Now this is a book I have had sitting on my TBR list for far too long. It first came to my attention at CrimeFest last year when I heard author, Vaseem Khan, speaking on a panel about his somewhat unusual hero, Ganesha, the baby elephant. I was fascinated and promptly bought the books, but for some reason never quite found the time to read them. Taking part in First Monday Crime as a blogger, an event at which Mr Khan will be one of the panelists in November, gave me the perfect reason (as if one were needed) to put the books front and centre of my reading list and so, armed with an audiobook copy of the book, I set about listening to it on one of my many trips up to Scotland over the past month. And what a treat it was too. I’ll tell you how much of one in a short while, just as soon as we’ve taken a look at what the book is all about.
The Official Book Blurb
Mumbai, murder and a baby elephant combine in a charming, joyful mystery for fans of Alexander McCall Smith and Rachel Joyce.
On the day he retires, Inspector Ashwin Chopra discovers that he has inherited an elephant: an unlikely gift that could not be more inconvenient. For Chopra has one last case to solve…
But as his murder investigation leads him across Mumbai – from its richest mansions to its murky underworld – he quickly discovers that a baby elephant may be exactly what an honest man needs.
So begins the start of a quite unexpected partnership, and an utterly delightful new series.
You wouldn’t believe it would you? Of all the things to bequest in a will, how high up your list would an elephant be. It is certainly not the kind of inheritance our poor Inspector Chopra (retired) would wish for, given that he lives in an apartment block in Mumbai. But, in the words of Chopra’s eccentric Uncle Bansi, this is no ordinary elephant, and this is no ordinary crime story. What it is, is fascinating. A beautiful blend of good humour, astute observation of Indian culture and a perplexing murder mystery. And an elephant. Gotta love the elephant.
On his very last day as a Police Inspector, Chopra is faced with the case of a body which was found in a dry creek. Dismissed by his peers as being a suicide by a drunken man, Chopra isn’t quite so sure. When he is confronted by the young man’s mother who insists that her son was murdered, Chopra vows to find the woman some answers. That won’t be easy though as he no longer has the powers of the police behind him and any investigations he undertakes will be most definitely off books. As he looks deeper into the case, he realises there really is more to the case than meets the eye. His investigations put him squarely in the path of a former nemesis, someone Chopra never expected to see again. Meanwhile, his life at home is becoming ever more complicated. With an overbearing mother-in-law, the neighbour from hell and his wife’s nemesis, Mrs Subramanium, one his back about his elephant, and absolutely no idea of how to care for his new charge, Chopra’s easy new life to avoid stress is anything but. Can he solve a mystery and catch a killer? And just how can he fit a baby elephant into the fifteenth floor apartment of a Tower block…?
From the very off you know that this is going to be a very different kind of novel. The setting and the story dictate that is it not going to be your high stakes, high drama, shoot-em-up kind of murder mystery. Indian culture and justice does not work that way. However, in spite of a very different feel to the book it still has moments of high tension, where Chopra puts his life very much on the line. The man is faced with not one, but two nemeses, one within and one outside of the law. For Chopra is undeniably honest, something which appears to be unheard of in the culture of Mumbai. He will not take bribes, will not be corrupted, and this puts him at odds with many of his peers.
In fact, it could almost be argued he has three nemeses if you take Mrs Subramanium into account. She is a very formidable woman who rules the apartment building with a rod of iron, taking great objection to Chopra’s new family member. In addition he has his widowed mother-in-law to contend with, someone who is most definitely not a fan. The scenes in which she berates Chopra provide much of the humour of the book, and ring alarmingly true. You can;t help but feel sorry for our poor Inspector. He does however have an equally formidable woman on his side, his wife Poppy. Strong and opinionated, much like her mother, she is a perfect match for the other women in Chopra’s life, as well as being perfect for Chopra himself. There are a few really beautiful passages in which Khan describes how the pair met. It is very clear that Chopra is deeply in love, however he is also keeping a secret from Poppy, one which might ultimately force Poppy into making a mad decision, if not completely derail their marriage.
I loved the way in which Khan’s writing conjures up a very clear picture of Mumbai and the Indian culture. Everything, from the sights to the sounds, is painted with such clarity, that you can almost feel yourself at the heart of the city. It is not painted in stereotype, although each description of the strong matriarchal society and the fortitude of the women in Chopra’s life made me smile. Exactly as I picture it. Khan has also created some very vivid and larger than life characters who live on in the memory long after the last page of the book is turned.
One of those is, most definitely Chopra, brought to life in the audiobook in most excellent fashion by narrator Sartaj Garewal. From the very off I felt a kind of soft spot for Chopra. Forced into retirement you can sense his absolute regret at leaving a job he loves, and his determination to complete the case in spite of his non-official status is admirable. He is a fantastic character, full of pomp and officiousness when required, but ultimately so gentle and loving with his wife. He has a stubborn streak, an undeniable amount of tenacity and also a nose for a case. That innate sense when something is not quite right. He was a character I didn’t have to grow to like. It happened straight away. Much like his former Sub-Inspector Rangwalla, and Constable Surat, I felt an instant respect for this man, and knew I was happy to go on his journey with him.
And what a journey it was. As I said before, this isn’t your fast paced action hero, but it doesn’t mean that Chopra didn’t put himself in the path of danger to solve the crime. He absolutely did. And when his journey was at it’s most perilous, who was at his side, protecting him? Why his new ward, baby Ganesha. That baby elephant… Awww bless him. So lost when he first arrives, confused by his new surroundings, and with his clear addiction to Cadbury Dairy Milk, he is irresistible. And even for a baby, he is quite the beast with an impeccable and unexpected sense of timing it seems.
There is far more to this book than meets the eye. Far more to the investigation than a simple case of murder. And, it would definitely seem, far more to Ganesha than a thick hide and a sweet tooth. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Lighthearted in tone but not lacking in heartbreaking storylines, if you want to take a brief step away from the darker side of crime, then this book is definitely worth a look.
The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra is available now from the following retailers.
About the Author
Vaseem Khan is the bestselling author of the Baby Ganesh Detective Agency novels, a cosy crime series based in Mumbai, India and featuring a baby elephant. The first book in the series, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, was a Times bestseller, a Waterstones’ paperback of the year, and an Amazon Best Debut. His latest book in the series is The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star.
Learn more about First Monday Crime at their website here.