Written by Vaseem Khan — Feast your eyes on what is possibly the prettiest book cover of the year! It has no dust jacket and features a clapperboard, film reel and a baby elephant – and all three have very important parts to play in this, the third in the Baby Ganesh Agency series featuring Inspector Chopra.
He might have retired from police work on health grounds, but Chopra isn’t a man to sit and twiddle his thumbs, much to the annoyance of his long-suffering wife, Poppy. Instead, Chopra has set himself up as a private investigator and so far he has an impressive success rate. Which is why he is summoned by Bijli Verma, former Bollywood siren and mother to today’s hottest movie star, Vikram ‘Vicky’ Verma.
Vicky has a reputation as a wild child, and now he’s disappeared right in the middle of filming the biggest, most lavish film in Bollywood history. Is it another of his selfish pranks, or something more sinister? It’s up to Chopra and his baby elephant sidekick Ganesha to uncover the truth, and the deeper they dig, the more complicated the investigation becomes.
Although Vicky is worshipped by his legions of fans, he’d received a number of death threats and his wilful ways had caused friction with both crew and co-stars. So the list of those harbouring ill-feelings is a long one and likely to keep Chopra and Ganesha busy for some time.
Which is why it falls upon Chopra’s assistant, former police sub-inspector Rangwalla, to handle another urgent case, and it couldn’t be in greater contrast to the one keeping his boss so busy. While Chopra is hobnobbing with Mumbai’s glitterati, Rangwalla is called to a ramshackle tower known as the Red Fort, home to more than 100 eunuchs and run by the legendary Queen of Mysore.
Marginalised, shunned and often the target of violence, the eunuchs of Mumbai live mainly in the slums. But now the Queen’s eunuchs are being treated well, and she smells a rat… Each weekend, a limousine takes several eunuchs to a mysterious mansion, where they are asked to sing, dance, recite poetry and the like; then, after three days they return. Is this the build up to something sinister? The Queen is worried – and soon, an undercover Rangwalla is on his way to the rendezvous with a carful of giggling girls.
That stark contrast is a recurring theme throughout the book, with the multi-faceted city of Mumbai taking a starring role. Slums to splendour, despair, opulence, happiness, sadness, life and death – all have their part to play. Nevertheless, this is a book which veers towards the cosy side of crime fiction and is reminiscent of Alexander McCall Smith’s No1 Ladies Detective Agency series. City life is well documented by a British author who spent several years working in Mumbai, but the addition of a clever little elephant, who somehow comes to the rescue on more than one occasion, pushes the balance of realism to its limits.
Chopra, Poppy and a quirky and cleverly constructed cast of players give us a glimpse into the highs and lows of modern Indian life, with some smartly-conceived peeks behind the scenes of the Bollywood moviemaking industry thrown in for good measure. Fans of the Baby Ganesh Agency series will love this book; if you’re new to it then The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star serves well as a standalone. Book four is in the pipeline – and we’re promised some answers about Ganesha. Sounds intriguing!
We reviewed the first book in the series, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, here.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars