Review: The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall

The first book in Tarquin Hall's Vish Puri detective series, The Case of the Missing Servant, sounded fun and promising. With a quote like this on the back "If Mma Ramotswe is an African Marple, Puri is an Indian Poirot…" I didn't think I could go wrong.

Here's a taste of what you can expect from this book: "Meet Vish Puri, India's most private investigator. Portly, persistent and unmistakably Punjabi, he cuts a determined swathe through modern India s swindlers, cheats and murderers. In hot and dusty Delhi, where call centres and malls are changing the ancient fabric of Indian life, Puri s main work comes from screening prospective marriage partners, a job once the preserve of aunties and family priests. But when an honest public litigator is accused of murdering his maidservant, it takes all of Puri s resources to investigate. How will he trace the fate of the girl, known only as Mary, in a population of more than one billion? Who is taking pot shots at him and his prize chilli plants? And why is his widowed Mummy-ji attempting to play sleuth when everyone knows Mummies are not detectives? With his team of undercover operatives Tubelight, Flush and Facecream Puri ingeniously combines modern techniques with principles of detection established in India more than two thousand years ago -- long before that Johnny-come-lately Sherlock Holmes donned his Deerstalker. The search for Mary takes him to the desert oasis of Jaipur and the remote mines of Jharkhand. From his well-heeled Gymkhana Club to the slums where the servant classes live, Puri's adventures reveal modern India in all its seething complexity."

I really enjoyed this book. It was everything it promised to be.

The mystery was exactly that – quite a mystery. There were many twists and subplots that kept me entertained and it was interesting to watch it all unfold and see the roles that the individuals in the story each played in the resolution.

Hall was also able to work into his story the many different ways of life within India, from the slums to the middle and upper classes. I imagine that what I read was an accurate portrayal of the lives of many people in India (I say imagine because I have never been there).

If I sound like I am holding back a bit it is because of this: there was nothing original about this book. I know I know. What kind of originality could I possibly expect of a book of this nature? It's been done before; Puri is just a new character in a very well defined literary tradition.

I suppose I didn't expect it to be quite as unoriginal as I felt it was. In my mind I couldn't help but compare it with Shamini Flint's Inspector Singh Investigates: A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder. This is a very similar book I read in 2011 that I still felt added something new in a way that The Case of the Missing Servant failed to do. Puri was a bit too close to Poirot for comfort, everything from the round body to the perfect moustache and the affected manners. This may have been done deliberately but it turned me off a little bit I have to admit.

Having said that, please don't let this turn you off the book. It was a very compelling read, with larger than life characters, mystery and heartbreak. For people who enjoy this genre, this is certainly a series you won't regret reading.

5.5 / 8
Enjoyable. I would recommend it.

Do you think I am being a bit harsh expecting something a bit more original from a book like this?


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