Having traveled extensively in India, and having had a lifelong fascination with the subcontinent, I had high hopes for Tarquin Hall's "The Case of the Missing Servant." I expected this tale of Indian private investigator Vish Puri to evoke the sights, sounds and smells of India's teeming cities and dusty countryside. I expected it to offer the distinctive feel of the many religions and cultures that share the region. I even expected it to include mouth-watering descriptions of the distinctive spicy flavors of Indian food, ranked as one of the world's three greatest cuisines. I was not a bit disappointed. "The Case of the Missing Servant" does all of these things superbly. And, oh, by the way, there's a pretty good detective story in here as well.
Portly, pakora-munching, dapper-dressed Punjabi Vish Puri, called "Chubby" by his friends, would never be confused with Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. He's more of a Delhi-based cross between Hercule Poirot and Perry Mason. The founder and managing director of Most Private Investigators, Ltd., Puri has observational skills rivaling those of "that Johnny-come-lately Sherlock Holmes," a detailed knowledge of 2000-year-old Indian principles of detection, and wide-ranging contacts in Indian society. Usually his work involves screening prospective matrimonial partners for the "arranged" marriages still common in India. But this time, aided by his team of undercover operatives nicknamed Tubelight, Facecream, Door Stop, Flush and Handbrake, Puri takes on the case of a servant girl who has gone missing from the household of a well-to-do Jaipur barrister. A badly beaten body dumped beside a roadway is identified as that of the missing girl, and evidence points to the barrister as her murderer. Can Puri clear the man who insists he's innocent? As he sifts through clues and chases tantalizing leads, Puri dodges bullets himself while never missing a meal.
If you enjoy fast-paced, lucid, satisfying and understandable mysteries, you definitely should read "The Case of the Missing Servant." Don't be put off by Indian words and names that may be unfamiliar to you. The characters are well-enough defined that you can easily tell them apart, even if their names sound strange to Western ears, and a comprehensive Glossary defines all the words you need to know, including the many varieties of foods that Puri consumes throughout the case. I got hungry just scanning through the glossary...
on May 7, 2009
A servant girl goes missing; her employer is accused of murdering her. Meanwhile, a decorated military man does not like his granddaughter's fiancee; there is something "not right" about him. Vish Puri, owner of Delhi's "Most Private Detective Agency" is on the case!
The plot is satisfying, complex enough but not confusing, and the action moves quickly. There is some violence but not a lot of suspense. The mood overall is light .. not comedic, but definitely not very serious. The characters - particularly Puri himself - are very likable. He has a crew of investigative assistants with bizarre nicknames: Facecream, Tubelight, Handbrake, Flush ... sadly most of these characters are shadows. I want to know more about them, but the chameleonlike femme fatale Facecream is the only one with much of a developed personality.
Not knowing much about India aside from watching a few Bollywood movies, I found the setting to be quite fascinating. The social and political atmosphere of modern India is presented in a way that tells a lot without seeming like a "show-and-tell." The investigation takes Puri from the country clubs and mansions of Delhi's wealthy classes, to the squalor and poverty of uranium miners in Jharkhand. Conveys a very convincing sense of place.
The dialogue is fantastic. I was delighted by the peculiar phrasing of Indian English on almost every page. The book is packed with _bon mots_ which I may have to start using in conversations.
One only complaint: There is a glossary in the back of the book which provides definitions for roughly 100 Indian terms which are used in the book. I suppose this is a useful - perhaps even necessary - feature, but I found it to be terribly distracting to have to flip to the back and look up words every few pages. Footnotes would have been a better solution.
Fun and entertaining. Four and a half stars.
Mr. Vish Puri ('Chubby' to his family, 'The Boss' to his employees), founder and director of Most Private Investigators, Ltd. (Confidentiality Is Our Watchword) is India's most celebrated detective, evidenced by his picture on the cover of India Today and the seven national and international awards he's won. He writes letters to the Times of India, scorns Sherlock Holmes as a Johnny-come-lately, favors Savile Row-made safari suits, silk dressing gowns, Sandown hats and to the consternation of his wife and doctor, greasy street food. His cases are mostly matrimonial in nature, families hire him to vet their sons' and daughters' intended spouses (the MPI, Ltd. offers a pricey Pre-Matrimonial Five Star Comprehensive Service) until he's called upon to look into the mysterious disappearance of a maidservant.
The inimitable Mr. Puri is as at home in the poorest villages as in the most opulent and Moghul-esque marble palaces. In his dogged pursuit of the truth, he slips undercover at the drop of a hat and engages in judicious larceny and blackmail. At the Most Private Investigators, Ltd, the client always comes first, though The Boss is entirely capable of holding back information that will damage a bride's one chance at marriage. In short, Mr. Vishi Puri is a most engaging and resourceful character on the order of Rumpole or Precious Ramotswe.
The Boss handles several cases at once with help from his fearless Mummy; his unflappable wife, Rumpi; assorted friends in high and low places; and a stable of investigators nicknamed Facecream, Flush and Handbrake. While investigating the title case, unmasking a balti-cook pretending to be the owner of the Indian Empress Restaurant, tailing a fiancé who's just too good to be true, and one who isn't; someone shoots at The Boss as he's tending his roof-top chili plants. His entire cadre of friends, family and employees is called into service.
Through these coloful characters, Tarquin Hall provides glimpses into contemporary Indian culture--class distinctions, outsourcing, the Byzantine Indian legal system, the erratic infrastructure of modern Delhi that makes it necessary to fill one's washing machine with buckets of water, and domestic life. It is engaging and by turns hilarious and touching; The Boss' plane trip is one of the funniest things I've ever read, while his experience in the town next to the uranium mine brought a lump to my throat. Mr. Vish Puri does what he can, however, and as all the cases are wrapped up and the missing servant is found, the reader happily celebrates the Festival of Lights along with the Puri family.
Mr. Hall uses many Indian colloquialisms for which he mercifully provides a glossary, and there are several allusions to Bollywood that might be unfamiliar to the reader (thank you, Google). While this was initially annoying, I came to appreciate the book not being dumbed down, and found I enjoyed recognizing words as they cropped up again. It's obvious that Mr. Hall adores India and its people; The Case of the Missing Servant is a loving portrait of modern India, warts and all and Mr. Vish Puri is a unique and wonderful new addition to the international detective community.
Tarquin Hall's mystery novel, The Case of the Missing Servant, introduces readers to a memorable detective, Vish Puri. Known to old friends and family as Chubby, Vish Puri runs Delhi's Most Private Investigators Ltd., from which he and his staff spend most of their time performing investigations on potential marriage candidates to be sure that families aren't surprised by skeletons in the closets of a bride or groom. While part of The Case of the Missing Servant uncovers sensitive information about a bridegroom, the bulk of this mystery involves the disappearance of a servant and Puri's efforts on behalf of his client to prove that he did not murder the missing girl. Vish Puri has the grey matter to solve a case with the skill of a Hercule Poirot, the ability to draw information from others along the lines of Mma Ramotswe, and a distinctly 21st century Delhi temperament. Readers who love India or mysteries will enjoy reading The Case of the Missing Servant.
Rating: Three-star (Recommended)
Click here to purchase The Case of the Missing Servant from amazon.com.
on April 27, 2012
I am not one who gets too choked up reading books. Or perhaps as I get older I do get a little more teary-eyed over certain characters. This one actually brought a tear to my eye and lump to my throat on more than one occasion. If we believe the author, India is at something of a crossroads. There is an increasing amount of wealth being accumulated by a very few "crorepati" or multimillionaires. Some own or work in one of the newer glass-enclosed, high-rise call centers. Some are engaged in more illicit activities, like the illegal accumulation of real estate. This book is partially concerned with those very divisions. Within this changing milieu stands our beloved protagonist and all-around mensch, Vish Puri. When I read THE CASE OF THE MAN WHO DIED LAUGHING, I wrote that I hoped a film version of the book would soon be made so that the great actor, Om Puri, might portray Vish Puri. Now in this riveting mystery the name of Puri's father is revealed and it is Om Chander Puri. Coincidence? I think not (even though the character of Vish Puri believes that if a movie be made of one of his cases, the actor Anupam Kher would portray him, I must beg to differ....)
Simply put, Vish is a stalwart, brave, just and loyal human being. His duties as a husband, father and boss are always fulfilled with great grace, humor and above all, dignity. However, when he is faced with certain nefarious types he can get as down and dirty as the next guy. And this book continues the sub-plot of his beloved mummy-ji also putting her sleuthing abilities to the test. If Vish Puri is a person in whose good graces any sane person should want to remain, then one's sanity would really be called in to question by doing dirt to his beloved Mummy-Ji. All in all, it is another wonderful, fun, thoroughly readable mystery cum sociological primer. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! And I cannot believe I have to wait until July 2012 for then next Kindle installment....bummer-een-o.
on July 9, 2010
I'll skip the story, since it's basically a whodunit, and there's enough on that already. Let me jump to quickly enumerating what I liked about the book so much:
1.Tarquin Hall, and his characters, has a very quaint, but very good sense of humour. What this achieves is that the book doesn't get weighed down by the seriousness of the many tragic events played out in the book.
2.The book is surprisingly insightful and honest about India, and in particular does a great job of capturing the essence of the predominant Punjabi culture in Delhi/NCR. But more importantly, it doesn't become derogatory or demeaning when touching upon the negativities, as a lot of other books are inclined to do. As a resident of Delhi, I very much appreciated the subtle exposure of the underbelly sans the vitriolic judgments.
Hall's eye for detail is fantastic, whether he's talking about the streets, the culture, the language, the food, the people, or the behavior of Delhi's denizens. He's alarmingly honest, but in a most entertaining way.
3.Finally, this is a very, very easy read, as crime fictions go, and otherwise. Hall almost imbues a children's book sort of feel into it, and makes the book such a breeze.
Overall, I'd strongly recommend reading this book. It's a quick few hours read, and those few hours will have been very well spent. I'm off now to look for more of India's "Most Private Investigator"!
on October 7, 2012
Tarquin Hall has burst onto the mystery scene with one of the most charming, vivacious, and entertaining detectives since the great Hercule Poirot himself. Initially noticed only by us Indiphiles, the novels have quickly gained word-of-mouth notoriety and critical acclaim.
Take a break from the cerebral striving of Sayer's Lord Peter and Marsh's Roderick Alleyne. Take a (brief) vacation from the dark, Victorian world of William Monk, and step into modern India at its most chaotic, most charming, and yes, infinitely mysterious, with a humorous twist that will make a fan out of the reader before the binding has barely been cracked open. Vish is aided in his investigations by his jaunty, intelligent secretary, his matter-of-fact but sometimes nagging wife, and a mother-in-law who has an uncanny talent for deducing the plans within the plans of the malefactors.
Unfortunately, it falls to Vish Puri to not only do "what is needful" to solve the crime, but to also reign in the antics of his wife and mother-in-law, and the occasional errant neighbor. Yet the plots are quite clever. The humor in no way detracts from the brain-twister happenings that Puri must unravel before tragedy befalls yet another victim.
The cover art makes it a shame not to buy the binding, unless you have a Kindle Fire, with its vivid color display. (The kindle addition I review here was given as a gift by me to a friend who reads on a Kindle Fire.)
Just one complaint: Write faster, Tarquin! More! More!
A. C. Dittmann
on June 14, 2010
I'm from India, so it was with quite a few apprehensions that I picked up this book. Books written about a country by foreigners abound with stereotypes and the genre of detective fiction is not the easiest one to handle. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the overall effect of the book. It is quite a fun, fast-paced read and the India setting makes it special (though still a bit of a stereotype).
The main character is well drawn out but the others (specially the team of Mr Puri) could have used more detailed character portraits. The mystery itself is quite average and leaves an avid fan of detective fiction unsatisfied. Some of the Indian-English bon mots are accurate though many of them seem to be simply made up for effect. A North-Indian talking in English with a South-Indian (whose mother tongue is different) makes sense but fellow Delhi-based Punjabis talking in English amongst themselves is weird and not true. Mr Puri's obsession with British sandown caps is also a far-fetched eccentricity and hard to understand in the context of his proud nationalism.
The picture of a changing India is correct and should make for much more exciting and interesting stories. The reader could have been familiarised better with Delhi & the beautiful city of Jaipur by giving more details. So, a 3/5 for this effort, and a very best of luck for the next one. Looking forward to "The case of the man who died laughing".
on December 30, 2013
A pleasant read, and the author certainly knows his India. The mystery at the center of the novel was not particularly interesting, however, and the additional, unconnected storylines (about a young man who is suspiciously far too good for his fiancée, and an assassination attempt on the protagonist) contributed nothing.
I have to admit, though, that I didn't spot the villain until the very end.
on August 2, 2013
I always enjoy historical novels, but a good novel taking place in contemporary India is as rare as finding a diamond in your backyard.
This novel has everything: the food, the sounds, the growing distance between the rich and the poor, the accents, the occasional superstition, the nationalism, the mafia, the bad guys, the childhood friends who turn poorly, the clowns, the hero and in addition, the cutest old woman you can imagine. Of course it is also a Mystery that holds water. The PI Vish Puri uses ancient (spies) and modern (financial and scientific) tools. The man represents old-fashioned values like decency. He likes spicy cooking and he is a good family man. This is the rare kind of hero that we are all comfortable with.
The book is very pleasant from beginning to end. I doubled my pleasure by purchasing also the audio reading by Sam Dastor. This is the perfect voice for the book and an extraordinary reader. Foreign names and expressions come out with perfect talent and humor, it is like hearing the voice of Vish Puri himself.
There are slight differences between the audio and the written versions (just a word or a number here and there). For what it is worth, I generally prefer the audio version.