The Perfect Murder (1964) by H R F Keating

The Perfect Murder

This is an author who featured a couple on my blog in its first days and at times I was surprised by the thematic depth, as I hadn’t really considered them in that light before. The Perfect Murder (1964) is the first novel in Keating’s Inspector Ghote series and the title is quite amusingly ironic. The story begins with Ghote trying to get to grips with the reported murder of Arun Varde’s secretary. Varde who is wealthy and knows how to throw his weight about is a difficult man for Ghote to deal with. Ghote’s irritation reaches its’ peak when it turns out the secretary is not murdered but only badly injured. Nevertheless the case is stuck with the name the Perfect Murder, which sounds daunting to say the least, as Varde claims a business rival must have sent a man to kill his secretary, but this is impossible due to the high security of his home. Ghote’s focus turns to the inmates of the house but Varde amongst other family members are incredibly difficult with him, refusing to answer questions, insulting and lying to him. Yet this is not all that Ghote has on his plate. Not only does he have to deal with the seemingly impossible theft of a rupee from the Minister of Police Affairs and Arts’ office, but he also has to help and escort Axel Svensson, an irrepressible Swede who is from UNESCO and is writing a book on police methods in different countries. As Ghote goes on to do in later books, he carefully walks the line of not offending his superiors too much, but also sticking to his guns to ensure justice is achieved.

From the get go Keating is good at establishing an interesting setting in a culture which readers can identify with but also find difference in. Set in Bombay, the book also has in the background the legacy of Britain’s rule there and it is interesting to see how different characters refer to this, with some even appropriating attitudes or poses they align with British imperialism in India. For example, one of Varde’s sons explains to Axel why he thinks Ghote should not bother to try and investigate the attack on his father’s secretary, saying

‘our policeman as he is today may be a good chap and all that, but he’s simply had no experience of how civilised people live. He’d be totally out of his depth in a house like this.’

And interestingly Ghote notices this appropriation of language by telling him to not ‘be more English than the English.’ Ghote is definitely a character you quickly sympathise with as both his superiors and his witnesses often use their status, position and wealth to dominate and bully him. On the whole this was an okay mystery and an easy read, but I think what let things down for me was that there needed to be more tangible clues and I felt that Ghote’s lightning bolts of inspiration in solving his cases were a bit rushed and clumsily done. Equally I felt the final solutions were bit a basic and could have been more creatively done.

Rating: 3.5/5

See also:

Filmi Filmi Inspector Ghote (1976)

The Body in the Billiard Room (1987)

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About armchairreviewer

Qualified English teacher, with a passion for literature and crime fiction. On a random note I also own pygmy goats and chickens with afros (it doesn't get any cooler than that).
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3 Responses to The Perfect Murder (1964) by H R F Keating

  1. realthog says:

    I think what let things down for me was that there needed to be more tangible clues and I felt that Ghote’s lightning bolts of inspiration in solving his cases were a bit rushed and clumsily done. Equally I felt the final solutions were bit a basic and could have been more creatively done.

    Having had exactly the same reaction to the couple of Keating novels I read (one of which was this one), I heard him boast in a radio discussion that he never worked out whodunnit until he was approaching the end. What he didn’t realize is that it shows — it’s not just that Ghote’s actions seem pretty aimless and random, they actually are.

    So I gave up reading his books.

    Liked by 2 people

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