Monday, June 28, 2010

The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall

Protagonist: Vish Puri
Setting: Delhi, India
Rating: 4.7
Vish Puri, a 51-year-old detective, owns Most Private Investigators, an agency that deals mostly with matrimonial issues. In this modern age, in which aunties no longer set up as many arranged marriages, parents seek out Most Private Investigators to screen prospective marriage partners. The work keeps Puri busy, along with his undercover operatives, who he's nicknamed: Tubelight, Flush, Hand Brake (his driver) and Facecream.

But his life is about to get even busier. A public litigator asks Puri for help -- he's been accused of murdering his maidservant. The servant has gone missing; a woman is found dead in town, but she may or may not be the servant (Puri only has a first name, Mary, as a clue to finding her). Also, Brigadier Kapoor, an important man, wants Puri to discredit the man engaged to his granddaughter, even though the groom seems squeaky-clean. Finally, someone is trying to kill Puri, shooting at him as he tends his rooftop chili plants. But he's so busy that he doesn't spend much time on his own murder attempt. Instead, to his utter frustration, his mother starts sleuthing, leading Puri to chastise her with: "It's not a mummy's role, actually."

This was a quirky book, filled with much humor. But it also had great detective stories and a great character in Puri, who, for all his faults, has a mind equal to Sherlock Holmes or Poirot.

Hall, who has lived in India, has a great ear for the Indian way of phrasing sentences, and wonderfully describes the sights and tastes (especially!) of India. Fortunately, the second book in the series, The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing, has just been published. I think I'll be visiting India, via Puri, soon.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Mortal Causes by Ian Rankin

Protagonist: Det. Insp. John Rebus
Setting: Edinburgh
Rating: 4.5

In this, the sixth novel in the Rebus series, Rankin really gets things humming along. Rankin, who has said before that he’s tried to show the Jekyll and Hyde nature of Edinburgh, gives us the touristy Edinburgh Festival – and a murder right underneath the noses of festivalgoers. Literally. A young man’s body is found in the underground St. Mary’s King Close, tortured and shot six times.

When it seems that Scottish nationalists and extreme hardline Irish groups are involved, Rebus is seconded to the elite Scottish Crime Squad, since he’s had previous army experience in Belfast. This suits Rebus just fine – he can travel between the two offices without his superiors knowing what he’s really up to. In the meantime, Rebus, as a favor to a priest, has also ventured into the Gar-B, a notorious housing project in Edinburgh. These two threads tie eventually. Also making an appearance is Rebus’ nemesis, “Big Ger” Cafferty, an effective alter ego for Rebus.

Along the way, there are a few more murders and Rebus serves as a punching bag for almost everyone – the bad guys, the good guys (a fellow police officer) and a lawyer with whom he’s unwisely flirted, even though he’s living with Dr. Patience Aitken.

A very good entry in a great series.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Man From Beijing by Henning Mankell

Protagonist: Birgitta Roslin
Setting: Sweden and China
Rating: 4.0
A photographer is traveling through rural Sweden when he stops at a small scenic village. But something is off: no smoke is coming out of the chimneys even though it's a cold winter day. Soon enough, he starts to stumble on dead bodies. When police arrive, they find 18 dead, one of the biggest mass slayings in Sweden. But this is not the usual police procedural. In fact, it's not the police who solve the mystery -- they arrest the wrong man -- but a judge, Birgitta Roslin, who is connected to some of the victims.

I had mixed feelings about this book. I really, really wanted to like it. It is, after all, written by the great Henning Mankell, who writes the popular Kurt Wallander series.

And this is by no means a bad book. There's much I did like: the main characters are, for the most part, strong and intelligent women. I very much liked them. The story, up to a point, held my attention. However, about two-thirds of the way through, the action switches from Sweden to China. It jarred, taking me out of the Swedish story and into a more political story involving China and Africa.

Then there was the whole premise for the murders. The killer is avenging a family wrong committed 138 years ago, but taking his revenge out on innocents. And while we get to know the killer quiet well, it was still hard to believe he'd kill for that purpose. Lastly, the translation seemed clunky. I'm sure Mankell is a wonderful writing, but it read stilted in English.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, but warily, not enthusiastically.