Review: The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing by Tarquin Hall
Vish Puri is a "most private investigator," in the lilting descriptive of Indian English. His job-title is all you need to taste the flavor of Tarquin Hall's stories of life and crime in India. Spicy fried foods and rafts of Hindu deities form the foundation of this tasty tale, which is further garnished with glimpses of Punjabi home life and tidbits of middle-class Indian culture.
The murder Puri investigates is the very public slaying of "Guru Buster" Dr. Jha, whose death by sword, mid-guffaw under a tree in a park, was witnessed by several other members of his "Laughing Club." The murder weapon has vanished.
And the witnesses swear the good doctor was slain by a twenty-foot tall Kali, the multiple-armed goddess of death, floating in the air before she vanished completely.
Vish Puri calls in his associates to investigate, starting with the fact that the most recent guru Dr. Jha had vowed to expose had predicted a dire future for him. The detective believes this guru may have helped his prediction come true, so he needs to investigate the Swami and his very young female disciples. The witnesses give several different accounts of their experiences of the murder, so Puri must sort through them all to separate truth from lies—or from mere exaggerations.
While the "big crime" occupies Vish Puri, his wife and her mother are engaged in another case, tracking down the thief who robbed their "ladies' lottery" party. (Think Tupperware party with no plastic on sale, or penny bridge without any cards. The money collected from each party-goer is given to the lucky woman whose name is drawn.)
Was the murder really committed by a god with the power to levitate and vanish at will? Could the ladies' lottery prize really have been stolen by one of their own? And will Vish Puri ever get enough to eat? The mystery is delicious, the characters are tasty and memorable, and the constant talk of Indian food is enough to send readers to the nearest curry restaurant.
I would probably never have purchased a mystery like this, despite the brilliant colors and wild action of the cover. Fortunately, it caught my eye on a visit to a Little Free Library. Somebody bought it on sale (it still had a $6 discount sticker on the front), read it (judging by the food stains—gulab jamun? vindaloo sauce?—on the final pages of Chapter Four), then donated it to the library where I found it.
I will pass it on in our own Little Free Library, to brighten the day (and activate saliva) for yet another reader.
- If you purchase this book and the other Vish Puri novels, I strongly recommend the eBook edition. I had forgotten how onerous it was to look up unfamiliar words in the Glossary (if they are included), or on the Internet.
- Even if you're thoroughly familiar with Indian food names and cultural terms, you may still need to search out definitions for the urban slang that Hall salts liberally through his tales. Fortunately, he does include these in the Glossary.