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Vish Puri is a private detective in Delhi juggling several cases -- the missing servant girl of the title, a judge accused of murder, potential political corruption, and the suitability of a prospective groom, as well as an attempt on his own life. Helping him are an array of characters, including (under his perpetual protest) his mother. All set to the sights and sounds, tastes and smells, people and places, morals and mores, and social and religious diversity of modern India.
But what sets this IMFL (Indian-Made Foreign Literature) apart, especially in audio, is author Tarquin Hall's masterful use of Indian English. Though born in London to American and English parents, the former journalist now lives in Delhi with his Indian wife. Clearly reveling in the charming (as he calls it) way Indians have appropriated (malappropriated) the English language, Hall has created a series of novels that allow us to listen in.
"English is a mongrel language and the English themselves have had no qualms about looting tens of thousands of words from other languages (and often changed the meanings) so why shouldn’t others do the same," Hall writes in introducing his Indian-English glossary. We are the beneficiaries of his golden ear for how English has evolved in his adopted land in this first entry in the Vish Puri mystery series.
As much as I have come to appreciate audiobooks set in India or about Indians (far more than in print), as I have previously remarked in reviewing Q&A (Slumdog Millionaire), A Son of the Circus, Life of Pi, and The 100-Foot Journey, there has to be more to it than just their lilting present tense manner of speaking. There has to be a good story. Hall's story is in the mystery format, with a complex plot that has all the hallmarks of ultimately coming together in a manner essential to a good mystery -- at once anticipated and unanticipated.
But... it didn't come together in the way I anticipated, and the unanticipated elements were not satisfying (for me). I don't want to get into details that would be spoilers. Stylistically, the story rushes too hurriedly to its denouement, leaving a lot of plot potential on the table. My understanding is that the Puri series gets better with each entry, so I will definitely be giving it another go. Whether this works for you, however, depends on how interested you think you would be in the landscape and language -- without that, this is just another mystery novel.
5 of 6 people found this review helpful
If you could sum up The Case of the Missing Servant in three words, what would they be?
Amusing intricate mystery
What did you like best about this story?
I enjoy the family life of the lead character Puri, especially his mother Mummyji. Their interactions are amusing while still advancing one of the subplots that enliven the story. Similarly, the characters of Puri's various operatives as they investigate one or another mystery are by turns delightful and effective in turning up clues. Throughout the book, Indian culture and daily life provide an exotic background without minimizing the effects of poverty and corruption on the lives of the Indian people.
What about Sam Dastor’s performance did you like?
His narration is excellent. His accents and enunciation make the characters come alive and enhance the setting of the story.
Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?
It made me smile and chuckle while keeping me hooked on the central mystery as well as the two subplots.
Any additional comments?
This is the second of Tarquin Hall's mysteries I have read. The first (The Man Who Died Laughing) was more exotic and involved unusual characters - gods and magicians, while this one seemed more down to earth. With Sam Dastor's wonderful narration, I'll order the the rest of the series to enjoy.
4 of 5 people found this review helpful