Thursday, May 26, 2022

The Beginning of a Delightful New Series Set in India


Vaseem Kahn
Mulholland Books, Hachette Audio
August 15, 2015

Nothing makes a voracious reader happier than discovering a new binge-worthy series. The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra fits the bill exactly. Inspector Ashwin Chopra has been forced to retire after nearly 30 years from the Mumbai Police due to a heart condition. On the day of his retirement, Chopra is surprised by an unexpected delivery, a baby elephant, accompanied by a note from an uncle he has not seen or heard from for years. The message says the elephant is not a "usual" elephant. Chopra, who lives with his wife, Poppy, in a Mumbai high-rise apartment, sees no alternative to accepting the delivery. The elephant looks morose, even depressed, and Chopra decides to find some kind of refuge for the little elephant. Hopefully, he can keep him on the apartment grounds for a few days after finishing his final day of work. Baby Ganesh has other plans resulting in much hilarity and horror from Poppy and her dragon of a mother who resides with them. While he is at the station, he is visited by a distraught mother whose son has drowned, and the police declared it a suicide. She is one of the millions of impoverished Indians and thinks she will never see justice for what she knows was murder. Chopra feels he must investigate it himself, retired or not. The little elephant is not a "usual" elephant, and he and the upright Chopra make a highly unusual investigative team.

The author, Vaseem Kahn, is English of Indian heritage who lived and worked all over India for a decade. Despite his knowledge of its problems and shortcomings, his love for the country shines. Millions live in grinding poverty, with no hope of advancement. Like our own country, the "Haves" live in obscene excess, and corruption is a way of life. Bureaucracy stifles everything. Set against that backdrop are the sights, colors, and sounds of an extraordinarily vibrant culture, where anything can happen. All the characters are beautifully drawn, memorable, and very human. I listened to The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra on audio, and the narration is stellar. I can't recommend it highly enough.

RATING-5 Stars

Sunday, May 15, 2022

The Things That Go Wrong At A Country House Party


Claudia Gray
May 3, 2022

Approximately 22 years after the events of Pride and Prejudice, the Darcys are invited to the home of Emma and George Knightley, Donville Abbey. The other guests include the Brandons, the Bertrams, and the Wentworths, all characters made immortal in the novels of Jane Austen. Also included are 17-year-olds Juliet Tilney and Jonathan Darcey. The guests expect all the things that happen during a house party, several weeks of hunting and shooting, delectable food, visiting the countryside, and good conversation. A massive storm blows up on the first evening, and an unexpected guest arrives. The villain of Pride and Prejudice, George Wickham, strides into the gathering as if he were a guest. He makes it plain that he has business with all of them and no plans to leave. Propriety demands that George Ridgeway not throw him out into a massive storm. They don't make him at all welcome, and as the rain and wind wear on, Wickham is the cat among the pigeons. Juliet Tilney discovers Wickham, bludgeoned to death, in the Gallery. 

Wickham's murder sets the stage for a very clever whodunnit. All the men have reason to see Wickam dead and some of the women. But who could have done it? The youngest guests, Juliet and Jonathan, form a pact to find out who the culprit is. Juliet is afraid that the Magistrate might blame a servant. Jonathan is worried that Wickham might have pushed one of his parents over the edge at last. All the married couples have cracks and secrets in their marriages, so Wickham is a plague even when dead. Juliet is a delightful addition, and Jonathan is fascinating. He is extremely socially awkward, always wondering how to behave, and finds being in company a trial. The two make a good pair of investigators, if not always impartial.

If it had been me, I would have buried Wickham in the garden and gone on about enjoying the house party after the storm stopped. But, one has to do the right thing, and the reader wouldn't have a  puzzle to solve. I admit I didn't solve it, but I did have questions! I highly recommend The Murder of Mr. Wickham. Thanks to NetGalley and Vintage for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Thursday, May 12, 2022

A Dangerous Introduction to America


Captain Jim Agnihotri #2
Nev March
St. Martins Minotaur
July 12, 2022

The second book in the Captain Jim Agnihotri series opens in Boston, where Jim and his new wife have moved, leaving India and their former lives behind. Jim has taken a position as a detective with the Dupree Detective Agency. Diana has found the changes in her life challenging, moving from a life of luxury and servants to one of doing her cooking,
laundry, and baking. She is also missing her family and drawing on her memories of them to help her cope. Diana is more than equal to the challenge; however, making friends and allies both high and low. Understanding of American ways is coming slowly and surely. 

When Jim goes to Chicago on a mission, one that he is very closed-mouthed about, Diana is all alone in Boston. Jim warned that he would not be able to communicate with her often or regularly. Still, after five weeks of no messages at all, she is frantic. Adding to her worries, a man arrives at her home carrying a letter for Jim. The man exudes fright, and the letter is in German. Rather than sitting and stewing, she decides to go to the Dupree Agency. Both father, Alfred, and son, Peter Dupree, have also not heard from Jim since his departure. But they tell her Jim is investigating a case at the soon to open Centennial Exposition, which led to an earlier investigator's death. This situation will not do. Through force of will and a little judicious blackmail, Diana gains a helper, a black man named Tobias, to aid her on the trip and the search for  Jim.

The trip to Chicago is a revelation to Diana. She never knew the depth of the racism and poverty that afflicted the still-new nation. The after-effects of the Civil War hung over everyone a decade later. Chicago is in a state of turmoil in 1876 with the opening of the Centennial Exposition. It is the first World's Fair held in America, and the movers and shakers are determined to show the world that Chicago is stepping back to the stage after the Great Fire. There is also grinding poverty, worker unrest, violence, and a possible anarchistic threat. That is the Chicago Jim has infiltrated. When Diana finds him, she is also exposed to that world. But she also moves into the world of the powerful, presenting herself as an Indian Princess. There appear to be many possible bad actors among the rich and powerful.

Peril at the Exposition is an action-packed, well-plotted, thrilling adventure with dizzying twists and turns. The many characters are fleshed out and memorable. It is a worthy addition to the series, one that I enjoyed immensely. Thanks to and Minotaur for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.


Sunday, May 8, 2022

Murder in a Divided Maine Town


Maine Clambake Mystery #10
Barbara Ross
Kensington Books
June 28, 2022

I discovered the Maine Clambake Mysteries while in Maine for vacation a couple of years ago and have been reading them steadily since. This tenth installment takes place in Mud Season, that season between winter and summer when the snowmelt is gone, and the most plentiful things in Maine are mud and blackflies. Busman's Harbor is gearing up for the tourist season, not least Julia Snowden, who manages the Snowden Family Clambake. Julia feels at loose ends after ending a long-term relationship and is back in her family home. Even the apartment she lived in is unavailable for a few months.

A divided Busman's Harbor is on the verge of deciding whether to install a proposed pedestrian mall during the summer months. Some are bitterly opposed, including "antique" dealer Phinney Hardison, but others, including some wealthy pillars of the community, think it might be a good idea for the town. Zoey Butterfield is at the center of the controversy. She owns a thriving pottery business and employs Livvie, Julia's sister, in the off-season. The pedestrian mall was her idea. Phinney and Zoey share a retail space, so tensions are exceptionally high. When Julia sees police cars in the early morning, she races over to find Zoey's side of the building has been vandalized. Thousands of dollars worth of pottery were destroyed, ready for the season and shipping worldwide. Phinney, of course, denies any responsibility. However, when Phinney is discovered dead in the building's shared basement, Zoey is squarely in the sight of the police.

Julia needs to find out who is responsible for both crimes before the town tears apart. What follows is an intricately plotted chase with all the familiar characters and a very welcome new one in the person of Zoey. Muddled Through is a most enjoyable addition to the series. Thanks to and Kensington for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

4 Stars