Tarquin Hall •
The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken •
Until recently, I would have said no one could compete with the wonderful H.R.F. Keating at creating hilarious mysteries set in modern-day India. But Tarquin Hall, a relative newcomer, is making a strong showing in the same niche.
The main attraction here is Vish Puri, portly founder of Delhi’s Most Private Investigators, wearing his trademark Sandown cap. “Confidentiality is our watchword” is both the agency’s motto and the proposed title of the biography Puri confidently expects will be written about him someday.
One of Puri’s quirks is a fondness for bestowing whimsical nicknames. Thus a female undercover operative is known as Facecream, while a bald suspect becomes Full Moon. Puri himself is Boss to his employees, Chubby to his friends. His wife has been affectionately addressed as Rumpi for so long that no one seems to remember her real name.
Each mystery carries a distinctly Punjabi flavor: apparitions of the goddess Kali (The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing), crooked cricket matches, the theft of half a mustache (“From right under his nose!”). Puri solves them all, but even India’s answer to Sherlock Holmes—that British upstart—occasionally needs a little help from his mummy-ji.
Hall is alive to the ironies of a society where air-conditioned, chauffeur-driven limousines jostle with half-starved rickshaw-wallahs, and an automatic washing machine must be filled by bucket because no water flows from taps after 8 a.m. (The Case of the Missing Servant). He thoughtfully provides a glossary in each book, so you can picture what Puri is smacking his lips over (pakoras, aachar, jalebis), keep track of the bad guys (goondas), and appreciate epithets such as ooluu ke pathay, or “son of an owl.”
And if you enjoy audiobooks, you won’t want to miss Sam Dastor’s sparkling narration of the entire series.