The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken: A Vish Puri Mystery by Tarquin Hall
Not being much of a mystery aficionado, I admit my grumbling tummy is what initially drew me to this toothsome series. Earlier this year, one of my various listservs announced the July 2012 publication of this very title, and I diligently decided I had better read Vish Puri –”India’s Most Private Investigator” – in short order. In a moment of delicious surprise, the audible route proved even more appetizing as the full series is read by one of my favorite narrators ever, the multi-talented, smooth-talking, man-of-many-perfect accents, British actor Sam Dastor (his single fault might be that he can’t say ‘jalapeno’ correctly, but I’m really not quibbling!).
While The Case of the Missing Servant and The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing were both of the guilt-inducing-for-giggling-and-guffawing-in-the-midst-of-grisly-slashings-and-shootings-variety, Butter Chicken leans toward the more somber, although easy chuckling is sprinkled generously throughout. That said, it just might be the best of the three.
So Vish Puri’s got his hands (and, as usual, his belly) full while managing overlapping cases. While he’s trying to find out who poisoned the talented young cricket player’s dear Papa during a crowded hotel banquet, he also has to figure out who the pernicious mustache thief might be. Since he’s got quite a handlebar of his own, the latter case gives him nightmares … but the former will change his life forever.
From an international betting conspiracy to blood diamonds, from cricket games to imported American cheerleaders, from former generals to Koranic verses, British-born-international-journalist-turned-Delhiite Tarquin Hall manages to weave an unexpected, intriguing journey of self-discovery for his hero as he wends his way through his latest perplexing cases. Hall explores the historical Indian/Pakistani divide through Puri’s own travel to the country he thought he would never enter, where he discovers Mummy-ji had quite a past she has yet to share with him. Meanwhile, recalling what happened more than half a century ago gives Mummy just the right clues to track down a murderer even her talented son won’t be able to identity without her help. Go, Mummy, go!
As much of a page-turner #3 is, it’s also a sobering, intimate examination of inherited bias and divisive history on the South Asian subcontinent. Hall’s outsider perspective surely works to his literary advantage here – although his ancestral-by-cultural-association Angrezi don’t exactly fare well. That said, his current immersion in all things Dilli gives each Puri adventure indisputable authenticity, while Sam Dastor’s near-perfect narration makes for quite the aural feast. Guilty pleasures indeed!