I know next to nothing about India. The Taj Mahal, Bollywood, henna tattoos, Gandhi and Mother Teresa, curry. That’s about it. And that may be why I’d never read Tarquin Hall’s “From the Files of Vish Puri, India’s Most Private Investigator” series, even though I’d seen them in the library and bookstore and thought they looked pretty good. When I saw the newest installment, The Case of the Love Commandos, on NetGalley, I immediately requested permission to review from the publisher, Simon & Schuster, and started reading it as soon as it showed up on my Kindle.
Coming in on the middle of the series, I did sometimes have a hard time keeping up with the characters, who are presented without introduction, but once I got the hang of it I truly loved this book. Vish Puri is a father and grandfather who operates India’s Most Private Investigator agency, a traditional Indian who believes in arranged marriage — it’s worked for him — and loves nothing more than food (his mother calls him Chubby).
But Vish’s beliefs are challenged by The Case of the Love Commandos, who are a volunteer group of Indian citizens who help mixed-caste couples get married. Vish comes into their orbit when he’s hired to find Ram, who disappeared right after Tulsi was rescued from her father by the Love Commandos so Ram and Tulsi could elope. Of course everyone thinks he’s gotten cold feet, but Tulsi knows that’s not the case. Vish and his colleagues are further stymied when their biggest competitor, the former spy Hari Kumar, shows up and is investigating the same case — but who employed him? And why?
In the meantime, Vish’s wife Rumpi and his mother, known to all as Mummy-ji, get involved in a case of their own. First Vish’s (a.k.a. Chubby) wallet is stolen on a train, and they identify the thief as Pranap Dughal, who sneakily returns the wallet thus embarrassing Rumpi and Mummy when they point him out to the authorities. However, Mummy-ji is convinced that Dughal and his fat, grumpy wife are up to no good, so she continues to observe them even when they go on a pilgrimage. It’s pretty obvious where Vish got his detective skills, whether or not he’s willing to admit it.
Vish and his operatives, all of whom have strange names like “Facecream,” are tougher and more clever than their outer appearances might suggest. They contribute something to the investigation, each in their own way, while buzzing around on motorcycles, serving as a schoolteacher, or investigating behind the scenes.
As you might know by now, when I read books set in other countries I like to learn something about the place, and The Case of the Love Commandos delivers. Tarquin Hall lives in Delhi and is therefore able to sprinkle local flavor throughout the story, not least of which some very tasty sounding recipes at the back. More importantly, he tackles the whole issue of caste and marriage, and the rights of a lower caste like the Dalits, Ram’s caste. Yet the author employs a light touch, so it’s never too heavy or distracting from the plot.
All in all, The Case of the Love Commandos is a very enjoyable book, and I wish I’d picked up one of the earlier books a long time ago!