Book review: The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown by Vaseem Khan

Forgive me, for I have sinned. I picked this book up while in the queue to pay for others and didn’t even read the blurb on the back before I added it to my haul. I was drawn in by the bright colours, the elephant and the title. That’s right, I judged this book by its cover. What a cover, though. I couldn’t find any details about who designed the cover but I doff my cap to those responsible because I love it and it perfectly sums up the playful tone of the book.

I’ll admit that I suffered a bit of buyer’s remorse when I discovered that I had unwittingly picked up the second in a series (don’t you hate it when that happens), and it’s because of this that it sat on my shelf untouched for a while. Until I came to the end of a long line of hard hitting young adult books and needed a bit of a breather. And Inspector Chopra (Retd) and his baby elephant, Ganesha, turned out to be more than up to the job.

Chopra, an ex-police inspector, is unwittingly drawn into a robbery investigation when he is dragged by his wife, Poppy (who is exactly the kind of take-no-hostages-woman that every girl should aspire to), to an exhibition of the British Crown Jewels that have accompanied the Queen on a rare visit to Mumbai. As witness to the theft of the Crown and the legendarily controversial Koh-i-Noor diamond with it, Chopra takes on the case privately when the police investigation is bungled by a corrupt and incapable Assistant Commissioner of Police, Suresh Rao, with whom Chopra has history. But in order to clear the name of his apparently framed ex-colleague, Chopra must come to terms with the use of a few less than legal investigative methods. All while recovering a stolen school bust, caring for a homeless waiter boy that has become one of the family, stopping the Maharashta Dangerous Animals Division from impounding his elephant sidekick, and dealing with his universally unhappy and vocal mother-in-law.

As a rule, I tend to steer away from detective books aside from the holy trinity that is Holmes, Poirot and Morse. Especially ones that claim to have “impossible” crimes. Not because I don’t like them, but because so many of them are so heartbreakingly disappointing. Either you are able to identify the culprit within the first few chapters or, in order to avoid this, the plot becomes so convoluted and unrealistic that Miss Marple herself would be hard pushed to follow. Not here though. Oh, no. Our perpetrator is present throughout, plausible and hidden by sufficient number of red herrings (no spoilers!).

So it’s a great detective story but the thing is, I’m not sure I would have minded too much even if that hadn’t been the case because it has everything else as well. Khan paints such a vivid picture of Mumbai that I could have been eating Chef’s Biryani with Chopra and Rangwalla. And I would like to have been as well; the primary characters are portrayed with such care and attention – flaws, foibles and all – that I feel I have known them for years and it is with real affection that I think of them now.

The tone is witty and lively, and held my attention so that I barely noticed the time passing when reading. It was a happy couple of days that I spent with Chopra and the gang, punctuated by a couple of tugs on the heart strings (again, no spoilers!) and involuntary out loud giggles. If you don’t enjoy the visual of a baby elephant that loves Bollywood music sulkily turning its back when the radio station is changed, then I fear there is no hope for you.

In short, I would highly recommend that you buy this book. It’s perfect for a light-hearted read around the pool on holiday or as a way to brighten the inevitably cloudy summer commute back in England. In fact, buy this AND the first in the series, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector ChopraΒ (and then you’ll probably need the third too). I’m certainly looking forward to getting my hands on the rest of this series. And I don’t regret judging this particular book by its cover. At all.

I leave you with this extract from Vaseem Khan’s front page dedication because noticing it while writing this review has made me love this book even more:

If everyone loved animals as much as children do, wouldn’t it be a better world?

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