MURDER AT THE GRAND RAJ PALACE by VASEEM KHAN

Oh, the joy of discovering that the ace investigating team of Inspector Chopra (retd) and his trusty sidekick, Ganesh, the baby elephant, are back in business.

This 4th adventure of this crack Mumbai team is every bit as delightful as the preceding novels.

Like every reader, I’m quite sure, I have been totally in love with Baby Ganesh since the moment we first met him.

I’ve said here before in reviews that although, theoretically, it shouldn’t make a difference if you know & recognise a place or a location in a novel – all the same, it definitely adds something to your enjoyment of a book if you know EXACTLY where x,y, or z is.

As is the case of the Grand Raj Palace, which is – from its location and its prestige – clearly the Taj Mahal Palace at the Gateway of India in Mumbai. This landmark hotel was the first place I stayed on my first ever visit to India in January 1983, on a business trip, and it has a special place in my heart.

So, I was already predisposed to like this very likeable book.

An American millionaire is found dead in his hotel bed at the Grand Raj Palace, and the good Inspector (+ Ganesh) are called in by the investigating detective to help out. Is it suicide, as the officials would prefer? Or is there something more sinister afoot? The dead man has just bought the most expensive modern art work in the country at a high-profile auction, so there is material a-plenty for scandalous headlines.

Wonderful as dear Inspector Chopra is, he had better look to his laurels, because his lovely firecracker of a wife, the redoubtable Poppy, is beginning to equal him. While her husband is investigating the Mumbai art scene, Poppy gets involved in the mysterious disappearance of a bride-to-be from one of India’s royal families. The royal wedding was also to take place at the Grand Raj Palace, and so husband and wife conduct parallel investigations, but since the show-stealer Ganesh works with Poppy for most of this adventure, I can foresee a time when the darling baby elephant is the total star of these books.

There is not much of the grittier side of Mumbai in this book, like in the preceding books. It’s a different view of the city here – 5 star hotel, a royal wedding and an expensive art auction.

Mr. Khan is so skilled a story-teller that we, the reader, accept without question, the idea that a baby elephant can trot through the streets of Mumbai and in and out of a hotel. Other than delighted foreign tourists, no-one really reacts, accepting Ganesh & moving on. So Ganesh treads the corridors of the Grand Raj Hotel, and stands waiting for the lift with Poppy, and sleeps in the hotel garden – it is all utterly delightful.

Mention is made in the novel of the sang-froid of the staff at the hotel, who scarcely react to the often eccentric antics of their clients – which is why a baby elephant trotting across the lobby doesn’t create panic.

There is a delicious moment in the book, when a sopping wet Baby Ganesh walks through the hotel, after a dip in the pool…with a smile on my face, I remembered an incident, in the early ’90s, when we lived in this fabulous city. After a crazy party at the “real” hotel, 2 of us, in party gear but having been chucked into the pool, splashed our way nonchalantly across the lobby, dripping water everywhere.

And no-one batted an eyelid,

All of which is to say that I especially loved the scenery-setting of this suicide-or-was-it-murder investigation.

A fun read.

A good whodunnit.

Mumbai.

An elephant.

What’s not to love about “Murder at the Grand Raj Palace”?

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