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The Case of the Missing Servant: Vish Puri, Most Private Investigator    by Tarquin Hall order for
Case of the Missing Servant
by Tarquin Hall
Order:  USA  Can
McClelland & Stewart, 2009 (2009)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Vish Puri, 'Most Private Investigator', a delightfully quirky addition to the cozy PI scene, is in many ways reminiscent of Alexander McCall Smith's Precious Ramotswe.

Puri (affectionately called Chubby by his wife Rumpi and his corrupt childhood friend Rinku) runs a celebrated and successful detective agency in Delhi, India with the help of employees he nicknames Handbrake (his driver), Flush (an electronics whiz with a flush toilet at home), Tubelight (a heavy sleeper), Handcream (a lovely Nepali undercover operative), and lazy office boy Door Stop.

In an India where 'the arranged marriage remained sacrosanct', most of the agency's assignments involve investigating matrimonial prospects - one of the two new cases Puri takes on here is an unusual example, involving a Brigadier's granddaughter. The other, of course, is the titular Case of the Missing Servant.

Jaipur lawyer Ajay Kasliwal, who claims to be 'one hundred and fifty percent honest!', has made many enemies for his attempts to work through the legal system to 'bring inept local and national authorities to account.' He hires Puri to determine the fate of his servant Mary, who disappeared several months before. And, almost as an aside to the main plot, an assassin tries to shoot Puri - despite his strong objections, the PI's ex-headmistress mother takes that case deftly in hand.

Puri shuttles back and forth between Delhi and Jaipur, expertly juggling cases and inserting Handcream as a servant in the lawyer's home. There's another death and the police make a fanfare of arresting Ajay Kasliwal. But Puri is not to be daunted. Following up on traces of uranium, he discovers Mary's fate and gets his client out of jail for a Nero Wolfe style confrontation with all involved.

Of course, according to Puri, PI work is an ancient tradition in India going back to the days of fifteenth century court investigator Bayram Khan, an early forensics analyst, and 'Tamil alchemist, Bhogar, who led the way in substance testing' a century and a half before Sherlock Holmes' time.

I enjoyed Chubby's philosophizing (he also writes letters to the Times) about the woes of modern India as much as the cleverly plotted mystery. Vish Puri, Most Private Investigator is tremendous (at times even farcical) fun - where else would you find a PI whose wife admonishes 'Danger doesn't worry me ... But those deadly pakoras and chicken frankies you like so much do.' Don't miss this one!

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