On the day he retires, Inspector Ashwin Chopra inherits two unexpected mysteries.
The first is the case of a drowned boy, whose suspicious death no one seems to want solved.
And the second is a baby elephant.
As his search for clues takes him across the teeming city of Mumbai, from its grand high rises to its sprawling slums and deep into its murky underworld, Chopra begins to suspect that there may be a great deal more to both his last case and his new ward than he thought.
And he soon learns that when the going gets tough, a determined elephant may be exactly what an honest man needs…
I attended the Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival in July and saw a flyer for this novel. I was immediately drawn in by the beautiful graphics and was delighted when the publisher sent me an advance copy to review.
The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra I suppose would be classed as ‘cosy’, or it would if I didn’t hate the term. But whatever we call it, ‘gritty’ and ‘dark’ it ain’t, There’s no serial killer eviscerating young men, no demented stalker/slasher of women and no grisly crimes against children being committed. What there is though is a death – which may or may not be a murder – and a retired policeman determined to find the truth.
There’s also an elephant. The said inheritance.
The mystery that the story wraps itself around is interesting enough to hold the attention but the genius of this book is the description of the city of Mumbai. It is by far the most interesting character, although when the elephant and Poppy (Chopra’s wife) were both glued to the TV watching a Bollywood ‘potboiler’ eating fried banana chips without taking their eyes off the screen I did consider who the star of the show actually was for a moment. Mumbai is a fascinating city, a cultural beacon in India, but there is also a darker side to it. Poverty and crime are rampant. Beggars roam the streets and Khan doesn’t shy away from this, and more importantly the realistic view held by his protagonist, Inspector Chopra. The novel could have lost itself in sentimentality here but it didn’t. This isn’t a story about saving the destitute of Mumbai, but it does offer a commentary on it. At one point Khan describes the sheer madness of men defacating against the side of a new hospital. The scene should be appalling but instead the author makes it funny.
The interplay between Chopra and his wife is interesting and we get a glimpse into how arranged marriages work in India and how social structure can affect this (particularly when you live in the same small apartment as your mother-in-law and, for a time, a baby elephant).
The ending is satisfying and leaves it open for more – The Baby Ganesh Agency – and I for one can’t wait.
It’s a funny thing, but I have trying to think of a book to compare this to but have really struggled. The only book I could come up with was one I read when I was younger called ‘Snake Man: The Story of C. J. P. Ionides’, a non-fiction account detailing the life of a full time snake catcher. That book, like this one, gave such a vivid description of the country (Africa) that the story actually took second place. In The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, Khan manages to bring Mumbai alive, tell the story of a man forced to retire against his wishes, emerge us in a mystery and add a touch of the mystical (it is India after all, one of the most magical places on earth…) with the elephant – who may or may not have special abilities.
Absolutely charming and a thoroughly absorbing read.
The rules are simple. No hedging. Choose an answer and stick to it. One word answers are preferred where possible…
1. First job? Industrial bakery loaf crate stacker (summer job) – I quit in two hours
2. Worst job? Junior audit data inputter – I quit in two weeks
3. Favourite author? Michael Connelly, creator of Harry Bosch
4. Favourite book? Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
5. Favourite book to film adaption? Jurassic Park
6. Favourite book to TV series adaption? Poirot (with David Suchet)
7. Cat person or dog person? Dinosaur person
8. Favourite fictional protagonist? Harry Bosch
9. Favourite fictional villain? The one and only: Dr Hannibal Lecter
10. Last book you read? Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny. I’m experiencing that great moment when you fall in love with a new series character – Chief Inspector Gamache.
11. First book you remember reading? Watership Down (first really great book)
12. Favourite film? Bladerunner
13. Marvel or DC World? Marvel
14. Favourite TV series? Frasier
15. Favourite actor? Brando
16. Favourite actress? Meryl Streep
17. Favourite method of travel? Elephant
18. Favourite food? Sheekh kebab, pitta and chips
19. One way trip on the TARDIS, where and when? Nov 22nd, 1963, Dallas, Texas, the grassy knoll. I have to know.
20. Favourite city? Mumbai
21. If you could have one superpower, what would it be? The ability to not get out for zero almost every time I go in to bat for my cricket team.
22. Most famous person you’ve ever met? John Connolly, author of the Charlie Parker novels
23. What book would you like to see made into a film? Frankenstein, the Bollywood comedy-musical version
24. Three dream guests for dinner? Michael Connelly, Sachin Tendulkar (Indian cricketer), Rachel Allen (TV chef) … and Sauron from Lord of the Rings. I want to know why he’s so angry all the time.
25. And finally, what would you cook them (and don’t cheat – has to be something you CAN cook!) The dentist who killed Cecil the Lion. (If I can’t track him down, then my world-famous scrambled eggs with chilli sauce and microwaved chips.)