Inspector Chopra & the Million Dollar Motor Car
by Vaseem Khan.
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?
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.
A library book read for Novellas in November #NovNov