Wednesday, August 19, 2009

India's Greatest Detective & the Case of the Missing Servant

The Case of the Missing Servant / Tarquin Hall
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, c2009.
320 p.

I began this book quite a while ago, when I was sick at home for a week. I picked it up again a couple of weeks ago, thinking I should really finish it; this time around I was much more mentally present and enjoyed it greatly.

This is the first book featuring Vish Puri, most Private Investigator. It is set in Delhi, amongst the varied classes of Indian society. The sense of place is very strong, and I enjoyed the English spoken by the characters -- and was relieved to see a review which commented on how exactly Hall had captured the Punjabi way of speaking. I have no comparison so was glad to see that statement. It makes sense, though; even though Hall is English he is a journalist based in Delhi.

Puri is a great character; a little bit of Poirot (he is fussy and his nickname is Chubby), with a touch of the Sherlock Holmes he disdains, and the rest is all his very own. The surrounding cast is also wonderful, especially Mummy-ji, Puri's determinedly bossy mother who nevertheless seems to be able to settle things to her own liking. Puri spends most of his time investigating matrimonial prospects, but as this story opens he is asked to investigate the disappearance of a servant known as Mary. She has gone missing and is presumed dead, and her employer, a well-known lawyer, is accused of murder. Puri must prove the innocence of his client in Rajasthan, while at the same time trying to discover why someone had taken a shot at Puri himself one recent morning in Delhi, as well as continuing with some surveillance of a matrimonial prospect for another client. Lots of opportunity for revealing the local society in all its variations, and Hall does so succinctly and colourfully.

One of Puri's weaknesses is food; there are many descriptions of the food he likes to eat, especially the greasy fried food he sneaks in against doctor's orders and is careful to conceal from his wife. Conveniently, there is also a glossary in the back of the book so the tempting dishes he likes are explained. Other terms are also made clear, but their use in the text gives you a good idea of what the characters are talking about even before you look one up. It is a very appealing beginning to what I hope will be a series; lots of cozy elements but also lots of social comment. Really interesting, and when it can also make me laugh, I'm sold.

Also discussed by:

At Home with Books (Alyce)

Still Waters


  1. What a wonderful review! I liked the combo of social commentary with the mystery too.

  2. I had a great time reading this book, though it did make me hungry ...

  3. I want this right now!! Especially since there's a great Indian restaurant right down the road. :D

  4. I really want to read this, thanks for the review!

    PS I am liking the new design/layout!!

  5. Alyce - mysteries can be particularly good at pointing out social conditions, don't you think?

    Bridget, Eva - I know! I was craving sag paneer when I finished it.

    bethany - Thanks for the compliment! And I do hope you'll enjoy this one if you do get to read it.

  6. Thanks for the review. I love Indian mysteries, and I haven't seen this one. Will order ASAP!

  7. Janet - this has lots of good Indian social commentary so you may really enjoy it


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