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The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken: A Vish Puri Mystery (Vish Puri Mysteries)

The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken: A Vish Puri Mystery (Vish Puri Mysteries)

Review

&;These books are little gems. They are beautifully written, amusing, and intensely readable.&; —
&Ldquo;A thoroughly engaging series . . . Hall has a gift for conveying the rich stew of competing cultures in contemporary India with a wonderful economy of image. . . . Hall presents a complex hero in a complex country with a great deal of history, humor, and panache.&Rdquo; —Booklist (starred review)
&Ldquo;Outstanding . . . Well-drawn colorful characters bolster a whodunit sure to appeal to those who enjoy a dash of humor with their crime.&Rdquo; —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
&Ldquo;India, captured in all its pungent, vivid glory, fascinates almost as much as the crime itself.&Rdquo; —Entertainment Weekly
&Ldquo;Hall writes amusing mysteries . . . [his] affectionate humor is embedded with barbs.&Rdquo; —Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review
&Ldquo;Splendid . . . Entertaining . . . Vish Puri is large, constantly hungry, a perpetual victim of Delhi’s traffic congestion, and a wonderfully engaging P.I. . . . A joy to read.&Rdquo; —The Times (London)
&Ldquo;Hall takes the reader into a very Indian, very Delhi web of spirituality, sin, slums, and power broking, but all treated with a veneer of wit and intelligent absurdity.&Rdquo; —India Today
&Ldquo;Modern India, in all its colorful squalor, provides a vivid backdrop for this well-crafted whodunit.&Rdquo; —Jean Westmoore, Buffalo News

About the Author

Tarquin Hall has lived and worked throughout South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. He has also written dozens of articles and three works of nonfiction. He and his family live in Delhi.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

One Stripped down to his undergarments and tweed Sandown cap, Vish Puri stepped onto his wife’s old set of . He watched with apprehension as the needle jerked violently to the right and settled on 200 pounds. &Ldquo;By God,&Rdquo; the detective muttered to himself. &Ldquo;Two extra pounds are there. She is going to kill me—certainly if not totally.&Rdquo; He tried lifting one foot off the pressure pad and shifted his weight to see if it made a difference. It didn’t. &Ldquo;Well, nothing for it,&Rdquo; he said with a sigh, stepping back onto the floor. Puri checked that the bedroom door was locked, picked up the scales and turned them over. He removed the bottom panel, exposing the crude mechanism inside. Then he squeezed the pressure pad between his knees. When the needle reached 196, he jammed a wooden peg into one of the cogs. The scales could now register only one weight: 196 pounds. &Ldquo;Hearties congratulations, Mr. Puri, saar!&Rdquo; he told himself with a smile after double-checking his handiwork. &Ldquo;Diet is coming along most splendidly.&Rdquo; Still, the detective knew that he’d bought himself a week or two at the most. Eventually all the lapses of the past fortnight would catch up with him—for &Ldquo;lapses&Rdquo; read numerous chicken frankies, five or six kathi rolls (he had been on a stakeout; what else was he supposed to eat?), and a significant portion of the Gymkhana Club Sunday brunch buffet (the Pinky Pinky pudding had been irresistible). He was going to have to lose at least a token amount of weight—enough to keep Rumpi and that bloody Dr. Mohan off his back. Fortunately, he believed he had found the answer to his prayers: diet pills. According to a flyer that had been stuffed under the windshield wiper of his car, these promised &Ldquo;miraculous and exceptional results!&Rdquo; Puri fished out the flyer from his trouser pocket and read it again just to check that his eyes hadn’t deceived him. &Ldquo;Tired of being a big motu, but want to enjoy your gulab jamuns?&Rdquo; he read. &Ldquo;ZeroCal is the answer! It contains a special fiber that absorbs fat molecules and converts them into a form the human system doesn’t absorb. So now you can carry on getting your just desserts!&Rdquo; Puri chuckled to himself. &Ldquo;Just desserts,&Rdquo; he said. &Ldquo;Very good.&Rdquo; He stuffed the flyer back into his trouser pocket as footsteps sounded on the top of the stairs. They were accompanied by his wife’s voice: &Ldquo;Chubby? Are you ready? We had better get a move on, no? There are bound to be traffic snarls.&Rdquo; The detective went to the door and opened it. &Ldquo;What have you been doing in here?&Rdquo; asked Rumpi as she entered the room. &Ldquo;Don’t tell me you were listening in on the servants again with one of your bugs. You know I don’t like it when you do that, Chubby.&Rdquo; &Ldquo;Just I was weighing myself, actually.&Rdquo; &;And?&; Puri stepped gingerly back onto the scales, one foot at a time. They gave a creak, but the peg held. &Ldquo;Hmm. One hundred and ninety-six pounds,&Rdquo; she read. &Ldquo;So you’ve lost . . . two pounds. It’s something, at least. But so far I don’t see any improvement.&Rdquo; She looked her husband up and down, scrutinizing his stomach, which bulged out beneath his cotton undershirt like a lumpy pillow. &Ldquo;You still look . . . Well, if anything I would say you’ve got a little larger, Chubby.&Rdquo; &Ldquo;Must be your eyesights, my dear.&Rdquo; &Ldquo;There’s nothing wrong with my eyesight, I can assure you,&Rdquo; said Rumpi, her voice thick with suspicion. &Ldquo;I just hope you’re keeping off those chicken frankies,&Rdquo; she continued with a sigh. &Ldquo;It’s for your own good, Chubby. Remember what happened to Rajiv Uncle.&Rdquo; Ah, poor old Rajiv Uncle. Last month he’d suffered a massive heart attack while at the wheel of his Mahindra Scorpio and taken out four feet of the central barricade of the Noida Expressway. The fact that he’d been fifty-four, only a couple of years older than Puri, had not been lost on Rumpi or his three daughters. Mummy had seen fit to comment on it as well—along with his three sisters-in-law, numerous aunties, and even a cheeky nephew or two. Indeed, given the great Indian family system in which everyone knows everyone else’s business and everyone exercises the right to involve themselves and comment upon everyone else’s affairs, the detective had recently found himself on the receiving end of a good deal of health-related advice. Most irritating of all had been the impromptu lecture from his seventeen-year-old niece, whose opinions on most things in life were informed by India’s edition of Cosmo magazine. Age still trumped youth even in today’s changing middle-class society, so he had been able to tell her to put a sock in it. But over his wife, he enjoyed no such advantage. &Ldquo;Yes, my dear,&Rdquo; he replied with a prodigious yawn. &Ldquo;Now I had better get changed. You’re right. It is getting late. And I would be making one stop along the way.&Rdquo; &Ldquo;Please don’t tell me you’re working, Chubby—not today of all days.&Rdquo; &Ldquo;Ten minutes is required, only.&Rdquo; Puri escaped into the bathroom to attend to his handlebar moustache, which was looking limp after the rigorous shampoo and conditioning he’d given it earlier. First, he groomed it with a special comb with fine metal teeth. Then he applied some Wacky Tacky wax, which he heated with a hair dryer so it became soft and pliable. And finally, he shaped it into a symmetrical handlebar, curling the ends. &Ldquo;Pukka!&Rdquo; He returned to the bedroom to find his wife sitting at her dresser, putting on her earrings. Her long, straight hair hung down her back over the blouse of her lustrous black and gold Banarasi sari. Puri went and stood behind her, placed his hands on her elegant shoulders and smiled. &Ldquo;Beautiful as the first day we met. More beautiful, in fact,&Rdquo; he said. Rumpi smiled back at him in the mirror. &Ldquo;Still quite the charmer, aren’t you?&Rdquo; she said. &Ldquo;Once a charmer, always charming,&Rdquo; cooed the detective, and bent down and kissed the top of her head. • • • A thick January fog had engulfed Delhi and its unstoppable suburbs overnight. And when the Puris set off for South Delhi at midday—some eight hours before the murder—mist still veiled the imposing glass and steel buildings along the Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway. Bereft of the sunshine usually gleaming off their futuristic faÇades, the beacons of the new India suddenly looked pale and subdued. It was still bitingly cold as well. Not freezing, it had to be said, but the short winter always found the vast majority of the capital’s inhabitants woefully ill prepared. With no means to heat classrooms, the city’s schools had been closed for the past week. &Ldquo;Load shedding&Rdquo; led to frequent blackouts. And the morning newspapers brought daily reports of a dozen or so deaths amongst the countless thousands living in Delhi’s makeshift jhuggis. The languid figures Puri spotted through the fogged-up windows of his Ambassador, layered in chunky cotton sweaters, reminded him of Victorian polar explorers in the days before brightly colored, mass-produced puffer jackets and fleeces. He spotted security guards standing outside the gates of a call center huddled around an electric cooking ring, chins tucked on chests like disobedient boys sent to the naughty corner. Farther on, a gang of laborers breaking rocks in a ditch wore scarves wrapped over the tops of their heads and under their chins, lending them a strangely effeminate look despite the arduous nature of their task. Puri and Rumpi had spent yesterday afternoon volunteering at a local charity, distributing blankets to the city’s poor. Many of those they’d encountered had been visibly malnourished, making them especially vulnerable to the cold. The experience had served as a sharp reminder that for all the growth in the economy, for all the fanfare about dazzling GDP figures and IT this and that, there was still so much need and want. Upon returning home last night, Puri had felt moved to write a new letter to the most honorable editor of The Times of India, pointing out that it was the duty of the &Ldquo;proper authorities&Rdquo; to make improvements and the responsibility of &Ldquo;ordinary citizens&Rdquo; to hold them accountable. &Ldquo;With so much of change coming to modern society, it is of the upmost importance and necessity, also, that we continue to uphold the role of dharma,&Rdquo; he’d written. &Ldquo;Dharma has been the underlying concept of our civilization over so many of millennia. Let us not forget the meaning of the word itself. This most cherished and honored of words comes to us from the root ‘dhr,’ meaning ‘to hold, to bear, to carry.’ For both Chanakya, founder of the Maurya Empire, and our great emperor Ashoka, it meant ‘law, virtue, ethics and truth.’ Let us abide by these most honorable of principles, and with them firmly set in our minds, let us remember our collected responsibility to others and one another also.&Rdquo; His message was evidently lost on the city’s drivers. Despite the poor visibility, cars and trucks sped up behind the Ambassador flashing their headlights and honking their horns, and wove through slower-moving traffic like getaway vehicles fleeing bank robberies. Cocky hatchbacks, their side mirrors folded inward, squeezed between other vehicles, making three lanes out of two. The occasional rusting three-wheeler suddenly came into view, puttering along in the fast lane. And sports cars rocketed past, vanishing instantaneous...

The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken: A Vish Puri Mystery (Vish Puri Mysteries) Book Reviews

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