The Case of the Missing Servant (2009) is the first book in a series starring Vish Puri, India’s “most private investigator.” The 51-year-old, rotund, Safari-suit-and-Sandown-hat-wearing, mustachioed detective with a penchant for pakoras and chicken frankies, and founder of Most Private Investigators, Ltd. prides himself as winner of the 1999 Super Sleuth World Federation of Detectives award, and the first Indian private detective to make it to the cover of India Today. Vish Puri is known to his friends and clients as the Indian Sherlock Holmes, a distinction he finds quite offensive. He takes umbrage at being compared to a fictional detective who is popular for using, without giving credit to, the deductive methods invented in India thousands of years ago by Puri’s spiritual mentor and guru, Chanakya.
With the help of his group of trained employees and experts with descriptive names like Handbrake, Facecream, Flush, and Tubelight, and an arsenal of disguises at his disposal, Vish Puri is the middle and upper-class families’ go-to professional when it comes to doing background checks on potential partners of arranged marriages, and other domestic situations that require utmost secrecy.
In The Case of the Missing Servant, however, Vish Puri lands himself a case of a more serious nature. Hired by an established lawyer from Jaipur, Mr. Ajay Kasliwal, to clear his name after being accused of first impregnating, then killing his maidservant, Mary, Delhi-based Vish Puri and his group of talented detectives-in-training must work doubly hard by infiltrating the Kasliwal household, impersonating officials to acquire police records, and snooping around to prove Mr. Kasliwal’s innocence.
The Case of the Missing Servant is as much a whodunit crime novel as it is a discourse on the nuances of Indian culture. British journalist and writer Tarquin Hall who has spent a lot of time in India also offers up a subtle critique of the country in his description of Indian life and culture – of bad drivers, poor infrastructure, corrupt policemen and government officials, poverty, class inequality, and the positive and negative implications of the booming BPO industry.
Despite the prevalence of corruption, poverty, and less than savoury individuals, Mr. Hall succeeds in painting a colorful, contradictory, and exotic picture of a country with a complex culture, and of course, delicious food. In fact, the novel mentions Indian delicacies so often that you might find yourself craving Indian food by the time you finish reading the novel – I know I did!
The Case of the Missing Servant is a simple whodunit that is easy to read and doesn’t take itself too seriously, and as I mentioned earlier, it is a light novel that is perfect for cleansing your literary palate, if you will, before moving on to your next bookish endeavor.
The Case of the Missing Servant (2009) – Tarquin Hall
Simon and Schuster Paperbacks; 295 pages.
Personal rating: 2.5/5