Readers of this blog will know that I’ve become quite a fan of Tarquin Hall’s Vish Puri books. They satisfy on a couple of levels. They are neat little mysteries. One blurb calls Puri “the Indian Hercule Poirot”, while others compare him to Alexander McCall Smith’s “The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency” series set in Botswana. Fun plotting (and sub-plotting), along with insights into Indian culture, make the books work. In fact, it’s this later point about the insight into Indian culture that make the books so fun for me. Hall is an outsider who’s peaked behind the curtain or at least one who’s bothered to look. His comments on roadways and traffic, unique Indian phrases, Indian snacks, arranged marriages, exams—I could go on, but you get a catalogue of life here. For someone still trying to figure things out, observations that confirm my own thinking or that elucidate the strange are most welcome, especially when shared in such a fun format.
This book in the series deals with arranged marriages, “love marriages” (not arranged), caste, and political corruption—issues that remain at the very heart of Indian society today. Vish Puri, long-time husband in an arranged marriage, isn’t convinced that the trend from arranged marriages to love marriages is necessarily a good one (nor am I entirely), but he nevertheless gets involved with an effort to the thwart an arranged marriage goes awry. Having gone down the rabbit hole, Puri finds himself dealing with the Dalits (once known as “Untouchables”), the lowest rung on the caste rung, which isn’t supposed to exist, but does persist still in varies guises. Throw in genetic testing and a large scientific research enterprise—well, you should have the picture by now.