Dr Suresh Jha is India’s finest myth-buster, having made a career of exposing fake gurus across the country. Despite receiving a prophecy of his own death, he attends his weekly therapeutic Laughing Club. As he and his fellow professionals stand around in the park, relaxing by laughing, the goddess Kali appears, floating three feet above the ground, stabs Jha with a sword that promptly disintegrates and then vanishing in a puff of smoke. And it’s not a hallucination – it’s even recorded on video!
Enter Vish Puri, Delhi’s finest detective and his team of operatives. But how can you catch a murderous goddess of vengeance?
An odd book, this. It was recommended to me by Tony, the owner of Formby Books, as something a little different with a classic mystery at its heart. Tarquin Hall, the author, lives in India and has produced a gentle read, full of local colour and humour. It’s not without its problems, but it’s a nice little diversion.
I presume that it’s the Indian equivalent of The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, but as I haven’t read that book – beyond the first chapter a long time ago – I can’t be sure. What you do have here is a mildly eccentric lead character with a collection of employees solving a small selection of mysteries. On top of the murderous goddess, there’s a possibly-related investigation into Jha’s nemesis, a cult-leader, and on top of that, Puri’s wife and mother investigate a theft at their social event.
Let’s take them in reverse order, plot-wise. The last of these bored the pants off me, so much that I ended up speed-reading those sections. The cult infiltration was interesting but pretty predictable for the most part. The main plot… now that was rather better.
Let’s face it, it’s going to hard to explain away a floating goddess as a killer without resorting to a technical explanation, and initially, this put me off this thread. But Hall does something very clever with it, both in the explanation, such as it is, and in the identity of the murderer. I’m not a fan of “technical” impossible crimes, but this is one of the rare occasions where it really does work.
But is that enough for a plot that only takes up one half of the book? Not sure, really. It’s well-written, but parts of the plot just didn’t click with me. Also, as colourful as the descriptions of Delhi were, at no point did I think that I would like to go there or actually meet the people who lived there, mired in corruption as it seems to be from this book. But that central plot is quite clever…
Hmm. Cautiously recommended for the mystery fan, recommended for the more casual reader.
Oh, it’s been a while, but as Tarquin Hall lives in India, let’s count this as the Asian entry into the Global Reading Challenge.
I commend you for making it to the end. I was drawn to the blurb which promised an impossible problem akin to something in a Chesterton story, but like many of McCall Smith’s books to which this has been likened I couldn’t finish this book. Too many cute and darling characters for me and as you mentioned many boring bits with the female sleuths.
I would recommend skipping the non-murder bits – the central plot isn’t half bad… but now that I think about it, the possibility that surrounding a decentish plot by a dull one would make the decentish one seem like a work of art. Maybe I overstated the quality of that one…
[…] The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing by Tarquin Hall […]
[…] I would strongly encourage anyone passing through Formby, a rather lovely little town just twenty five minutes north of Liverpool, to stop at Formby Books. Oh, fair’s fair, go and see the red squirrels first – you’re only human – but then go to Formby Books. It’s hidden away at the back of Derbyshire’s Card Shop, but if you can find it, then it’s got a great selection of crime writing and Tony, the man in charge, is a font of wisdom regarding his stock – although I’ll overlook the recommendation of The Man Who Died Laughing… […]
[…] The “Half A Good Book” Award – The Case Of The Man Who Died Laughing by Tarquin Hall […]