29 September 2009


Allison & Busby, 2009, ISBN 978-0-7490-0731-7, 285 pages

Inspector Ghote has recently won a place in the highly sought after Bombay Police Crime Branch. He is a little disappointed that he has not yet, after being there for nearly six weeks, been given any real work. The head of the Crime Branch, the Assistant Commissioner, has been keeping him busy working on the bandobast, the schedule of work, of leave, of police dog availability, of transport demands, and memos from the Assistant Commissioner.

Inconveniently his peon, Bikram, the one who runs his messages, has failed to turn up for work. Every now and again Ghote is aware of a smell, like a dead dog, a defective drain, or perhaps a deceased crow. He then identifies it as the smell of blood. Bending down to pick up his typewriter from the floor, he discovers that his waste bin is full. Further investigation reveals that his bin contains, wrapped in an old shopping bag, and covered in newspaper, a man's head. The head is Bikram's.

The Assistant Commissioner's reaction to Ghote's discovery is not at all what he expects. "Just dispose of the damn thing, man. Dispose of the damn thing and get on with your work."

Ghote decides that Bikram's death deserves investigation. He was after all a human being. As for disposing of the head - he is not sure what to do with it, so he decides to take it home and hide it there temporarily. This eventually leads to Inspector Ghote investigating Bikram's death without authority, venturing into the slums of Bombay without authority, risking his career to investigate on his own.

This was my first Inspector Ghote novel, even though it is actually #26 in a series that began in 1964, 35 years ago. I really wasn't sure what to make of it, and it took me quite a while to settle into reading it. It is characterised by a rather quirky sense of humour, and perhaps that was part of my problem. I've written before about how my sense of humour, when combined with a murder mystery, is a bit confined.

There were a couple of other things that irked me just a little. I'm not sure whether this is a characteristic of Keating's novels but the narrative constantly switches between describing Ghote in the third person, to a first person account, making the reader privy to Ghote's thoughts. This can be a little disconcerting.

I'm not sure either that I like Keating's attempt to reproduce Ghote's version of English.
"You know what they are calling a trick like that in English?" Ghote asked him. "Blackmail, they are calling it.... Under Indian Penal Code, section 383, blackmail is called extortion. But, whatever you are calling it, it is one very bad crime."
I think what Keating has tried to do is to reproduce the sound of an Indian speaking. To me it sounds just a bit patronising.

I came close to abandoning this book several times. To be honest I virtually skated through the last 100 pages. All I wanted to find out was how the threads resolved. Tell me, did I just choose the wrong one as my first taste of Keating? I think I originally saw THE PERFECT MURDER recommended but my library no longer stocks it, so I chose A SMALL CASE because it was the most recent. What would you recommend I read?

My rating: 3.5

But never mind what I think of this book.
H.R.F. Keating is obviously a very popular author with well over 60 novels to his credit.
In 1963(?) he won a CWA Gold Dagger for #1 in the Inspector Ghote series, THE PERFECT MURDER.
In 1980 he won another CWA Gold Dagger for #12 in the Inspector Ghote series, THE MURDER OF THE MAHARAJAH.
In 1996 the CWA awarded him the Cartier Diamond Dagger for outstanding services to crime literature.
H.R.F Keating's own blog is here.


Margot Kinberg said...

Thanks for your comments, Kerrie,
I have to admit - I'm not much of a fan of Keating, either. I don't find Ghote as engaging as I do other sleuths, and, although I haven't read this one, Keating's plots move a little slowly for me. I know he's incredibly popular, but I guess he's just not my taste. I appreciate your balanced review of A Small Case..., though.

Kerrie said...

I thought I might have enjoyed it more if I was listening to it Margot, rather than reading it. I think the "dialect" attempt might still have annoyed me.


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