Today is the Tuesday Night Bloggers’ final look at January’s theme of Firsts. If you have missed any of the past posts you can catch up with the links below:
And here are this week’s links. If you know of any other blog posts which tie in with the theme of crime fiction and firsts let me know in the comments section below. Equally if you are interested in taking part in this blog meme let me know and I’ll fill you in on next month’s chosen theme. The more the merrier!
JJ at The Invisible Event: The First Lines of First Impossible Crimes
Moira at Clothes in Books: Jane and Dagobert
My contribution for this week is looking at the first novel in Vaseem Khan’s Baby Ganesh Agency series, which is set in Mumbai and as the front cover also suggests the series’ sleuth, Inspector Chopra, has an unusual sidekick – a baby elephant. Yet at the start of the book due to health reasons, Chopra is retiring from the police. By and large his final day of work is ordinary, even the latest police case is deemed to need little attention. It involves a boy named Santosh who is from a poor background and is presumed to have drowned while under the influence. Chopra though is not entirely convinced the case is so open and shut and is concerned that his successor will not give the case any attention, a concern which riles his strong sense of justice. This concern seems vindicated when the assistant commissioner vetoes an autopsy. The most unusual event for Chopra on his last day of work is the arrival of a baby elephant, (which he decides to name Ganesh), sent to him by his uncle, much to the annoyance of his neighbours.
Whilst dealing with Ganesh, who seems to be distressed and struggling to flourish, Chopra is unsurprisingly restless about the death of Santosh and soon begins making a few discrete inquiries. These inquiries soon developed into definite leads, with evidence that Santosh’s death was no accident and that it may have been caused by him knowing something he shouldn’t have done. Of course the policeman in Chopra cannot resist seeing the case to its conclusion. Yet success is by no means certain, as pursuing the threads of this case could cost Chopra his reputation, his wife and even his life.
Animals in crime fiction is definitely a divisive trope, especially when such creatures aid the detective element in the book. On the whole I tend to enjoy this sort of plot aspect, having read quite a few strong examples of it, but I know of readers who shudder at the thought of it. I think though that Khan deals with this plot aspect effectively. He doesn’t have Ganesh talking or dusting for fingerprints, but instead overall allows Ganesh’s natural actions influence Chopra’s investigation. Ganesh’s actions of course also inject a tasteful dose of humour into the story, with the highlight for me being when Chopra coaxes Ganesh up a shopping mall’s escalator using chocolate. But to Khan’s credit the humour in this book does not descend to farce and the atmosphere of this book is neither purely dark nor light, being an effective blend of the two.
Another strength of the story is the setting and Khan gives his work a good sense of place, portraying a vastly different way of life consistently throughout the novel, without info dumping on the reader. In particular I enjoyed how we see the changing nature of Mumbai and of India from Chopra’s point of view, especially the meteoric pace of the change and you can sympathise with Chopra that it is not all for the best. The story also touches on the influence of the West in India, which Chopra is largely resistant to, seeing western commerce as taking over and dominating India’s existing culture. I particularly liked the phrase that ‘the whole country was being rebranded,’ as it made me ponder for quite a while on how consumerism brands us in a way. The plot of the book is equally shaped by issues of wealth bias and corruption at the top, which added to the thriller/private eye feel of the book.
It won’t surprise you if I say that Chopra feels like a successor to H R F Keating’s Inspector Ghote, though for me I found Chopra a much more personable character. Like Inspector Ghote, Chopra has a strong sense of right and wrong and of how to be a good detective. Yet one thing which makes Chopra more personable is that he is a man who is forced to change and adapt once he retires when it comes to investigative work. Moreover, his ability to empathise with witnesses and relatives of victims shows him in a more humane light. The sense of a continuation also comes across in the similarity of social issues presented in the stories.
So overall this was a fun and entertaining read. This is a mystery novel with plenty of social comedy, as apart from the Ganesh, there is also Chopra’s feisty wife Poppy, (who has a subplot of her own) and Chopra’s less than pleasant mother in law.