A respected Indian attorney — an idealistic crusader for justice in the face of a corrupt system — has been framed in a sensational murder case and turns for help to the legendary 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.
The Case of the Missing Servant (Vish Puri #1) by Tarquin Hall @@@@ (4 out of 5)
To assist the beleaguered attorney, Puri swings into action, mobilizing his team of carefully trained associates, who are identified only by nicknames such as Facecream and Handbrake, and inadvertently piquing the interest of Puri’s mother (“Mummy”), a police detective’s widow who fancies herself the equal of her son. 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 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.
For additional reading
I’ve also reviewed several other books in this series, including The Case of the Love Commandos (Vish Puri #4) by Tarquin Hall—India’s #1 private detective and the Love Commandos.
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