Thursday 23 November 2023

Have a peek between the covers of Ann Bennett's fabulous novel - The Fortune Teller of Kathmandu

The Fortune Teller of Kathmandu
By Ann Bennett

Publication Date: 31st October 2023
Publisher: Andaman Press
Page Length: 356 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction / Historical Romance / Women’s Adventure and Romance

A sweeping wartime tale of secrets and love, mystery and redemption, moving from the snow-capped Himalayas to the steamy heat of battle in the Burmese jungle.

Hampshire, UK, 2015. 

When Chloe Harper’s beloved grandmother, Lena dies, a stranger hands her Lena’s wartime diary. Chloe sets out to uncover deep family secrets that Lena guarded to her grave.

Darjeeling, India, 1943 .

Lena Chatterjee leaves the confines of a strict boarding school to work as assistant to Lieutenant George Harper, an officer in the British Indian Army. She accompanies him to Nepal and deep into the Himalayas to recruit Gurkhas for the failing Burma Campaign. There, she discovers that Lieutenant Harper has a secret, which she vows never to reveal.

In Kathmandu, the prophesy of a mysterious fortune teller sets Lena on a dangerous course. She joins the Women’s Auxiliary Service Burma (the Wasbies), risking her life to follow the man she loves to the front line. What happens there changes the course of her life.

On her quest to uncover her grandmother’s hidden past, Chloe herself encounters mystery and romance. Helped by young Nepalese tour guide, Kiran Rai, she finds history repeating itself when she is swept up in events that spiral out of control...

Perfect for fans of Dinah Jeffries, Victoria Hislop and Rosie Thomas.


"A great read" Advance Reader.

" Thank you so much for allowing me to read the advance copy. I could barely put it down!" Advance Reader.

"What a wonderful book... I loved it. The dual time lines were delineated to perfection... the settings were perfectly rendered.." Advance Reader.


Rounding the first corner, Lena found herself in a wide, open space, a square surrounded by temples with tiered red roofs, mounted above flights of stone steps. People sat on the steps taking in the afternoon sun, smoking and chatting. A couple of rickshaws stood empty beside a group of men. 
A boy approached her carrying a box of brushes. ‘Shoeshine, miss?’ 
The boy couldn’t have been more than eight or nine and had the most beautiful, gappy-toothed smile, but Lena shook her head and carried on walking across the square. In front of her was an imposing three-storey red-brick building, with shuttered windows and elaborate roofs. The steps to the entrance were guarded by two huge, mythical creatures. They looked like enormous painted dogs, extravagantly decorated in reds and golds. Lena stood staring at the building, wondering what it might be, when the shoeshine boy plucked at her sleeve. 
‘This is Kumari Bahal, madam,’ he announced. ‘Home of the Kumari Devi.’
‘Who is the Kumari Devi?’
‘She is a child, miss.’
‘A child?’ Lena was intrigued. 
‘Yes. A living goddess. She lives in that building. People say it is very lucky if you happen to see her. Sometimes she comes to the window and looks out. I have seen her many, many times,’ he added with another huge smile. 
‘Thank you for telling me. I had no idea.’
Lena realised then how little she really knew about Kathmandu; she should have bought a book about the city from the bookstore on Chowrasta. But she’d been kept so busy by Lieutenant Harper making preparations for the trip and by Mrs Spooner, with general office duties, that she’d had no time for shopping. She realised it was probably impossible to buy a tourist guide in Kathmandu itself. There were no other tourists and no concessions to foreign travellers. She would just have to learn about the city first-hand. Everyone seemed friendly enough, even if they did stare at her strange, modern clothes.
Shading her eyes, Lena looked up at the palace. One of the shutters in an upstairs window was thrown back. A child appeared in the window and stared down at the crowded square. Lena couldn’t take her eyes off the little girl. She was like no child she’d ever seen before. She wore an elaborate gold headdress, and her forehead was painted bright red, with the image of a white and blue eye in the centre. Round her neck, she wore many garlands of flowers, marigolds and chrysanthemums.
‘Kumari Devi!’ said the shoeshine boy with subdued excitement, pointing up at the window. ‘You are very lucky, madam. She brings luck to everyone who sees her.’
Lena tore her eyes away from the little goddess and smiled down at the boy, but when she lifted her eyes to the window again, the girl had vanished, and the shutters were already swinging shut.
‘She is gone, madam, but the fortune teller will be able to tell you how lucky you are.’
‘Fortune teller?’ 
Lena’s scalp tingled at the thought. There was a fortune teller in the bazaar in Darjeeling, but everyone said she was a charlatan who preyed on people’s fears and superstitions and that she had no special powers at all. Perhaps it was being in these ancient, mystical surroundings, so far from home, completely alone, but the idea of going to a fortune teller here in Kathmandu appealed to Lena then in a way that it wouldn’t normally have done.
‘Would you like me to take you to her?’ the boy asked.
‘All right…’ Lena said slowly, and the boy laughed, flashing her another wide smile.
He was off then, tugging her arm to follow him. She hurried along behind him, across the wide Durbar Square and into a side alley filled with jewellers’ shops. The boy was moving quickly, darting between the shoppers. 
Lena struggled to keep up with him in her slingback shoes. But at the end of the alley, he waited for her, then ducked into an even narrower passage, where there were no shops at all. It was dark there, and looking up, Lena saw that the eaves of the buildings were almost touching, shutting out the light, and the air was heavy with the smell of drains mingled with the spicy, smoky perfume of incense. A chill went through her then and she suddenly felt vulnerable and alone. How far she was from home here, how far from the base even. 
The boy stopped at an entrance halfway along the passage. ‘It is here,’ he said, pointing at some carved wooden doors. ‘You just go inside, and she will see you.’
Lena hesitated. 
‘I will wait for you here,’ the boy said, ‘so you don’t get lost.’
Putting aside her qualms, Lena thanked him, pushed the heavy door open and entered a darkened room. There were no windows, and for a couple of seconds, she stood behind the door wondering whether to turn round and go straight back out again, but her eyes soon acclimatised, and she could see that the room was lit by candles, flickering from every surface, giving off a smoky, waxy smell. Ahead was a red, velvet curtain covering an entrance. Lena walked across the dark room towards the curtain, pulled it aside and peeped round it. 
A woman sat in a tiny room behind the curtain, on a high-backed chair. In front of her was a small round table, spread with a red velvet tablecloth and a white crystal ball that glinted in the candlelight. Lena was surprised to see a little girl sitting beside her, dressed in a red tunic. Her eyes were rimmed with heavy kohl and looked huge in her tiny, pale face. She reminded Lena eerily of the Kumari Devi. The room itself was lined with silk wall-hangings depicting scenes from the Ramayana, and the air was filled with the smell of incense. 
The woman was reading from a book to the child, but when she looked up and saw Lena, she put the book aside hastily and stood up to greet her. She was dressed in colourful robes, her hair covered with a shawl fringed in gold braid. Around her neck she wore many gold chains. She was heavily made up with thick black kohl around her eyes, just like the child’s, and deep red lipstick on her full lips. In her nose and ears were rings and studs and when she put her hands together in a gesture of greeting, numerous gold bangles jangled together. 
‘Good afternoon, madam,’ she said in Nepali, which Lena could understand, given her knowledge of Hindi.
‘Good afternoon, to you,’ Lena replied, and the woman motioned for her to sit down on a stool in front of the table.
Lena perched on the stool, feeling a little nervous and a little foolish too. Why had she come here? She hadn’t even had to be persuaded, she’d just gone along voluntarily at the very first suggestion.  It would be very difficult for her to leave now, though. She glanced at the little girl, and was startled that her intense dark eyes were fixed on her face. She quickly looked away again. 
‘Don’t be shy,’ the woman said with a welcoming smile. ‘Give me your hand, please.’
Lena held her hand out over the table and the woman took it and turned it over to look at the palm. She bent her head forward to study it carefully and stayed like that, motionless for a long moment. Then she began tracing the lines on Lena’s hand with her forefinger and muttering to herself, as if in a trance. The fortune-teller’s nails were long and sharp and painted the same deep shade of red as her lipstick.
When she was beginning to wonder whether this was a normal palm reading, the woman lifted her head and looked into her eyes. She was still holding Lena’s hand, palm up, in one of hers. ‘You will have a long life. Long and happy for the most part, but I do see tragedy there too.’
‘Oh?’  A prickle of unease stirred in Lena’s chest. She felt herself frowning. 

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Ann Bennett

Ann Bennett is a British author of historical fiction. She was born in Pury End, a small village in Northamptonshire, UK and now lives in Surrey. Her first book, Bamboo Heart: A Daughter's Quest, was inspired by researching her father’s experience as a prisoner of war on the Thai-Burma Railway. Bamboo Island: The Planter's Wife, A Daughter's Promise and Bamboo Road:The Homecoming, The Tea Panter's Club and The Amulet are also about the war in South East Asia, which together with The Fortune Teller of Kathmandu make up the Echoes of Empire Collection.

Ann is also author of The Runaway Sisters, bestselling The Orphan House, The Forgotten Children and The Child Without a Home, published by Bookouture.

The Lake Pavilion, The Lake Palace, both set in British India in the 1930s and WW2, and The Lake Pagoda and The Lake Villa, set in French Indochina during WW2, make up The Oriental Lake Collection.
Ann is married with three grown up sons and a granddaughter and works as a lawyer. For more details please visit 

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for hosting Ann Bennett today, with an enticing excerpt from The Fortune Teller of Kathmandu.

    Take care,
    Cathie xx
    The Coffee Pot Book Club


See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx