Uh oh, I've got another fun detective series to add to my "must read" list. The last time I felt this way was after reading Colin Cotterhill's The Coroner's Lunch
, and before that it was Alexander McCall Smith's The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency
. This series debut shares a good deal with those two -- such as compelling protagonist detectives, a keen sense of humor, colorful and finely depicted international settings, great supporting casts, and the right balance of dark subject matter and light tone.
Here, we are introduced to Vish Puri, who is (at least by his accounting) India's most renown and successful private detective. Although his bread and butter cases are essentially background checks on prospective grooms and bridges, he also tangles with more ruthless villains. This debut finds him checking out the suspiciously squeaky-clean groom of the daughter of a strict military man, ducking bullets from an unknown assailants, and taking on a seemingly hopeless missing persons case.
It's this latter plotline that gives the book its title and its main story, as Puri must locate a "tribal" servant girl who might be anywhere in India -- if she's even alive. Atmosphere simply oozes from the pages, whether Puri's downing pakora and cocktails at an old-fashioned colonial-style club, driving around the clogged Delhi streets, or poking around the remote mining center of Jharkhand. Vish is a classic character who's sure to amuse, from his custom hats and disguises, to his sneaking of snacks and other cunning skills, he's a detective one wants to spend more time with (along with his amusing named band of employees, Handbrake, Tubelight, Flush, Doorstop, Facecream, etc.)
Spanning modern Indian society from high to low (ie. sleek call centers to mud huts), this is a real page-turner of a mystery filled with classic bits of detection and flavored with plenty of Hindi and Punjabi phrases (don't worry, there's a great glossary if you need it). At times some of the comedic elements get a touch too broad, but that's a minor quibble with an utterly enjoyable debut. I'll definitely be keeping my eye out for the next in the series.