sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

March 22, 2011

into the stacks: the case of the missing servant
posted by soe 12:51 am

The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall

From the jacket: “Meet Vish Puri, India’s most private investigator. Portly, persistent, and unmistakably Punjabi, he cuts a determined swath through modern India’s swindlers, cheats, and murderers. In hot and dusty Delhi, where call centers and malls are changing the ancient fabric of Indian life, Puri’s main work comes from screening prospective marriage partners, a job once the preserve of aunties and family priests. But when an honest public litigator is accused of murdering his maidservant, it takes all of Puri’s resources to investigate. How will he trace the fate of the girl, known only has Mary, in a population of more than one billion? Who is taking potshots at him and his prize chili plants? And why is his widowed ‘Mummy-ji’ attempting to play sleuth when everyone knows mummies are not detectives?”

My take: A couple of bloggers whose taste runs similar to mine had favorably reviewed this detective novel, so when I saw it at Christmas, I reminded myself to request it from the library. However, after the first few chapters, I was a little afraid I was going to loathe the main character, Vish “Chubby” Puri, who is old-fashioned, opinionated, and more than a little obnoxious. He dislikes being compared to Sherlock Holmes, because Holmes is both a foreigner and a fictional character. Compare him to Chanakya, instead, please. He dislikes the “modernization” of India, which contributes to a seething unrest amongst the lower classes and which so often separates adult children from loving parents who can keep them out of trouble. (Of course, he’d prefer his own Mummy stay at home with the aunties and leave his business alone.)

But after a while, the good parts of his character drew me in. Chubby is dedicated and tries to do right by people, regardless of their class. He has a keen eye and quick intellect and values others with the same traits. Much of his current business is focused on looking into the backgrounds of those entering into arranged marriages, since now that so many people live in the cities, it’s harder for local matchmakers and aunties to make sure the unions they’re advocating are right.

Interspersed between these cases, though, Chubby does try to do some other sleuthing. For instance, he’s on the lookout for the person who shot at him as he was gardening up on his roof. He’s not having a lot of luck with leads, though, and he’s going to be really grumpy if he finds out that his Mummy has disobeyed his direct order to stop looking into the incident.

But what is occupying most of his time is the case of a lawyer noted for taking on the corrupt system who approaches him, saying he’s been wrongly accused of causing one of his maids to disappear in the night. But when officials up the charges to murder and imprison his client, Chubby must hurriedly move his ring of undercover agents into place in order to find out what really happened to a girl known to everyone only as Mary.

I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good mystery or who is interested in other cultures. There is a solid glossary at the end of the book that helpfully defines Indian terms, although I found it to be a little distracting to have to keep flipping back and forth during some of the exposition.

Pages: 310

Category: books. There is/are Comments Off on into the stacks: the case of the missing servant.