The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall (Book Review)
From the publisher:
“Vish Puri, India's self-styled Most Private Investigator, is portly, persistent, and unmistakably Punjabi. Backed by his team of undercover operatives, he cuts a determined swath through India's swindlers, cheats, and murderers. When an honest public litigator is accused of murdering a maidservant, he turns to Puri for his help and discretion. It's a tough case. How will Puri trace the fate of the girl, known only as Mary, in a population of more than one billion? The search for the missing servant takes Puri on a journey that reveals not only the detective's clever methods of investigation but also modern India's vivid, seething complexity.”
Vish Puri, a private investigator living in Delhi, is a very likeable character. He will remind some readers of Columbo or Hercule Poirot, whose nattily dressed appearance conceals an analytical mind. The majority of Puri’s cases are matrimonial investigations into prospective partners. With the changes of a new modern India, detailed to provide an in-depth look at Puri and the world he lives in, families no longer know each other prior to the arranged match. Puri’s investigations reveal the personal backgrounds of the proposed husband or wife: financial, social, moral and any involvement in criminal activity.
Although Puri has been ordered by his doctor to diet, he sneaks his favourite snacks throughout the story. For those who love Indian food, the descriptions will create cravings that need to be satisfied by the time you finish reading. Or before.
Puri has honed his detective skills by using 2000-year old Indian principles of detection. He uses a variety of resourceful techniques at his discretion, such as undercover, larceny and blackmail. His operative assistants have various nicknames: Tubelight, Facecream, Door Stop, Flush and Handbrake, with a multitude of abilities gleaned from not so legal activities. Also assisting Puri are an assortment of friends in high and low places, and those he would rather not assist him: his Mummy (formidable in her own right), and his wife, Rumpi.
The story is complex, fast-paced with hilarious and touching moments while looking at Indian culture. Puri’s investigations take him from the country clubs and mansions of the wealthy classes to the squalor and poverty of the slums of Delhi and Jharkhand. In the end, Puri has done what he could with the majority of his cases closed and the missing servant located in a manner befitting Perry Mason.
Like all good mysteries it does contain a few bodies to keep the plot interesting. The violence is kept to a minimum with low graphic details, and foul language is often in Hindi. At the end of the story is a glossary containing definitions of unfamiliar Indian terms used throughout.
I was pleased to learn that there is a sequel coming, “The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing,” to continue the adventures of Vish Puri, private investigator.