Some crime books have you hiding behind the cushions, while others make you cringe and shut your eyes in disgust… In a first for this reviewer, The Waiter made me hungry! Seems appropriate, then, that for the book’s online launch party, a number of reviewers (including yours truly) were invited by the publishers to a cookery class, courtesy of the charity Migrateful. It was great fun – and so is this debut crime novel which won the inaugural Harvill Secker-Bloody Scotland crime writing award.
Kamil Rahman, son of a legend in the Kolkata police department, is trying to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a detective to be reckoned with. So far progress on that ambition has been slow, but when a Bollywood star is murdered and Kamil is pulled out of the ranks and told to take charge of the case, he sees his big chance and grasps it with both hands. Asif Khan has been found dead in one of the city’s most renowned hotels and the powers that be want the murderer found fast. They also want the media kept in the dark for as long as possible.
It’s a tough ask but Kamil rises to the occasion and soon finds himself on the trail of the killer. Or is he? Because suddenly, to his utter shock, he is off the force and out of a job. Yes, you’ve guessed it – Kamil is The Waiter of the title. He’s now in Brick Lane, London, working for friends of his family at Tandoori Knights – a restaurant delighting in the cheesy slogan of Keep Calm and Curry On.
But what brought about Kamil’s sudden downfall? The story zig zags between then and now, Kolkata and London, as gradually we find out. But in the meantime Kamil is thrown a curve ball when another murder occurs. This time it’s at a posh house where a party is being catered for by Tandoori Knights and he is called upon at the last minute to join the waiting-on staff.
Rakesh Sharma is a very rich man with a young wife and questionable taste in décor. The party was to mark his birthday, now he is dead at the side of his swanky swimming pool. Kamil can’t resist a little investigation of his own, helped by Anjoli, the daughter of Saibal and Maya who run the restaurant where he works. Anjoli and the newly-widowed Neha are long-standing friends and when Neha is arrested for the murder of her husband, Kamil and Anjoli’s detective work becomes more imperative. But as the two stories begin to coalesce, it becomes clear that Kamil is going to need every iota of his detective’s intuition or someone else is going to get hurt… Maybe even him.
The Waiter is a refreshingly different crime novel, moving smoothly between two worlds – both of which are authentically portrayed, to the point where you can almost smell the spices. And there’s a fair array of food featured too, so maybe don’t read it when you’re feeling peckish. There’s a lightness of touch reminiscent of Vaseem Khan’s Baby Ganesh series, but with a harder edge that gives the book a more realistic feel. This is a story destined to drag you in and keep you interested from beginning to end, and one that will appeal to fans of character-driven crime like MW Craven’s Tilly and Poe series.
Author Ajay Chowdhury’s characterisations are spot on, with even the smallest bit part player coming to life. Kamil begins as a somewhat naive and idealistic copper, but is allowed to grow and develop into a much more interesting and rounded protagonist as things progress. This is the first of a series and I think he’s going to be one to watch for the future. Anjoli is a perfect foil for the more introspective ex-detective. She’s streetwise, sassy and not afraid to jump in without considering the consequences. Her home-created slogan T-shirts are a running source of amusement too.
All in all, The Waiter is a cracking debut and I can’t wait to find out where Chowdhury takes his characters next. There are even hints that Kamil’s waiting days are over – we’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we?
CFL Rating: 5 Stars