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Delhi's Own Sleuths


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THE CASE OF THE MISSING SERVANT
By Tarquin Hall
Arrow Books, UK, 2010, pp. 312, Rs.299.00

THE CASE OF THE MAN WHO DIED LAUGHING
By Tarquin Hall
Arrow Books, UK, 2011, pp. 334, Rs.299.00

VOLUME XXXVI NUMBER 1 January 2012

When a lawyer in Jaipur starts launching Public Interest Litigations in an attempt to uncover corruption in the judiciary, the counterattack is swift. A servant girl working in his house disappears, and the lawyer is accused of getting her pregnant and then killing her. In desperation he air-dashes to Delhi to seek the help of detective Vish Puri, chief of Most Private Investigators. 'Puri ji, I'm begging you, for God's sake find this bloody Mary!' the lawyer tells Puri. 'You have her full name', he asks. Kasliwal doesn't. Nor does he have any photo or personal details. He merely wants Puri to find one missing girl in a population of a billion plus. It is a difficult challenge even for the great Punjabi investigator, known to his wife as Chubby. When a day later someone takes potshots at him as he is watering his beloved pots of chilli plants on the rooftop, matters look very serious. Puri's list of Most Usual Suspects yields no clue. Help, entirely unwanted, is however at hand. His Mummyji arrives to look after him. In The Case of the Missing Servant, Tarquin Hall creates a delightful bhel-puri of quint-essentially Indian characters and situations. His reporter's eye for detail is excellent, and his ear misses few of the idiosyncrasies of North Indian English. If we are saying it like that, he is definitely catching us every time. To quote Delhi police chief about Puri: bloody jasoos! Hall's detective Puri is a curious mix of Sherlock Holmes and a cunning, though lovable, desi. Puri himself of course claims heritage from none other than Chanakya, because Holmes is only a Johnny come lately. As Hall knows, Indians invented everything in the times of Aryabhatta or thereabouts, while Hall's ancestors were still hesitantly starting their long march out of caves to, er, Wall Street. He creates another cracking good read in The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing. A rationalist who has been taking on swamis and babas for fooling gullible people-a category that strangely but truly includes powerful politicians-is struck dead one morning in Rajpath while attending a session of the local laughter club. The killer, caught on videotape and seen by several witnesses, is a 20 feet likeness of the Goddess Kali. India is agog that the disbeliever has finally been taught a lesson. 'The idea that Vish Puri could resist being involved in such a ...


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