Title: The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown; Author: Vaseem Khan; Publisher: Mulholland Books/Hachette India; Pages: 352; Price: Rs 399
A bid to steal the British Crown jewels (in their pre-Kohinoor era) was made in 1671 but the thieves were caught even before they escaped the premises. But when the now Kohinoor-studded regalia is exhibited at a Mumbai museum, the guardians are not so lucky. With both British and Indian police stymied, the only man who can crack the case is a private detective – with a baby elephant in tow.
Ashwin Chopra, who makes his second appearance here, however is no run-of-the -mill detective – apart from his elephant, Baby Ganesha. An upright, conscientious, determined and effective police inspector before ill-health forced his early retirement, he carried his qualities (which don’t command much premium in the modern India) over to his new line of work too (along with being a restaurateur).
Present at the spot when the theft is committed while the viewers including him and his wife are gassed, he has been earlier mystified at seeing an old criminal adversary there, and is drawn in into the case anyway when an old police colleague, who is accused of the crime and summarily imprisoned, beseeches his help.
But carrying out the investigation is not easy. Apart from the issue of access to the spot and the official probe, which is being run by his obnoxious bete noire still in uniform and some doubts over the innocence of his former colleague – especially after the crown minus the Kohinoor is recovered from his home, there is much more to deal with.
Chopra’s wife, Archana alias Poppy, insists he concentrates also on other cases, including a pair of thefts at a prestigious Church-run school where she works, his restaurant has ruffled egos, especially due to his crotchety mother-in-law whom his wife convinces him to let work there, his elephant is under threat, and a boy who has turned up to work at his restaurant and endeared himself to all is taken away by his abusive father.
But he perseveres. Pressing into his service his former sub-inspector, Abbas Rangwala, who has been drummed out of the force on trumped-up charges, and striking up a partnership of sorts with the lead British investigator, he zeroes in on a likely suspect. And even if getting into his house involves joining a circus, dressing up as a clown and performing antics before a high society gathering, he is not the one to shy away.
And slowly the story builds up to a tense climax on a luxury yacht, where Chopra and his still unenthusiastic British partner, have bluffed their way abroad.
Will they be able to recover the diamond? Will his elephant survive the malefic attention of the wildlife authorities? Will he and his wife see that boy again? These questions combine seamlessly in an engrossing but delightful read that surprises till the very last.
The only thing that mars is a small mistake with describing the Kohinoor’s history – Shah Jahan was not the grandson of Humayun as rendered but the great-grandson.
Readers familiar with “The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra”, which introduces Chopra and see him take up a near-blind case that comes on his last day in uniform but his successors or seniors could not be less bothered with, will enjoy his return and further adventures but be left wanting for more.
For the author, British management consultant-turned-crime science specialist (at University College London) Vaseem Khan, not only crafts a story full of colour, humour, nuances (Chopra’s principled honesty and devotion to Mahatma Gandhi’s thoughts but also the insouciance of India’s rich) and ample insights into life in a crowded metropolis of the new India but creates a new paradigm in the private detective genre.
Private detectives have been a varied bunch with a veritable galaxy of idiosyncrasies and singular companions, both human and animal, but a pairing with a pachyderm was an unprecedented and inspired choice – and could only be possible in India.
(Vikas Datta can be contacted at email@example.com <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org> )