Tarquin Hall announces his arrival on the Crime Writers scene with a superbly smooth-paced mystery. Modern day India is splendidly portrayed with rich Punjabi traditions expertly depicted in detective Vish Puri’s lifestyle.
Puri, aka Chubby, is a presumptuous foodie who heads Most Private Investigators with a controlling streak. His sidekicks are efficient and have amusing names like Handbrake, Facecream and Tubelight. They are both awed and wary of their “Boss” at the same time. Puri’s modus operandi of investigation involves sticking to the basics and going after his prey with pitbull-like determination. A thorough student of India’s age-old detection techniques formulated by Chanakya (administrator par excellence of the Maurya dynasty, 300 BC), Puri is not impressed by Johnny-come-lately detectives like Sherlock Holmes.
The mystery itself unfolds and is cracked in a way that is not typical of present-day Western novels. The primary reason is the differences in interaction amongst the primary characters in accordance with prevalent norms of Indian society. The average Westerner might find a throwback to the days when butlers, helps and cooks were commonplace while the story is actually set in the contemporary and progressive suburbs of New Delhi. With his client in jail, the police as his opponents and the media playing truant, Puri methodically puts together each piece of the puzzle and succeeds in maintaining his record of never leaving a case unsolved.
Hall does a commendable job of trying to weave multiple parallel stories, one involving an attempt on Puri’s life and the other concerning a matrimonial investigation (Puri’s flagship line of business), alongside the main plot, Mortimer-style. Vish Puri comes across as a healthy combination of Poirot and Rumpole. Let’s hope that he continues to milk his newfound market for probing serious crime.