The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra
Our first book club of the new year was calling and with the grey, blustery day and alarming events happening in the world of politics both near and far, I yet again turned to crime fiction to take us out of our malaise. When the lines between good and bad are sharp, and truth always wins over evil, crime fiction can provide us with a gritty escapism.
I chose a book I was given for Christmas; The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, by Vaseem Khan. Reviews I had read of the book suggested it was less whimsical than its subtitle (The Baby Ganesh Agency) and blurb indicated, and we were all intrigued to read our first book set in India.
The story itself is the first in a series, and it sets up the rest of the books to develop around Inspector Chopra’s detective agency. Beginning on his last day before retiring from the Mumbai police, the author examines his protagonist’s sense of futility now he has finished work - or work has finished with him - very well. We all felt you could understand the characters and their motivations well throughout the novel.
Without spoilers, Chopra decides to investigate a case which comes in just as he leaves but is shelved by is incumbent. In the meantime, he is sent the task of looking after a baby elephant from his much-loved but now estranged uncle. It is this juxtaposition which jarred with us as readers, as these two narratives - the hard-hitting crime that makes you think about corruption and inequality and the cosy tale of a (magical?) baby creature - did not quite fit either the narrative or writing style. Khan does not attempt to emulate Alexander McCall Smith’s ‘No 1 Ladies Detective Agency’ series with its numerous cups of tea and time for thinking and chatting, nor does he provide us with a hard-boiled thriller. While genre-fusion-writing is not unworkable in itself, the speed of the action, the quality of the narrative, and the voice of the protagonist could not quite decide which side of the coin they wanted to be on most of the time. It is fair to say that while we all found the book a quick and pleasant read, none of us were gripped.
The setting on the streets of Mumbai was also interesting, and it certainly felt that it was a book written for a foreign audience, one that had not perhaps experienced the country. The descriptions of place were commensurate with a tourist’s gaze but put down to Chopra’s local knowledge and routine. Khan himself visited India for the first time when he was in his twenties as an ‘expat’ for work; these are the eyes we see Mumbai through in the book and so it was strange to read these descriptions via an Indian, Mumbai resident.
To discuss the book we had a tough time finding an Indian restaurant in London which offers a decent array of dairy-free food. Although we had all been to Dishoom quite a few times, we choose the Kings Cross branch for its size (easier to get a table as all Dishooms are no reservations for dinner) and excellent dairy-free options. We ordered an array of starters (keema pau - ok, okra fries - very nice, prawn koliwada - fine) which were good but not outstanding, and a mix of chicken and fish mains with rice and rotis which were fine, a little on the bland side, and a bit chilly.
Dishoom started as a wonderful, flavoursome, spicy one-off, but we feel the quality of food has fallen as the chain has expanded. The service was haphazard, to be polite, and the food itself was underwhelming. Like the book, Dishoom needs to pick a side: the quirky, pop-upesque joint with amazing interiors and well-conceived and executed food, or a modern Indian chain that will churn out decent, but not amazing, dishes.
Chosen and Written by Liz.