Cover image of "The Case of the Missing Servant," a novel about an Indian private eye

A respected Indian attorney has been framed in a sensational murder case. An idealistic crusader for justice in the face of a corrupt system, he turns for help to the incorruptible Indian private eye Vish Puri. Depending on the mood he’s in, Vish Puri is either India’s #1 private investigator or #2. Puri is the proprietor of Most Private Investigators Ltd. of Delhi, and in his almost otherworldly deductive powers, in his overweening self-esteem, and in his multiple eccentricities, he resembles no one, fictional or real, more than Sherlock Holmes. However, the comparison rankles Puri, as he considers Conan Doyle’s creation a rank upstart whose deductive method was anticipated by many centuries by the Indian emperor who is Puri’s inspiration.

To assist the threatened attorney, Puri swings into action, mobilizing his team of carefully trained associates, who are identified only by nicknames such as Facecream and Handbrake, and accidentally piquing the interest of Puri’s mother (“Mummy”), a police detective’s widow who fancies herself the equal of her son.

The Case of the Missing Servant (Vish Puri #1 of 5) by Tarquin Hall (2009) 304 pages ★★★★☆

Street scene in Old Delhi, where the Indian private eye in this novel plies his trade
A street scene in Old Delhi. Vish Puri and his team pursue India’s cleverest malefactors through conditions like this. Image: walter Hoffman – Flickr

Outsmarting the police and baffling their clients

Together, the team—and Mummy—maneuver through the streets of Delhi and Jaipur, outsmarting the police, baffling their clients, and somehow, unaccountably, preserving the reputation of Most Private Investigators Ltd. The story is sometimes comical, continuously suspenseful, and endlessly fascinating for its detailed depiction of how middle-class Indians live, eat, and navigate through the punishing traffic and the vicissitudes of a bureaucracy gone wild.

The first in a series about this engaging Indian private eye

The Case of the Missing Servant is the first in a series of Indian detective novels. Its author, Tarquin Hall, is a British writer who divides his time between London and Delhi. Tarquin’s wife is Indian, and he has clearly spent considerable time in the country and become intimately familiar with its complex class and caste structure, its cuisine, its maddening bureaucracy, and its innumerable contradictions. I’ve spent just enough time in India myself to confirm the authenticity of his writing.

The Case of the Missing Servant is far from a perfect book, but as the jumping-off point for a series, it shows great promise.

About the author

Photo of Tarquin Hall, author of this novel about Indian private eye Vish Puri
Tarquin Hall. Image: Tom Pietrasik – Publication Coach

Tarquin Hall is a British journalist and author, a former South Asia Bureau Chief of Associated Press TV, based in Delhi. He is the author of the five books in the series about Indian private eye Vish Puri as well as four nonfiction works and many articles published in the British press. Hall was born in London in 1969 to an English father and an American mother. As Wikipedia notes, “Hall has spent much of his adult life away from England, living in the United States, Pakistan, India, Kenya and Turkey, and travelling extensively in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.” He now lives in London with his wife, an Indian-born, American BBC reporter. They have a son and a daughter.

This series is included in The best mystery series set in Asia.

I’ve also reviewed several other books in this series, including The Case of the Love Commandos (Vish Puri #4)India’s #1 private detective and the Love Commandos.

This is one of the Good books about India, past and present that I’ve reviewed on this site. And for similar titles, see The best Indian detective novels. If this book intrigues you, you might also check out 5 top novels about private detectives.

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