A murder, an inspector and an elephant… Jack Ford reviews Vaseem Khan’s new novel
What would you do if you saw an Indian elephant stomping down the middle of a road? Hide? Scream? Run away?
Well, for UCL’s own Vaseem Khan, Department of Security and Crime Science, who saw exactly that on his first day as a management consultant in Mumbai, it began a life-long fascination with all things elephant and served as the inspiration for his new novel, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra.
Chosen by Amazon as one of its “Best Debuts of the Year”, first-time novelist Vaseem whisks readers away to the colourful city of Mumbai where the story follows the character of Inspector Chopra: an upstanding man of the law, who upon his last day of active service in the Mumbai police force unexpectedly receives a baby elephant and a mysterious note from his uncle asking him to take the young pachyderm (named Ganesha after the elephant deity, Lord Ganesh) into his care.
However, when forced out of an early retirement to investigate the death of a teenager under suspicious circumstances, Chopra and his sidekick Ganesha (a very unlikely Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson) will be taken on a case full of twists and turns through the bustling districts of Bombay, transporting them right into the heart of its ruthless and violent criminal underworld.
As the story progresses, we quickly realise that Ganesha is “no ordinary elephant”, and that for Chopra and his wife, Poppy, Ganesha with his very human characterisation by Khan is like the son they never had. Similar to all new parents, Chopra and Poppy have to learn, and learn fast. Like most of us, they have no idea how to care for a newly born elephant, and like your average, stroppy baby, Ganesha simply refuses to eat or cooperate. This is a pain for Chopra, but makes for some hilarious reading.
The product of Khan’s ten years experience on the Indian subcontinent, The Unexpected Inheritance of Mr Chopra is a thrilling novel (I finished it in a day), that provides a rich insight into the culture, sights, smells and sounds of a city home to 11.98 million people. Through his engaging style, Vaseem highlights poignant themes such as the impact of Indian modernisation and economic strength as well as the corruption rife in India’s government and the police force. However, “it’s not all doom and gloom” as the morally incorruptible character of Inspector Chopra demonstrates with his strict adherence to justice, whether that puts his marriage, or even his own personal safety at risk.
Yet, for me, one of the best aspects about this book is that it does not take itself too seriously. A baby elephant with a serious Cadbury Dairy Milk addiction watching television in a cramped high-rise apartment, as well as an ‘unexpected’ chase through a crowded shopping mall in which Chopra casually pursues his target whilst ever so conspicuously dragging Ganesha up the escalators are just some of scenes in this novel which literally made me laugh out loud.
Image credit: Vaseem Khan
When I interviewed Mr Khan last Friday and I asked him to sum up his novel in one word, he called it “charming”. As I am writing a review, I will usually add a few more adjectives: unique, funny, moving, powerful, uplifting, current, and most of all, authentic are just some of the words you could use to describe this novel. What The Inheritance of Inspector Chopra offers is a genuine look at life in Mumbai and realistic characters, like Inspector Chopra, who inspire each and every one of us to better ourselves.
As the first in the four-part Baby Ganesh Detective Agency series by Vaseem Khan, I strongly urge you pick up a copy before the sequel, The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown, hits stores this spring. You will not be disappointed.
Image credit: Vaseem Khan