Novel set in India (an Indian version of Poirot)
- Book: The Case of the Love Commandos (Vish Puri 4)
- Location: Agra, Delhi, Luknow
- Author: Tarquin Hall
For fans of the detective novel, this is sheer delight from start to finish. It’s the kind of book you should keep for a duvet day. Just curl up on with some chocolates, or more appropriately a few pakoras, and get stuck in. What’s even more delectable is that there are three more books in the series to dip into.
Vish Puri, Hall’s detective, is an Indian version of Christie’s Poirot and every bit as quirky. Like Poirot, he considers himself an exemplar of sartorial elegance and also like Poirot he is more than a little interested in what he consumes. However, Hall doesn’t take his creation completely seriously and can’t resist a bit of gentle humour at his expense – Puri isn’t a connoisseur of fine foods; rather he finds it simply impossible to concentrate on detection when faced with a street vendor. He is greedy and pompous beyond belief, but ultimately very lovable.
The Case of the Love Commandos is an intriguing story. Set in modern day India, this case takes Puri on the trail of a missing student, who has been snatched from the protection of The Love Commandos, a real life Indian organisation dedicated to helping young people from different castes marry. The trail leads him to Uttar Pradesh and a complicated mesh of corruption and cover ups, but first he has to cope with the theft of his own wallet, something that causes him immense chagrin, since he prides himself on his 24/7 hyper vigilance.
Even more delightful than the character of Vish Puri himself, however, is his delightfully infuriating Mummyji, she who has virtually supersonic hearing on account of her hearing aids and who insists on interfering in every case, often solving problems before her harassed son has time to snatch a snack and weigh up the clues. I loved the scene early on in the novel when Mummyji, in pursuit of the wallet thief, fearlessly patrols the train snapping potential perpetrators on her mobile and showing masterful comprehension of modern day technology.
Hall evokes present day India very truthfully, conveying very succinctly the way in which the modern and the ancient collide. When the whole Puri family are making the family pilgrimage to the top of Trikuta mountain to visit the Vaishno Devi Shrine, Mummyji is delighted to note that the pilgrimage remains such a family affair. However, she is less delighted with her rather lumpish grandson, Chetan, who finds the climb difficult. “No surprise, na?” Mummyji scolds. “What with all your sitting all day playing Nintendo and all.” Nor does Hall shy away from depiction of some of the corruption that clearly still prevails. His description of Facecream’s visit to the Govind village school sticks in the mind; the teacher has been gone a month but the children still attend despite the lack of instruction, simply because at school they’re entitled to a pitiful lunchtime meal, pitiful because half the ingredients have already been purloined by the village headsman. It’s a very skilful writer who can take you from laughter to pain and back again in the space of a few pages.
The novel teams with the life, the colour, the chaos, the smells and sounds and tastes of modern day India and what’s more, very obligingly, Hall provides the reader with the recipes for some of these intriguing street food delicacies at the end of the book – what more could the discerning and greedy reader ask for?
Ellen for the Tripfiction Team.
The full review on our blog