Vaseem Khan- Bad Day At The Vulture Club

The Parsees are among the oldest, most secretive and most influential communities in the city: respected, envied and sometimes feared. When prominent industrialist Cyrus Zorabian is murdered on holy ground, his body dumped inside a Tower of Silence – where the Parsee dead are consumed by vultures – the police dismiss it as a random killing. But his daughter is unconvinced. Chopra, uneasy at entering this world of power and privilege, is soon plagued by doubts about the case. But murder is murder. And in Mumbai, wealth and corruption go in hand in hand, inextricably linking the lives of both high and low…

In uncertain times, such as these, I think that the benefits of reading are immeasurable to aid an escape and distraction from global events. Looking for more of a comfort read, I turned to Vaseem Khan’s excellent Baby Ganesh Agency Investigation series of which I have read a few now, and this is the latest in the series.

As much as I love the colourful and whimsical covers on these books, I always worry that readers may avoid them, lumping them in with the more cosy elements of crime fiction. What Khan actually achieves is a skilful balance of the cosy, encapsulated by the home life of Inspector Chopra and his intuitive charge, Ganesha the baby elephant and sharply observed social commentary that really taps into the grinding poverty and political corruption of India as a whole, and Mumbai more specifically. As we are equally amused by some of Chopra’s associates and Ganesha’s uncanny ability to keep Chopra safe from harm, and some truly laugh out loud moments, the true character of Mumbai and its inhabitants is referenced throughout the book. In keeping with the best crime writers who specialise in urban crime, there is a feeling of affection on the author’s part for the city, in all its grime and glory, and a reticence to look away from the darker aspects of it too, giving him a great canvas to create these taxing cases for the indomitable and always focussed Chopra.

I like the way that Khan shines a light on the city both through Chopra’s cases and the social missions that his wife Poppy embarks upon, much to the chagrin of the wrongdoers and their neighbours respectively. In this way, Khan can cover many different issues in the course of one book, keeping the stories realistic and, most importantly, engaging, as we as readers discover so much about this uniquely vibrant, yet sharply contrasting city. I found the background to this particular case incredibly interesting, as I was not familiar at all with the finer details of the Parsee religion, its ceremonies, traditions and how modern practices are beginning to encroach on these traditional rites. I thought that this gave an incredibly solid grounding to the case Chopra becomes inveigled in, and again reflects the prowess of Khan’s writing, both here and in other books in the series, to utterly engage us in a particular aspect of Mumbai society, underscored by a no doubt fascinating research process, and to carefully balance this with a compelling crime plot.

Chopra is a beautifully drawn character, as a former police officer turned private investigator of some repute. He is an incredibly moral man, with a defined code of justice, that instils a trust and respect in him by those who know him best, and those that come to seek his help. He is always completely focussed on the victims he encounters, and no matter how trying or dangerous an investigation gets, he retains a dogged determination to expose the perpetrators and gain justice or clarity for the victims. As Chopra says himself, “For me, each and every case is a personal matter. It is the only way we can be sure to see things through.” This sense of dogged determination seems to carry over to his personal life too, as the logistics of caring for his unusual young charge, Ganesha, and the particular challenges that his tenacious and headstrong wife presents, keep Chopra well and truly on his toes. It can never be said that Chopra is not a practical and pragmatic man though, which stands him in good stead for all the challenges that his life presents. Khan’s characterisation in general is always spot on, with a wonderful supporting cast for Chopra himself, and an innate ability by the author to focus so perfectly on people’s visual characteristics, and quirks of appearance. He does this is in such a way that every character is vividly drawn in the reader’s mind, and compounded by the sharp and perfectly pitched dialogue adds another layer of enjoyment to these excellent books.

Love them! Highly recommended.

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(I bought this copy of Bad Day At The Vulture Club: Hodder Books)

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