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The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra

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A “fun murder mystery” is not at all an oxymoron when applied to Vaseem Khan’s recent novel, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra. While the murder itself is a serious occasion, the characters, their situations, and Khan’s tongue-in-cheek asides coalesce into a delicious potpourri of entertainment. Most delightful of all? The unexpected inheritance, a baby elephant delivered to Ashwin Chopra’s doorstep the day he retires after thirty years as a Mumbai police officer. Ganesha, named after the Hindu elephant deity considered the “Lord of Success,” becomes the retired inspector’s sidekick, a faithful Sancho Panza who rescues his master numerous times.

At the outset of Khan’s novel, a moping Ganesha refuses to eat, and the newly-retired Inspector Chopra hates to relinquish his role as an officer of the law. The two mirror each other. Bored by the idle days and still curious about an unsolved case, Chopra begins investigating unofficially. He soon discovers that Ganesha can be helpful, both with his strength and with his intuition. By the time the novel ends, the two together have unraveled a mystery that includes police dishonesty, bribery, and political corruption. That part of The Unexpected Inheritance resembles any detective novel where a lone wolf investigator succeeds in solving a case that the police chose to ignore.

What differs from other such narratives, however, is the presence of Ganesha. The elephant, who loves Cadbury milk chocolate and Bollywood soap operas, lies silent and sad for the first several chapters. Worrying about his new charge, Inspector Chopra consults library books, zoo keepers, and a veterinarian. Ganesha, it turns out, loves chocolates more than bamboo and needs considerably more stimulation in his life. The murder mystery, plus the inspector’s knack for getting himself into untenable situations, provide Ganesha with the activity he needs. Whether in the ocean, in a monsoonal flood, in an elevator, or in a delivery truck, time and again Ganesha saves the day.

Another special ingredient of The Unexpected Inheritance is the setting. Inspector Chopra spends a lot of time walking the streets of Mumbai, and Vaseem Khan masterfully brings the sights and sounds and smells to life. He is a highly tactile writer, an author who uses the five senses to energize his prose. “And yet, Chopra thought, as he looked out from the rickshaw at the eight-storey palace of a famed Bollywood star, even here, beggars still congregated on street corners, stray dogs with patchy fur still roamed in packs, and mounds of trash still collected in the open, a haven for flies and ragpickers.” Or, more deliciously, the food, the “aloo gobi and chapatti, still warm inside the tiered tiffin box, the “masala dosa with sambar.”

By the end of The Unexpected Inheritance, the well-fed inspector and his now hungry eight-month-old elephant have thoroughly bonded. Establishing “The Baby Ganesh Detective Agency” for future endeavors, the two eagerly anticipate the future. Already, readers can look forward to a sequel, The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown, another mystery that promises to be just as much fun as this one. – Ann Ronald

Also available by Vaseem Khan: The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown

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