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Hall, Tarquin - 'The Case of the Love Commandos'
Paperback: 320 pages (Oct. 2014) Publisher: Arrow ISBN: 0099561883

"Perhaps you have heard of me? Vish Puri is my name. Most Private Investigators Ltd. My offices are in Khan Market above Bahri Sons."

University of Agra, India.
Love Commando "Laxmi" spots the black Range Rover pulling in and uses her mobile to alert her co-conspirator inside the building. The car's driver gets out and opens the rear passenger door for his boss, the wealthy Thakur "lord", Vishnu Mishra. Once the security goon has also exited the car, Mishra beckons the remaining passenger. A beautiful young girl emerges. This is Tulsi, Mishra's daughter. She has been kept under lock and key in the family home for three months since they discovered her relationship with fellow student Ram, a member of the "untouchable" Dalit caste. However, today is examination day and her father has agreed to let Tulsi sit her finals before she is married - to a suitable husband - in a week's time. But Ram is determined to marry Tulsi, despite death threats from her father, and has asked for help from the "Love Commandos", a group which assists couples divided by caste and religious differences to marry and establish new lives under assumed identities.

As Mishra and his guard accompany Tulsi into the university, Laxmi fires up her scooter and weaves along the bordering alleyway. She stops under the window of the ladies toilets where Tulsi's anxious face eventually appears. After a tug of war with her father inside the building, Tulsi squeezes through the window and joins Laxmi below. They escape on the scooter through the narrow alleyways towards the house where Ram is in hiding. They arrive to find Ram is missing. The door is broken and there are signs of a struggle. A neighbour tells them that he saw Ram being dragged into a black SUV. Although Tulsi pleads with her father on the phone, her father denies having taken the young man. Laxmi, aka "Facecream" of Most Private Investigators Ltd, decides she has no option but to involve her employer, Vish Puri - even if it means revealing her moonlighting activities for the Love Commandos.

Back in Delhi it has been a quiet month for Puri: a double-crossing estate agent, a celebrity chef's stolen recipe, playing ransom bag-man for a kidnapped dog and - the Jain Jewellery Heist. True the jewel thieves were caught but Puri cannot forget that little of the stolen loot was recovered. Puri's secretary interrupts his musings to remind him that he is due to leave for the railway station and join his family for a pilgrimage trip. Notoriously bad at taking time off, he reluctantly gathers his things and leaves the office. It is only minutes later that the phone rings and Facecream asks for The Boss. It's an emergency...

Several crimes interweave in Tarquin Hall's THE CASE OF THE LOVE COMMANDOS, the fourth in his series featuring Delhi-based, private investigator Vish Puri. A young couple from different castes are being helped to escape and marry by an activist group called the Love Commandos. No sooner have they rescued the would-be bride when the "groom" disappears. Vish Puri is called in to help find the groom but en-route finds himself the embarrassed victim of a pickpocket. This fires Puri's incorrigible Mummy-ji into action and her investigations into the theft of her son's wallet lead her deeper and deeper into criminal possibilities. Meanwhile Puri travels to Lucknow and the missing groom's village. There, tragedy has struck with the murder of the groom's mother but Vish Puri is not convinced that the police have the right suspect.

Full of warmth and character, this story combines plot and colour with the grimmer realities of life in modern India. Hall, married to an Indian journalist and based in India for many years, provides a sharp glance at the intricacies and strictures of living in a caste-dominated society, issues of rural poverty and the prevalence of corruption. Although reflecting the rich diversity of peoples in India, Hall's main character, the conscientious, proud, food-loving, safari-suited and rather overweight Private Investigator Mr Vish Puri is a Hindu Punjabi. In an interview Hall has explained that, as his wife and most of his friends are Punjabi, these are the people he knows best and he considers them to be a "boisterous, daring, funny people". Who better for this lively, warm story.

Recommended for those who love India and an enjoyable crime caper with a touch of grit and wit. And you get recipes too.

Lynn Harvey, England
January 2015

Lynn blogs at
Little Grey Doll.

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 22/01/2015 18:52