Keating, H R F - 'A Small Case for Inspector Ghote?'
It was over 45 years ago that Inspector Ganesh Ghote of the 'Crime Branch' of the Bombay (now Mumbai) Police first entranced readers with his softly-softly-catchee-criminal style of detection. That Ghote is one of the great fictional detectives is not in dispute, though he is no Sherlock Holmes (he's far too human), nor is he a Philip Marlowe (far too gentle). Perhaps an 'Indian Maigret' might be the best analogy should one be needed, though one really shouldn't be.
Ghote doesn't so much detect crimes as sense them, relying on his keen observational powers and the hairs of the back of his neck - a neck which is often put on the chopping block by the pompous, snobbish and often corrupt hierarchy he has to serve under. His greatest asset as a detective is that he is rarely perceived as a threat by the villains; well, that and a devoted wife who often points the way for him. His greatest asset as a character is that he is not super-human, but perfectly human.
His creator and only-begetter, H R F Keating, raised more eyebrows than at any other time in his distinguished career as a crime-writer when he sidelined Ghote in the year 2000. Fortunately he was persuaded to revive the gentle detective last year in INSPECTOR GHOTE'S FIRST CASE and now there is a second treat for fans with A SMALL CASE which is once again set in the Spring of Ghote's career, back in the early 1960s.
This is a wise move as an updated Ghote is not the sort of character who would sit happily in the modern "Slumdog" Mumbai. His world is the India which grew, kicking and screaming, out of the British Raj; a more innocent time and place perhaps, but no less murderous if you happen to be a police detective. And in A SMALL CASE, the young and untried Ghote doesn't have far to look for a murder victim - in fact, one comes looking for him, or rather part of one, when he discovers a human head in his office waste paper basket.
Even though his superior officer suspiciously tells him to forget all about it (!) as there are other, more important murders to solve, Ghote is nothing if not dogged and pursues this unimportant murder despite the risk to his career prospects - a career which has hardly started.
As usual, Harry Keating entrances the reader with prose as silkily smooth as ever and with the rhythm of a snake-charmer's flute. Loyal fans will love it, for it harks back to a school of crime-writing which depended upon good, entertaining writing rather than remorseless blood and thunder. Novices to the Ghote canon (he himself would blush at the thought of Ghote Virgins) will find a new fictional detective to befriend and to them I would say: he's been there since 1964, where have you been?
Mike Ripley, England
Mike Ripley has reviewed over 950 crime novels in a 20-year stint as a critic for, among others, the Daily Telegraph, Birmingham Post, Publishing News, The Good Book Guide and Deadly Pleasures (US). He currently runs a creative crime-writing course for Cambridge University's Institute of Continuing Education and writes the gossip column Getting Away With Murder on www.shotsmag.co.uk . His own crime novels are ludicrously over-praised on his official fan site www.thatangellook.co.uk, but that's what it's there for.