Cover image of "The Case of the Reincarnated Client," a detective story grounded in India's tragic history

Tarquin Hall’s masterful Vish Puri series introduces readers to India through the often comical adventures of the country’s “#1 or #2 private investigator.” But Hall’s serious intent comes through clearly in each of the five novels in the series. You can feast on the delicacies of Indian cuisine that the corpulent detective enjoys so much. You’ll hear the patterns and cadences of Hindi-inflected English in the books’ clever and often funny dialogue. And you’ll experience the sights and sounds of the streets of Delhi, from its most prestigious precincts to the lowliest slums. But in The Case of the Reincarnated Client, Hall takes a further step, grounding his story in two sad episodes in India’s tragic history.

The Sikh pogrom

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984. A bloodbath followed, with as many as 17,000 murdered by rioters left uncontrolled by police. In Delhi alone, where this novel is set, 2,800 Sikhs died. In this novel, Vish Puri reopens the cold case of a murder that took place during the Sikh pogrom. The blood-soaked riots were merely the latest in a long list of intercommunal massacres scattered throughout India’s tragic history.

The demonetization of 2016

On November 8, 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s government shocked the country’s 1.3 billion people. As of midnight that day the company’s most-used currency, its 500- and 1,000-rupee notes, would no longer serve as legal tender. The stated purpose was to frustrate money-launderers. In fact the policy merely increased money-laundering, slowed India’s economy, and caused millions of people to waste days lining up at banks to exchange the old notes for new ones. Puri’s investigation of a money-launderer unfolds in the chaotic days immediately following the government’s ill-conceived policy.

The Case of the Reincarnated Client (Vish Puri #5 of 5) by Tarquin Hall (2019) 253 pages ★★★★☆

Images of the 1984 Sikh pogrom that followed the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, one more terrible episode in India's tragic history
Images from the Sikh pogrom that followed the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.

Three cases for “India’s most private detective”

The cold case and money-laundering are two of the three cases that engage Vish Puri, his mother, and his staff in November 2016. In the third, a former client threatens to sue Puri’s firm, Most Private Investigators, Ltd. The man claims Puri bungled the investigation of his daughter’s prospective groom. Once married, the young woman found it impossible to live with her new husband—because he snored. Very, very loudly. Loudly enough, in fact, that a neighbor complained to the police. Yet nothing in the firm’s very thorough background check had turned up any evidence that the young man snored before the wedding.

The puzzling Case of the Reincarnated Client

But the eponymous Case of the Reincarnated Client stands out in this charming little novel. It’s Puri’s secretary’s name for the cold case the firm has taken on. A young Sikh woman named Saani claims to be the reincarnation of Riya Kaur, whose 1984 murder had long since been relegated to police archives. Saani has been working with a psychologist who specializes in recovering memories of past lives. She relates her experiences as Riya Kaur with extraordinary accuracy—beyond what newspaper accounts of the murder had ever revealed.

At first, Puri declines to take on the case when his meddlesome mother—his Mummy-ji—brings it to his attention. Eventually, however, he succumbs, and the two work closely together in a complex investigation that takes them on the train more than once to a village hours away from Delhi. And Puri’s staff gets into the act as well, including all the familiar characters from the series’ four previous novels.

There are surprises in store for the reader in all three cases. Like his fictional creation, Vish Puri, Tarquin Hall is a very clever man. It takes a large measure of talent to transform two episodes in India’s tragic history into a mystery that’s both funny and suspenseful.

About the author

Image of Tarquin Hall, author of this novel based on India's tragic history
Tarquin Hall. Image: Hindustan Times

As his Wikipedia entry reveals, Tarquin Hall “was born in London, 1969, to an English father and American mother. 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 is a former South Asia bureau chief of Associated Press TV, based in New Delhi.” Hall is the author of four nonfiction books as well as the five novels in the Vish Puri series.

For more reading

For similar titles, see The best Indian detective novels reviewed here.

I’ve also reviewed the four other books in this series:

You might also enjoy my posts:

For an abundance of great mystery stories, go to Top 20 suspenseful detective novels. And if you’re looking for exciting historical novels, check out Top 10 historical mysteries and thrillers reviewed here.

And you can always find my most popular reviews, and the most recent ones, plus a guide to this whole site, on the Home Page.