THE CASE OF THE MISSING SERVANT by Tarquin Hall

India finally has her own Precious Ramotswe.

Her own home-grown, uncomplicated, tell it as it is private detective.  Punjabi by nature, by appetite and by his larger than life personality.

Meet Vish Puri, resident of Gurgaon, chilli-grower, Sandown-cap-lover and solver of crimes in Delhi.

Vish Puri is a clever, intuitive detective, of that there is no doubt, but like all of us, he has his flaws.  He snacks unhealthily behind his wife’s back, resisting all attempts to lose his nickname “Chubby”.  And he tends to underestimate Mummy-ji, his formidable retired-headmistress-mother.

Tarquin Hall takes us on a murder hunt to Jaipur, via the portals of the Delhi Gymkhana Club, and through the roads and markets of Delhi.

From snooty memsahibs who have no idea of their servants’ surnames – “I never asked, Mr Puri. Why should I ? She was just a maidservant after all” – to desperately poor tribal villages in Jharkand, we follow Vish Puri and his crack team – Tubelight, Flush and the ever resourceful Facecream – as they set out to solve the death of Mary, the poor tribal whose surname wasn’t worth knowing.

Tarquin Hall has a delightful, infallible eye for modern Delhi life, with its aspirational wannabes, its floodlit golf courses, and with the clash between old and new money. The book is fun, a good read, and brings the life and language of Delhi to vivid, noisy, colourful life. You can almost taste those greasy chilli pakoras that India’s Most Private Detective so relishes.

The Case of the Missing Servant is published by Hutchinson and costs £11.99

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CALL ME DAN by Anish Trivedi

This début novel of Mumbai-based Anish Trivedi is well-written, sharply-observed, and a great read.

The main character, Gautam, is a 30-year old lower middle-class young man, still living at home with his parents and sister.  Their life is frugal, traditional and distinctly joy-less. To his parents’ despair, Gautam doesn’t have what they term a real job, for he works in a call centre.

At work, in the world without time-zones, Gautam morphs into Dan.  Dan is witty,  rather the young man about town.  Dan drinks, which Gautam certainly wouldn’t.  Dan is cosmopolitan, a bit of a flirt.  Dan is, well, quite different from Gautam.

Anish Trivedi successfully brings both voices to life, steering his character(s) through surburban life, through the grind of work and daily commuting, through love’s ups and downs, through family dramas.

The author is a keen observer of social mores.  Seeing Dan interacting with Sondra, his foreign female colleague –  all blonde hair and throwaway lines – we watch as “Dan” wings it through water-cooler moments with her, making mental notes to himself to google the words he doesn’t understand, without ever missing a conversational beat.  His need to learn, to widen his horizons, to keep the veneer of sophistication in place is finely noted.

The prejudices in suburbia are finely chronicled by the author.  Michelle, Gautam’s long-suffering girlfriend, is a Christian and automatically perceived by his family to be unsuitable.  To be fair, Michelle’s family is equally unenthused by Gautam. Gautam’s best friend Naseer is a Muslim, much to his parent’s dismay.  Anish Trivedi sketches this world of petty prejudice and mistrust without ever falling into clichés, and we wince with discomfort at the un-PC world Gautam/Dan inhabits, while acknowledging just how horribly true to life it all is.

A fun read.  An affectionate portrayal of a hero trying to be more than the sum of his parts.  And an utterly delicious cameo of the station chai-wala.

CALL ME DAN was published in August 2010 by Penguin, and costs Rs 250.

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