A Vish Puri mystery set in modern day Delhi. This actually turned out to be the second book in the series.
Publication year: 2010
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 2013
Page count: 332 including the glossary
Translator: Tero Valkonen
Publisher of the Finnish translation: Gummerus
Here in Finland Vish Puri is advertised as “Hercules Poirot of India” I think that’s a good comparison if you must make comparisons. To me, the book feels like a Christie type cozy mystery where the overweight private detective walks around the city talking to various people and thus solving the mystery. No gore and no sadistic serial killers here. Hall also gives us a glimpse of the vastly different parts of Delhi: the well-off middle class who have their own servants and the desperately poor who barely have enough to live. They live in different parts of the city and have very different lives. And the food!
Vish Puri of Most Private Investigators Ltd. is in the middle of working for a client who has relocated to India from US and his horrified about the level of corruption and the money he has to pay just to get his children to school. Puri is amused by the client’s attitude but helps him, of course. Then a prominent local scientist is apparently murdered by Kali the goddess herself. The victim, Dr. Suresh Jha, specialized on bringing down the local holy men and exposing them as charlatans. The murder happened in broad day light in the middle of a laughter group gathering. Dr. Jha belong to the group where they practice laughing daily. The other members were able to only laugh and laugh while the goddess appeared in a smoke cloud, put her sword through the victim, and disappeared again. The main suspect is an extremely successful, and wealthy, spiritual guru.
Meanwhile Puri’s wife and mother go to a meeting with their female friends. They each bring a sizable sum of money which is gathered and given to one of the women there chosen with lottery. They do it once a month but this time they’re robbed and the robber gets away with the money! The police are convinced that the hostess’ servants did it and don’t even consider anyone else and even refuse to take evidence which Puri’s mother has arranged for them. She is, after all, the widow of a prominent police officer and thereby almost a detective herself So, Puri’s mother decides to solve the case herself and drags her daughter-in-law into it, too. Puri doesn’t approve of women as detective, so they leave him out of it. And Puri’s youngest daughter returns home: she’s pregnant with twins. It’s apparently traditional for her to give birth in her parents’ house.
Puri has the entertaining habit of giving his underlings humorous nicknames; thus his driver is Handbreak and another underling is Tublight and another Facecream.
Puri is very different from usual modern US PIs: he’s married with grown children and has several servants. He also considers it his duty to employ those less fortunate than himself and take care of his employees. Far cry from the usual single or divorced alcoholic PIs who work strictly alone.
His mother is a determined older woman who is also a very entertanining character. Through her, and Puri’s wife Rumpi, we get a glimpse of the lives of the upper-class women in Delhi.
Hall makes fun of spiritual gurus and magicians who seem to be numerous in India. For me, this was a very exotic element at least in the way they represent their “divine gifts.” Hall also uses a lot of native words, especially with food. Thankfully, most of them were in the glossary because I’m not all familiar with Indian food.
I haven’t read much about India and I’ve never visited there so this was a fascinating glimpse into their culture. The characters feel exaggerated and they could certainly be just as stereotypical as the people in Wodehouse’s books.
An entertaining and mostly light-hearted mystery.
“It was not uncommon for him to experience such a sense of dislocation when working in Delhi these days. The India of beggars and farmer suicides and the one of the cafes selling frothy Italian coffee were like parallel dimensions. As he slipped back and forth between them, he often found himself pondering the ancient Indian axiom that this world is but maya, an illusion, a collective dream.”