By Vaseem Khan – Though this debut crime fiction author was born in London, his experience working in the Indian subcontinent comes through clearly in his convincing portrayal of the people, culture, and politics of the complicated city of Mumbai. He’s managed to marry that deep knowledge with his more recent work experience as well. Since returning to the U.K. in 2006, he has worked in the Department of Security and Crime Science at University College London.
If it’s possible to have a “gentle” crime novel, this is one, although the crimes he writes about are wicked, indeed, involving trafficking of young boys, murder, assault and that persistent and almost universal social disease, corruption. Our hero is 51-year-old police inspector Ashwin Chopra, who has been forced into an unwelcome early retirement by a heart attack. Just at that time, two unusual events occur.
First, he hears the laments of a poor woman who claims that because her family has no status, the police will not investigate the death of her son, which they claim was accidental and which she says was murder.
Second is receipt of the bizarre inheritance that gives the book its title—a baby elephant. The accompanying note warns Chopra “this is no ordinary elephant.” Indeed.
At home, he’s at loose ends. His wife Poppy worries about his health and wants to keep him close, but that would mean also being close to his amusingly sour mother-in-law. These family relations are charmingly told, tongue in cheek. In fact, the light and witty tone of the book is reminiscent of Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series and Tarquin Hall’s tales about Punjabi Vish Puri, “India’s Most Private Investigator.”
The reader can’t take seriously that Chopra tails a suspect accompanied by baby elephant Ganesha, or that the elephant manages to save Chopra’s life. I don’t believe Khan expects readers to be that literal. Instead, his easy prose encourages us to relax into a foreign, sensuous environment where even the worst bad guys are likely to get what’s coming to them. I had a few plot quibbles, but these can be glossed over in light of Khan’s many other accomplishments. It’s a crime story perfect for readers who don’t require nonstop violence. I’m delighted there’s more to come in this series!
A longer version of this review appeared at CrimeFictionLover.com.