Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Midnight at Malabar House by Vaseem Khan

Perhaps the greatest pleasure of attending literary events and festivals (at least in those happy days when they were taking place regularly!) is the chance to meet both readers and fellow writers. Over the years, I've met some wonderful people in that way, and formed many lasting friendships that mean a lot to me. One particularly memorable trip was to the Emirates Literature Festival a few years back. During our week there, we met a young writer called Vaseem Khan and his wife. The four of us spent a little time together and they were most congenial company.

When I got back home, I decided to read Vas's work (another nice spin-off of meeting authors) and discovered that he is a talented novelist with the ability to entertain readers while sharing interesting observations about the world. I was therefore keen to invite him to contribute to Mystery Tour, a CWA anthology with an international flavour, and he came up with a terrific story which I recommend you to seek out. It's called 'Bombay Brigadoon'.

All this is by way of preamble to news that Vas has a new book out published by Hodder. Midnight at Malabar House marks a significant change in direction for him, which I'm sure will be well-received. First, it's a history-mystery, set in India at the start of 1950, two years after Partition. Second, it introduces a new character, Inspector Persis Wadia, who represents an extremely interesting variation on the concept of the 'Great Detective'. The discovery of the body of a prominent Englishman, murdered on New Year's Eve, leads Persis to face many challenges as she strives to discover the truth about the crime.

What I love about this book is the way Vaseem Khan blends classic tropes with interesting and insightful observations about a vast country of infinite potential grappling with the challenges and opportunities of independence. So, we have a mysterious cipher and a detective duo (Persis's sidekick is Archie Blackfinch, another character with plenty of possibilities) in the classic mould. Persis, in time-honoured fashion, rubs her superiors up the wrong way, but as we root for her, we have a quiet confidence that she'll get to the solution of the mystery in the end. Before she does, there's a lot of entertainment to be had. I'm not very knowledgeable about either India or Indian history, and so I learned a lot. Much more importantly, I enjoyed the book. A definite winner - I'm sure it will be a big hit.

1 comment:

Ted said...

Sounds great! I'll have to add this one to my reading list. I discovered his Inspector Chopra series this year and am currently in the middle of one.