Today I am delighted to share my thoughts on The Lost Man of Bombay by Vaseem Khan and to wish the author a very happy publication day. I really have loved reading the Persis Wadia series and so when I heard there was a new one due I was straight on to pre-order. My thanks to the author and publisher for sending me an early copy to review so I didn’t quite have to wait so long for it. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
When the body of a white man is found frozen in the Himalayan foothills near Dehra Dun, he is christened the Ice Man by the national media. Who is he? How long has he been there? Why was he killed?
As Inspector Persis Wadia and Metropolitan Police criminalist Archie Blackfinch investigate the case in Bombay, they uncover a trail left behind by the enigmatic Ice Man – a trail leading directly into the dark heart of conspiracy.
Meanwhile, two new murders grip the city. Is there a serial killer on the loose, targeting Europeans?
Rich in atmosphere, the thrilling third chapter in the CWA Historical Dagger-winning Malabar House series pits Persis against a mystery from beyond the grave, unfolding against the backdrop of a turbulent post-colonial India, a nation struggling to redefine itself in the shadow of the Raj.
I really do love this series. A wonderful blend of historical fact and brilliant crime fiction, with a character who you cannot help but like, even her worst moments. Persis Wadia, India’s first Police Inspector, really is a fabulous creation and each new story that Vaseem Khan creates artfully combines character, mystery and a real sense of India’s history to keep me thoroughly entertained. For me, this is one of those no-brainer pre-orders. The minute I know the book is coming, it’s in the bag. Heck, I’ve had this one on order since last October/November which, as the author pointed out at the time, was pre edit, pre-blurb and pre-cover. But who needs any other those when you already know you are going to be reading another winner. It’s no wonder that the series has not only won the CWA Historical Dagger.
This time around we see Persis Wadia being handed a most perplexing case, one which the powers that be are pressuring to resolve but that there is seemingly little hope of bringing to a successful conclusion. The body of a man has been discovered in a remote cave in the Himalayas, the only identifying item a notebook which contains the word, Bombay. The eponymous ‘Lost Man Of Bombay’ is truly intriguing to Persis, and a little infuriating too. There are no clues to his identity, and no possible witnesses coming forward to assist, and as it appears he has been in the cave for some years, you have to wonder just how she can possibly solve this, quite literally, cold case. To make matters worse, she is paired up with her nemesis in the department, Oberoi, to investigate the murder of a wealthy businessman and his wife. Oberoi is certain he has quickly found his man, Persis less sure, and when another body is found with strikingly similar facial wounds (no pun intended), she is absolutely certain that there is still more to learn about all three of the victims she is seeking justice for.
This really is a brilliant mystery, one that kept me guessing right until the end. The story is very slowly and carefully revealed to readers, and each new discovery sheds a little more light on the case. It is perhaps as cler to us as it seems to Persis that there must be something that connects the three men, but other than their confirmed or suspected nationality, there is nothing obvious to link them. In fact, the two known victims could not be more different, one an Italian businessman who has made a killing in the motor industry, the other a German priest who take repentance to a whole new level. But the author as planted the seed of doubt very early and, alongside Persis, we follow the clues to reveal a killer with the most surprising of motives.
I adore the character of Persis Wadia and Vaseem Khan has done a brilliant job of capturing her heart, spirit, determination and vulnerability in each and every story. She is a woman in a man’s world, fighting to every moment of recognition and acceptance and whilst she has it from some of her peers, others, like Oberoi, delight in undermining her and dismissing her without a second thought. It adds conflict to an already challenging role, but also serves to highlight her tenacity and strength in a way which brings out a smile from me. There is one scene in particular in this book which had me chortling, as just desserts are well and truly served. But there is the more vulnerable side to Persis too which is highlighted in her dealings with the two key men in her life – her father, Seth, and criminalist, Archie Blackfinch. Her relationship with her father is changing, something Persis is not ready for, and the uncertainty and the reluctance to accept the change have a real sense of authenticity about them, showing that beneath the hard exterior, Peris is as insecure as the next person. When it comes to her friendship with Archie, whilst he plays a bit of a backstage role in most of this book, the scenes where they do interact are key and see a step change in relationship. I can understand her reservations, her reluctance to give Archie a chance – it is a sign of the times in which they live. But there is an undeniable chemistry there, and each scene they are together is always a winner.
If there is an area in which this series really excels, outside of the first class mysteries that the author infuses in the stories, it is in the depiction of 1950s India. Set post World War 2 and almost immediately following on from partition, you can really feel the sense of change that is starting to eclipse the country. Vaseem Khan really brings to life the struggle for power and the clash between the vision of a new India that preceded partition and those early days of independence. From the expectations of the role of women, even in a modern India, to the overwhelming importance of religion to the region, and the way in which beliefs inform the actions of many in this book, all carry an air of truth about them. You can tell that the story is well researched without feeling that the story is well researched, and often I wondered just where the facts ended and the fiction began. Certainly, through reading this series, I have learned more about India and its history than I even knew before, but in a way that balances the need to historical accuracy with entertainment and that thrill of deciphering the mysteries contained within.
This book once again hits all the right notes for me, keeping me absolutely focused and turning the pages, devouring the whole thing in just one afternoon. The more I read, the more I love Persis and Archie and, in-spite of Persis’ understandable reservations about their closeness and the impact that any relationship may have on her standing or her career, I cannot wait to see where the author takes them, and us, next. Absolutely recommended.
About the Author
Vaseem Khan is the author of two award-winning crime series set in India, the Baby Ganesh Agency series set in modern Mumbai, and the Malabar House historical crime novels set in 1950s Bombay. His first book, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, was selected by the Sunday Times as one of the 40 best crime novels published 2015-2020, and is translated into 16 languages. The second in the series won the Shamus Award in the US. In 2018, he was awarded the Eastern Eye Arts, Culture and Theatre Award for Literature. Vaseem was born in England, but spent a decade working in India. In 2021, Midnight at Malabar House won the Crime Writers Association Historical Dagger, the world’s premier award for historical crime fiction.