Like in the first novel, The Case of the Missing Servant, Vish Puri must solve a murder. But unlike the Case of the Missing Servant, where he was hired to investigate the murder of a stranger, this time, the victim of the incredible crime is a famous personality and a personal friend of his.
Dr. Suresh Jha, a rationalist known throughout India as the “Guru Buster,” has made a name for himself ridiculing and disproving miracles and incredible feats performed by India’s numerous and notorious Godmen. Dr. Jha’s goal is to rid Indians of their blind faith and absurd beliefs in gods and religion. His unconventional beliefs and enthusiasm in disproving miracles and other religious practices have garnered him many enemies throughout his career. One in particular, a well-loved and popular Godman, Maharaj Swami, has even publicly declared the day Dr. Jha would die.
Not to be put off by such nonsense, Dr. Jha went about his usual routine on the day of his scheduled death. Early in the morning, he visited a park where he took part in the daily laughing exercises of the Laughing Club, a group of people who believe that laughter really is the best medicine when it came to improving their quality of life. Unfortunately, the group’s exercises were interrupted by the appearance of the terrible and hideous Hindu goddess Kali, who, after appearing out of thin air and levitating, plunged a sword though Dr. Jha’s heart and disappeared. Everyone who witnessed the incredible event attested that a miracle had taken place, but whether or not that miracle was brought about by His Holiness Maharaj Swami, was something Vish Puri planned to get to the bottom of.
A semi skeptic himself when it came to miracles and the unexplained, Vish Puri took it upon himself to aide the police in investigating Dr. Jha’s murder, with Maharaj Swami as his main suspect. Vish Puri interviews magicians in order to get some insights on illusions and levitation, and places well-trained operatives in Swami-ji’s sprawling ashram to try to find some solid proof that Swami-ji murdered Dr. Jha. What Vish Puri discovers, however, was not exactly what he expected to find.
Like the first novel, The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing is a light whodunit which is really a critique on Indian culture from the perspective of an outsider. Like the first novel, it describes the general squalor of India as well as a culture of poverty which is common in most developing countries; corruption, bad traffic made worse by bad drivers, the snobbery of the elite class, and the blind faith of the masses on religion and religious practitioners. In trying to paint a picture of India, the author describes the good (close family ties, respect for elders, delicious food) as well as the bad, and even incorporates Indian words (there’s a glossary at the back of the book) and the unique grammar of Indian English into its characters dialogue.
I guess this is officially my first novel for the year, though I started reading this sometime after Christmas. I wanted something light during the holidays which wouldn’t depress me or require me to think too much, and The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing did just the trick.
The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing (2010) – Tarquin Hall
Simon and Schuster Paperbacks; 296 pages
Personal rating: 2.5/5