While I do enjoy a clever mystery now and then, I confess the real reason I randomly picked up the Vish Puri – ”India’s Most Private Investigator” series – is because I was so taken with the title for #3: The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken, which hit shelves this week! Oh, be still my grumbling belly.
But ‘let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start …’ (whoops, a moment of childhood lyrical haze!). Set in Delhi, with jaunts to Jaipur, The Case of the Missing Servant introduces 51-year-old Vish Puri, a private detective who has never met a case he couldn’t solve. Any comparisons made of his prowess to that of Sherlock Holmes, however, always sets him on edge, and he’s not above spouting historical Indian figures who pioneered all manner of investigative methods centuries earlier! He’s an incorrigible foodie (and admitted “capsicum junkie and occasional dealer” who grows his own Naga Morich chillies). His girth is proof of his culinary appreciations, much to his wife’s protestations about his need for healthier eating habits. He occasionally tends toward pompous and most definitely doesn’t like getting help from his feisty Mummy who has decades of experience that Vish should know better than to discount. Most of the time, he’s fair, just, generous … and not a little bit of a doof now and then. His family and favorite friends call him ”Chubby” with great affection. In turn, he bestows nicknames on his most trusted staff, including Handbrake, Tubelight, Facecream, and Flush.
As the title promises, the main mystery centers around the missing servant of a Jaipur-based, high-profile lawyer who has built his career on exposing (rampant) government corruption. When the girl’s bludgeoned body surfaces, said lawyer suddenly lands in jail, accused of lethal hanky-panky. Uh-oh. Meanwhile, back in Delhi, Puri has to answer to an intimidating veteran who wants the dirt on his granddaughter’s fiancé who just seems too good to be true. And then there’s “the small matter of the attempt on his life” – not the first and most definitely not the last … but then Mummy’s probably got that little situation in hand.
Ever so convincingly created by Delhi-based Tarquin Hall, a British ex-pat international journalist, Vish Puri is available for your aural entertainment voiced by actor Sam Dastor. So he can’t pronounce ‘jalapeno,’ but he makes Hall’s prose come alive with the palpable hustle-bustle of a Delhi in constant motion. Having spent more-than-tourist-time in India (as well as the many years of being an honorary desi for the APA Program’s annual SALTAF), Puri’s geography was so familiar, I could smell his forbidden snacks, feel Handbrake’s frustration over the beeping tuk-tuks, and even hear the locals tell each other ‘don’t do tension’ or tension nahi leneka as a dear friend taught me. Perhaps I, too, was a Dilli-ite in a former life …