Tempered by mercy

Inspector Chopra & the Million Dollar Motor Car
by Vaseem Khan.
Mulholland Books/Hodder.

This was Mumbai, after all, the city that not only never slept, but also kept all the neighbours awake by playing loud music all night.

The premise of this locked room mystery is that an expensive vintage racing car has been stolen from a prestige motor showroom in Mumbai and the manager, an Englishman called Jon Carter, calls in retired Inspector Ashwin Chopra to discover its whereabouts as a matter of urgency. Why urgent? Because bloody murders may result from its not being found.

Chopra’s task seems insurmountable, as he has just hours to solve the case with all leads arriving at dead ends. But it’s good fortune that he has a baby elephant in tow, an unexpected gift from a relative, and, with the help of this pachyderm (called, aptly, Ganesha) and the familiar flashes of insight that fictional detectives customarily get, Chopra inches towards the solution.

So, justice will be done, as suits the inspector’s virtuous instincts. But will it be justice tempered by mercy or will a metaphorical pound of flesh be the price to pay for the commission of the crime?

Gateway of India, Mumbai

This story being set in Mumbai, a conurbation of some twenty million souls, it manages to convey in its near ninety pages a sense of the city being almost a character in its own right, an entity capable of inspiring mixed feelings but undeniably alive. Yet despite the teeming multitudes Chopra manages to chart a sociogram involving friends, criminal’s, colleagues, suspects and bystanders, and to call upon technical support. Humour abounds of course — how could it not with a baby elephant accompanying him everywhere in his van? — but the author’s day-job in the Department of Security and Crime Science of University College London ensures that Chopra’s activities have a realistic basis.

In fact the charm of this novella (and, I guess, the series, though I’ve not read any other titles) is the sense of Mumbai and, by extension, India having many facets reflecting different traditions, cultures and histories while being very modern. It’s a tale of contrasts, with GPS tracking mixing with the verses of Sufi mystic Amir Khosrow just like exclusive apartment blocks sit next door to slums.

This novella, part of a series featuring Chopra and Ganesha, was written for The Reading Agency’s Quick Reads initiative, books by bestselling writers designed to be “perfect for regular readers wanting a fast and satisfying read, but […] also ideal for adults who are discovering reading for pleasure for the first time.” Being in the first category I can vouch for its stated qualities, but with the proviso that ‘satisfactory’ does not here mean ‘just okay’ (as it too often infers nowadays) but providing fulfilment — in other words, this was a very pleasing read.


746books.com / bookishbeck.wordpress.com

A library book read for Novellas in November #NovNov

19 thoughts on “Tempered by mercy

  1. One of the few places I’ve been in India, and it was in the late 1960s, as a Girl Guide representing Mexico.

    It reminded me a bit of Mexico City, and so did the people. One of the women who worked in the kitchen at Sangham, the new Guide house, watched Laura and me making tortillas by hand (middle-class girls from a place where they were made by machine), laughed at us, took a ball of Minsa, and patted it as she did with chapattis every day of her life. She saved our Mexican dinner. Perfect. We were very grateful to her.

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    1. What a lovely story, Alicia! My parents were Anglo-Indian but to my knowledge the only time I’ve set foot in the subcontinent was at Pakistan’s Karachi airport in 1953, en route to Hong Kong, when we met some cousins. I only have a photograph to remind me of that brief stay.

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  2. I love the line you quote so much I may have to read this (“This was Mumbai, after all, the city that not only never slept, but also kept all the neighbours awake by playing loud music all night.”) It’s like how sometimes the first line of a novel makes me want to read the rest.

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    1. Although not the opening line, this quote about Mumbai made it clear that this story works best in a 24/7 city like this; and it’s definitely worth a read, Jeanne!

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    1. It feels like it’s a good introduction for those like me who’ve yet to try the series as well as those discovering or rediscovering the joys of reading.

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  3. Pingback: Novellas in November (#NovNov) Begins! Leave Your Links Here | Bookish Beck

  4. I loved the buzz of Mumbai and its contradictions so this sounds a perfect way to get re-acquainted. My only hesitation is the mention of the elephant – will my “not real” antennae twitch too much I wonder….

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    1. I wondered about that too before I read it, but didn’t say much about it in my review — the literal elephant in the room, as it were — but honestly the baby elephant behaved pretty much as a young pachyderm would and didn’t do anything out of the ordinary, only providing a bit of whimsy and humour in the telling. It didn’t bother me at all, nor Chopra, evidently, as it usually proved more of a help than a hindrance! An enjoyable read, anyway, and if you’ve been the Mumbai this feature probably just accentuates the place is larger than life. 🙂

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