Review : The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken

December 17, 2012
Author: Tarquin Hall
Publisher: Random House
Year: 2012
ISBN: 9780091937416
Rating: ★★★★☆
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Dilli-boy Vish Puri is on his third outing as India’s “Most Private Investigator” in Tarquin Hall’s The case of the deadly butter chicken and yet, this is only the first book of the series that I have read. The previous two books definitely feature quite prominently in my to-read list now.

Think of the perfect detective, and your mind might just veer towards the likes of Sherlock Holmes. Vish Puri is nothing of the sorts. A mustachioed detective with a hearty appetite, our Punjabi munda from Dilli is to be depended upon for anything that goes wrong with the world around him. A moustache-record holder’s moustache is stolen? No worries, Vish Puri is right on the job. A Pakistani cricketer’s father is murdered with poisoned butter chicken? Not to worry again. Hall creates a very interesting character in Puri. At one time, quite ordinary- as ordinary as any other man in Delhi- and at another time, extremely unique. It is this unique ordinariness that makes Vish Puri so appealing.

Tarquin Hall, as a British writer and journalist living in Delhi, seems to notice those peculiarities of Indians and India that we as locals might not notice. His characters speak a unique form of English that you are not likely to hear anywhere but in India. Sample this- “Looking so tired, na. Come, sit. You should take chai vai. Then rest. Such big eye bags are there. Black and blue. Must be sore, na. I’ll bring some cucumber slice. And your favourite iron tonic, also.” That’s how Vish Puri’s Mummy-ji talks to him. His characters are very believable. They might just remind you of some neighbourhood aunty or uncle or some of your relatives from the typical Indian extended family. He builds up this wonderfully colourful and vibrant picture of contemporary Delhi and India.

The basic plot is very simple. A prominent Pakistani cricketer’s father is murdered through a plate of poisoned butter chicken during one of the after-match parties of a premier cricket tournament. Puri happens to be at the murder spot as his wife’s nephew also plays in the same tournament. The investigation of the murder leads him deep into the underbelly of the murky and dangerous match-fixing business. He also has to step into the ‘enemy’ territory of Pakistan and work in a partnership with the one person he has never wanted to work with: his Mummy-ji. Hall’s novel effectively intertwines suspense and hilarity to give us a novel replete with Indian-ness. One of the most quirky murder mysteries you will come across.

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