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Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan

Hachette/Redhook, 320 pages, $15.99 (c2015)

This is the second of the Indian books I stumbled across recently. (Mustn’t fight karma!) And it IS a mystery.

Vaseem Khan is a London author who turned his decade-long work experience in Mumbai into the Baby Ganesh Detective Agency series. “The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra” is the first. Khan has written two more so far.

The “unexpected inheritance” is Ganesh, a baby elephant. It was given to Inspector Chopra by his favorite uncle under somewhat mysterious circumstances. It comes at a time when the inspector must step down from his job as a police inspector because of health reasons. All Ashwin Chopra has known for thirty years is how to be a detective, an honest detective. He is respected by his underlings and mostly left alone by his superiors. He has even won an award for taking down one of the biggest criminal bosses, Kala Nayak, who died in a fire in his building as the police were closing in.

Chopra’s wife, Poppy, is happy with her husband’s retirement. She fusses over him and feeds him too much. She is proud of him but happy he is now out of harm’s way. They have never had children, much to their sorrow.

Just as Chopra is about to end his last day on the force, a case comes in. A young man has drowned in fetid water. It looks as though he was drunk and unable to pull himself out of the water. Chopra wants an autopsy, but that is countermanded by his superiors. The young man’s mother wails at the station about how her son’s death must be investigated. Intuition damns Chopra, as he agrees with her that something is fishy about Santosh Achrekar’s death.

Despite his lack of credentials Inspector Chopra (Retd) pokes his nose into the case, since the powers-that-be in the police department seem determined to bury (or cremate) the case as soon as possible, if not sooner.

Juggling Santosh’s supposed murder with what to do with the elephant bequeathed him by his uncle keeps Chopra busy, busy, busy. Ganesh, for that is what Chopra and Poppy call him, is a baby, but he is an elephant baby. When Ganesh almost drowns in the first monsoon rain, he takes up residence in their living room. (Fortunately for the purposes of this story, the elevators in their building are extra wide!) Obviously, Chopra cannot keep an elephant in the courtyard of his apartment building or in his living room. Or can he? It may be a moot point, since the elephant appears to be ailing. He is listless and thin. His uncle said in his brief note to Chopra that the elephant is “special.” So far nothing special has become apparent, and Chopra is running out of vets and specialists to read or contact.

As Chopra delves more into Santosh’s case, he realizes that the case is quite complex and may work down to dark elements in the criminal world and corrupt elements in the political and police worlds. This was exactly what his doctor wanted him to avoid: excitement!

Khan presents a picture of Mumbai that is mostly sanitized, but there is enough realistic detail so readers won't mistake Mumbai for Surrey, England. Most of the story is G-rated, but there are eventually elements that present a darker picture of some criminal enterprises. Nevertheless, this is a delightful first journey with Inspector Chopra as he tries to figure out his new place in the world. And Ganesh is a worthy sidekick!

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