Monday, January 30, 2012

The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing (Tarquin Hall)

"With respect, sir, this is hardly the time to be thinking about your stomach."

"Don't worry, Inspector," said Puri. "There will be no thinking involved." (p64)

Vish Puri, Most Private Investigator, is back on a new case where the stakes are higher. It's a case that has most of India talking. The victim: rationalist Dr Suresh Jha, who dies when a sword is driven into his chest. The murderer: the goddess Kali, who appears in front of Jha and his colleagues one early morning in Central Delhi. The religious nature of the case has people talking and pretty soon Vish Puri is called to lend his expertise. What he uncovers is a complicated plot that takes him from university halls to sprawling ashrams and mixes faith, science, and greed. 

This was my second Vish Puri mystery and though it started out slowly for me, I thought it ended on a more satisfying note. Mr Hall has great way of bringing India to life, not just through the extensive and vivid descriptions but even through his characters' nuanced speech patterns and thought processes. The circumstances in the book feel much more dangerous than they had been the first time around so it's amazing how Puri and his operatives use everything in their arsenal to ensure that those who are guilty are punished. Readers get a clearer idea of who Facecream, Tubelight, Handbrake, and Flush are as Mr Hall shares with us some of their backstories. The mystery also touches on the dangers of fanaticism and the corrupt practices of those who try to take advantage of those who are vulnerable. What drives people to seek out mystics among mortals and turn them into gods? How far would a man go for his cause? 

In spite of the heavy nature of the mystery, the book never feels bogged down. It remains a light-hearted read, especially when you have someone like the charismatic and enterprising Vish Puri for a protagonist. Also engaging was the accompanying mystery involving Puri's wife Rumpi and his fiery and delightful Mummy. All in all, The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing is one smart, colorful, and highly entertaining read.

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