One day, out of the blue I got an email asking me whether I would be interested in featuring The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall on my blog. It was billed as a detective story set in India and considering my love for mystery/thrillers, I hesitated for just about a second before replying that yes, I would love to feature this book on my blog.
Two weeks later I get 2 nice hardcopy signed books of the the first two books in the series. And I got to work reading.
Only it turned out not to be work at all, but an extremely pleasant 6 hours during which my hub watched me bemusedly as I kept chuckling to myself ignoring the football match running on the television.
Yep, this book was that good.
So, what is this book all about?
Vish Puri is a middle-aged, amiable, and successful private investigator. He is hired by Ajay Kasliwal, a lawyer, to find a maid named Mary who worked for Kasliwal and has gone missing. The police have questioned him about Mary and the rumor mill is running wild that he’s murdered her.
Puri’s task is a very difficult one. He has hardly any information about Mary like her last name or even a photograph. What he does have is a shrewd mind, and good assistants (with amusing nicknames) to aid him in solving the case.
There are a couple more side plots in the story. Vish Puri has also been enlisted by Brigadier Bagga Kapoor to investigate his future grandson-in-law Mahinder Gupta who he suspects of being not all that he seems.
In addition, someone is taking potshots at Puri while he is watering his plants. Who is it? And is it related to the cases Puri is investigating? Puri’s own mother decides to take things in her hands and do some detective work on her own much to her son’s disapproval who believes that mummies cannot be detectives.
All three plot points combine to give a delightful story that immerses the reader in contemporary Punjabi and Delhi culture. If you enjoyed the No.1 Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith, then you will like this one as well.
What I loved and what I didn’t quite love about this book:
This book has correctly identified the personalities and the culture of Punjabis and Delhi-wallas in general so well that I found it hard to believe at times that a “gora” (to use Tarquin’s own terminology) has written this book. His use of Punjabi English and common Indianisms are really on point.
He also shows he is a skillful journalist and a shrewd observer of people and places. He has captured a lot of details that are normally not covered in the run-of-the-mill mystery novel.
The main character Vish Puri is a pretty lovable protagonist – he is somewhat Poirot-esque but extremely shrewd in his knowledge of human nature and investigative methodologies. He is definitely a character I would love to read about in later novels as well. He is a good, decent man, not dashing or a womanizer, nor particularly tortured. His only vice seems to be spicy, hot chilling pakoras, which he eats surreptitiously in his office hiding all tell-tale evidence from his wife.
The only drawback in this novel is the resolution of the mystery itself. A little more than half-way through I was able to correctly guess the identity of the killer. The final dénouement is also a bit flat, and the motive for the murder a little too unrealistic.
However, in spite of this flaw, this is a book well-worth reading. Highly recommend!
My thanks to Lucinda from Fletcher and Co. and Tarquin Hall for sending me this book to read and review. I have already started enjoying the second book in this series