I’m so grateful to Letters from a Hill Farm for recommending The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall. Vish Puri, India’s 'Most Private Investigator', is watching a house with his employees. No shots have rung out, I’ve no idea what crime is being investigated but I’m hooked from page one of this book by the language and humour. On page four I laugh out loud on reading that one of the team 'had once managed to place a microscopic bug inside the Pakistani ambassador’s dentures.' As it turns out, that particular stake-out is not the main crime being investigated: disappearance and murder; bribery and corruption at all levels, this is what we find. At the centre of it, Mr Puri: family man, incorruptible, a little vain and wholly likable. He solves the mystery and at the end of the book enjoys a Hercule Poirot-like moment of glory as he gathers all protagonists together in order to reveal the truth he has discovered and how he arrived at it.
It’s impressive that such a short, entertaining and funny book can also convey such a strong sense of modern India. The old hierarchies of caste, family networks and arranged marriages still matter. "India is modernizing, Madam Rani, but we must keep our family values, isn’t it? Without them, where would we be?" says Puri. The middle classes may live in gated communities but the power and water supplies often fail. Pollution is everywhere. At the golf club,
a gaggle of aunties (talked) in loud voices about how much money they’d made on the stock market.
At the far end of the lawn, a mali was cutting the grass with a manual mower drawn by a buffalo.
I found the book’s language very catching, to the extent that I started thinking in Indian; there’s a glossary at the end of the book and it’s surprising how many Indian words one knows already. Like many English people I rather dote on things Indian and never missed an episode of Goodness Gracious Me or The Kumars at No. 42. In the past I’ve enjoyed reading E M Forster’s Passage to India, Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet and Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, all of which have been filmed. Any more recommendations? I borrowed The Case of the Missing Servant from the library but I intend buying the paperback and I do so hope that this is the first in a long series.