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Tuesday 13 February 2018

‘The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star’ by Vaseem Khan

Published by Mulholland Books,
8 March 2018.
ISBN: 978-1-47361236-5 (PB)

Following a heart attack, Inspector Ashwin Chopra was forced to take early retirement from the Mumbai police force, but then, Chopra’s life took a unique new turn when he inherited the delightful baby elephant, Ganesha.  Chopra and his wife, Poppy, adopted Ganesha and a homeless boy, Irfan, and these two young, vulnerable creatures have filled the gap in their lives left by their childlessness. Even when he was part of the corrupt Mumbai Police, Chopra was always a tireless fighter for justice and, bored with retirement, he started his own private investigation agency, The Baby Ganesh Agency, and the little elephant, with his extraordinary abilities, is Chopra’s detective partner.

The Baby Ganesh Agency has already had some notable successes and when Bollywood film star, Vicky Verma, disappears at the end of a show to promote his new blockbuster film, Vicky’s distraught mother, Bijli Verma, calls upon Chopra to find him. Bijli is a former film star and a woman accustomed to getting what she wants, but it is the fact that she is a desperate and suffering mother that convinces Chopra to take the case.

Chopra’s assistant at the detective agency is Abbas Rangwalla, a former sub-inspector who had been dismissed from the police after being framed on a corruption charge. Rangwalla is deeply grateful to Chopra and respects Chopra’s decency, honesty and kindness. When Chopra is unable to take on a new case because he is fully occupied with the kidnapping, Rangwalla has to swallow his instinctive disgust and go undercover disguised as a eunuch in an attempt to discover who is employing eunuchs to visit a mansion without ever making physical contact with them. In the process of investigating this mystery, Rangwalla discovers some things about his attitudes, which make him feel deeply ashamed and change his way of thinking about the outcasts of society.

Chopra follows the interwoven strands of the kidnapping through the world of actors, directors and producers and realises that in Bollywood nobody and nothing is as it seems. Chopra’s integrity has made him many friends but also many bitter enemies, not merely amongst criminals but also amongst corrupt police and legal officials and politicians. One of these evil men sees a chance to get his revenge and Chopra finds himself in greater danger than ever before.

The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star is the third book describing a Baby Ganesh Detective Agency investigation, although it stands alone. It is an enchanting book with a delightful cast of characters. Chopra and his family are warm, loving and strong people, with lively, spirited Poppy providing a perfect foil for quiet, controlled Chopra. My favourite quote from the book is when Chopra’s family and friends rescue him from imprisonment and when Chopra protests at the risk she is running, Poppy retorts, ‘Besides, who says it is always Ram’s job to save Sita?’

This is a must-read book, with a skilful, intricate plot, a social message, lightened by a wonderful thread of humour, and characters that it is a joy to spend time with, especially the mischievous, clever little elephant, Ganesha. I read it in one day because I simply couldn’t put it down.
Reviewed: Carol Westron
Vaseem Khan was born in London in 1973. He studied finance at the London School of Economics. He first saw an elephant lumbering down the middle of the road in 1997 when he arrived in the city of Mumbai, India to work as a management consultant. This surreal sight inspired his Baby Ganesh Agency series of 'gritty cosy crime' novels. His aim with the series is to take readers on a journey to the heart of modern India. He returned to the UK in 2006 and has since worked at University College London for the Department of Security and Crime Science. Elephants are third on his list of passions, first and second being great literature and cricket, not always in that order.
His first book The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra was a Times Bestseller and an Amazon Best Debut. The second in the series The Perplexing Theft of The Jewel in The Crown won the 2017 Shamus Award for Best Original Private Investigator Paperback. The third was released in May 2017 - The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star.

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats is the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People. To read the interview click on the link below.

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