Monday, September 5, 2016

The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken

Warning - potential spoiler

Genre fiction gets dismissed as fluff that doesn't address issues the way "literature" does.  Personally, I'd rather read a mystery that sneaks in a lesson than a literary work staggering under the weight of its importance.  The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken starts out as a typical Vish Puri mystery with a particularly silly case (someone removed the #1 mustache in India from its owners face while he slept) and a cricket match featuring Rumpi's nephew, a rising star.  At the dinner celebrating both the match and the opening of a new stadium, the father of the opposing bowler drops dead, poisoned by his butter chicken.

The next day, an English acquaintance currently leading a Clean Up Cricket campaign hires Puri to investigate the murder.  Kamran Kahn, the dead man's son, appears to be throwing games - if he wanted to get out, gamblers may have killed his father.  Mummy-ji, who was also at the dinner, suspects another motive, one related to the years directly following the partition of India and Pakistan.  Working on both sides of the case and both sides of the border, Vish and his mother solve the mystery and, as Poirot sometimes did, weigh justice against the written law.  

I mentioned that Parnell Hall snuck a lesson into Puri's case, and, unusually, it's mainly a history lesson.  I know very little about that era, but it's not a leap to see that the current animosity between the countries springs in part from their similarities.  Puri's visit to Pakistan is a mix of the familiar (his family is from Punjab, which had been divided in 1947 so to his surprise he understands the dialect) and the strange (restaurants offer beef but not alcohol).  The pain of separation is deeper in Mummy-ji's story, in which she tells her son about her work helping women trapped by politics, religion, and family in the late 1940s.  Hall seamlessly integrates this story, as well as the usual domestic matters (Vish and Rumpi are in an arranged marriage, one that involved love at first sight and which deepened over the decades), with the cricket star's father's murder, tossing in the mustache case as (occasionally) comic relief.

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