Vish Puri is 50ish, pudgy (if not worse), culturally conservative, and easily impressed with himself. And, seemingly, a pretty decent Private Investigator. Unlike most P.I.'s in fiction, he's not a lone wolf -- and he doesn't have one hyperviolent friend to back him up. He has a team -- working for him, doing footwork, the tech stuff -- that sort of thing. I wish we saw more of this in these kind of novels.
Anyway, Puri (known to his friends and family as "Chubby," his employees as "Boss") has two clients in this particular book -- neither of which seems to appreciate the fact that he's not the agency's sole focus. One client -- a retired army general of some prominence, wants a background check on his granddaughter's fiancé -- the wedding is weeks away and the general is sure something's wrong with him.
The second client has a trickier case -- he's a lawyer with a track record of helping the lower classes and exploited, with an eye to environmental issues. A servant girl who had been working a few months for his family took off unexpectedly (with money owed her), but they didn't really give it any thought. Months later, he's being investigated (and, minor spoiler, but fairly obvious), and eventually charged with, her murder.
I know next to nothing about the Indian legal system, police workings, but a little more about the culture (let me stress the "little" there) -- so this was all interesting and foreign to me. The widespread expectation -- and acceptance -- of corruption, bribery, and so on was pretty surprising. I realize that's par for the course in some parts of the world, but for some reason, I didn't think India would be one of those parts. The food, the economics, the convictions and conventions related to marriage, that sort of thing -- yeah, I was prepared for that, just not the widespread bribery. Makes the Favor Bank in The Bonfire of the Vanities look like daycare.
There's nothing for the reader to do with the background check case other than watch the way that the agency works -- and the allies they utilize. There's nothing really for the reader to pick up on to "solve" with the detective. But we do get to see the stealthy, quiet, un-hurried approach they take -- despite the client's expectations. Thankfully (for the way my brain works, anyway), there was plenty to chew on with the missing servant -- and it was a pretty easy solution. But the way that Puri went about solving it, and the red herrings that were thrown in the way were well done and unique to this series and setting. I really appreciated the way this was constructed.
The narration has some fun at Puri's expense -- both directly, and though the thoughts of his employees and mother. He needs to diet, he's prone to self-aggrandizement -- but he's good at his job, and that's allowed to show forth, too. Beyond Puri, we don't get to know anyone as a character really -- little flashes of personality and backstory here and there, but nothing like a fully fleshed out character. But I don't think that's the kind of story that Hall is looking to tell here.
Amusing, clever, moved along nicely and was an interesting take on a culture I know nowhere near enough about -- I'll be back for another.