement, which left me waiting impatiently for a promised sequel.


An absolute corker of a read with marvellous characterization and trenchant historical analysis.

Booklist  ★ Starred Review

A meticulously researched historical novel with a subversive and startling sting in its tail.