Sunday, October 27, 2013

Book Review - Tarquin Hall's mysteries with Vish Puri

I have written several times in these pages how I am fond of mystery novels and court room dramas. My love affair with mystery books started with Enid Blyton's Famous Five, Secret Seven and continued with Erle Stanley Gardner (Perry Mason), Robert Ludlum (Bourne Identity), Harold Robbins, Leon Uris, Ayn Rand and several other authors. The long summer holidays during school and college provided ample time to read these fat volumes. No summer jobs or internships or foreign language immersion tours for us those days. Sorry about the busy life kids have these days. So with long hot summer days stretching in front the thicker the books the better it was. John Grisham came much later when I found them in Landmark - I worked for a short period in an office in the floor above Landmark the first air conditioned book show room in Madras. A portion of paycheck went to buy books here every month after the first month's pay check bought Time to Kill and Pelican Brief.

Having built my reading habit on a steady diet of American and British authors there was no need to look for Indian authors but they sure were making their presence felt. Around the time I completed my higher secondary (here in the US it is equivalent to graduating from high school) Indian born authors writing in English were slowly being talked about and their books getting well known. Authors like Vikram Seth, Upamanyu Chatterjee were starting to get popular and many of my friends were talking about them and reading them. All I can remember is English August which did not make me crave for more and neither did a Suitable Boy.

Reading English books where I could identity with the milieu should have made me wanting more but that did not happen. I am not really sure if it was the way the books were written or the theme or why I did not take to them. I much preferred reading books in Tamil if I wanted to read books by Indian authors. The literature of the authors in the local language was much more mature than those attempting to write in English. Tamilvanan was my favorite Tamil author because he wrote mystery novels. Several like Sivasankari, Anuradha Ramnan, Uma Chandran were all books that kept me engrossed and an unintentional side effect they helped me improve my grades in Tamil. Though Tamil was my mother tongue the sad truth is I was more proficient in English than Tamil. Reading all kinds of novels and magazines is how I got on the road to getting good grades in Tamil.

I laid off reading Indian authors till Arundathi Roy's "God of Small Things" came about. Sorry to say that did not impress me either. So my enthusiasm for finding English books by Indian authors took a severe hit. I wouldn't deny the sheer thrill of enjoying a book where the protagonist is a person you can identify with and the the foods they crave are the ones that you like to enjoy as well. But sadly books that were interesting were not the ones which had Indians as detectives or lawyers.

When I was younger reading fat books were easy, while food was served at regular times and I hardly remember having any other activities. Fast forward to now getting through any book is tough and sometimes a couple of weeks before I can flip a few pages. Too much to do, distraction and sometimes being plain tired. With that said, all that does not stop me from checking out books from the library, buying books or borrowing books.

A couple of months ago I heard on NPR a discussion about books by Tarquin Hall. What made me sit up was that the protagonist in the book was Vish Puri an Indian slightly over weight detective who likes to eat the fried snacks that were common and all too tasty, spicy and of course greasy. With an introduction which said cultural and culinary delights of India - you think I can resist after that?

Tarquin Hall is a British born author with an American mother and seems like he has lived all over the world. He is married to an Indian and now lives in India. He captures the essence of life in India pretty well especially the aunties and their informal networks that help with sleuthing.

I did a search in our local library for the book series with this detective. Lucky for for me I found the first 2 books in the Vish Puri series right away. I finished the first one eventually. Though the plot was not page turning or that much of a mystery it certainly kept me engrossed. What endeared me most were the foods the detective ate along the way to solving these mysteries. The aunties you encounter in the book are as authentic as they come.

I am on the second book and still as interested in all the detectivism Vish Puri takes you through and the foods that he eats along the way.

If you are looking for something that will help you pass the time without too much thought or work these books are just right for a tired soul at the end of a hard day at work.

Have any of you read any of the books and what do you think of them? Are they popular in India?


  1. Oh the famous five and the rest bring back so much memories, we were lucky to have a good library in our school and later we used to go to this small lending library in the bog town to take books. I bought the book from Roy but sadly it didn't hit a note with me too. I do buy sometimes Indian authours but mostly it is disapointing. I sy mostly not always. The one you have mentioned I have never read. so can't comment.

  2. I've never heard of the series. I'm going to check our library. Thanks for introducing me to a new series with an Indian detective for a change. With expecting our second one any day now it might keep me occupied till then.


    1. Suganya Good Luck! I bet this will keep you engrossed.

  3. I am a fan of Indu sundereshan, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and Amulya Malladi. Now, they may be residing in the US but I have enjoyed their books, especially the historical fiction ones. How can I not mention Rohinton Mistry? Have you read Firoshabad tales? He does a great job describing Parsi life. On a different note, I triedmout the Asari chicken recipe and loved it.

    1. Thanks for those book recommendations. Will look for them.

      I am glad you gave Asari chicken a try. So simple but so tasty.


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