Exclusive interview with author Tarquin Hall and a review of The Case of the Missing Servant *** 3 stars
By Gabrielle Pantera
BEVERLY HILLS, CA (Gosh!TV) 8/7/2009 – “I decided to track down some Delhi detectives and write about them,” says The Case of the Missing Servant author Tarquin Hall. “I interviewed several and this culminated in a piece for the Sunday Times in the UK. I was amazed by their stories…matrimonial, murders, kidnappings, fraud. One detective described to me how he had even gone undercover in a nudist colony! Another showed me all his homemade bugs and talked about how he bribed employees at telecom companies to provide mobile phone records.”
The head of Delhi’s Most Private Investigators Ltd., Vish Puri, searches for a missing servant and pursues other cases in this first book in the series. Ajay Kasliwal, a lawyer who has a case against corrupt government officials, is suspected of killing his maid who’s missing. Kasliwal hires Puri to find her alive. A body is found instead, but Puri thinks something’s not right. He must keep digging.
“The book came about after I was talking to my wife’s cousin in Delhi,” says Hall. “Her parents were trying to get her married off and she was telling me about how she had been investigated by a private detective. Apparently this man called up her work colleagues and asked them about her character: Did she smoke? Does she have a boyfriend? He also asked one of them to bring her out into the street so the parents of a prospective boy could drive past and get a look at her. I guess they didn’t like what they saw because they never got in touch.”
The Vish Puri mysteries are set in south Delhi. “I used to live there in the late 90s and that’s where my wife and I met, so I have a lot of friends and a great deal of fond memories,” says Hall. “My wife and I moved back to Delhi so I could write the book. I’ve spent the best part of five years living in Delhi.”
Photo credit: Antonio Olmos
Hall found many changes when he returned to Delhi. “The place is changing so fast it’s hard to keep up,” says Hall. “For this book I spent a lot of time in Gurgaon, an area that I didn’t know at all. I visited gated communities, apartment complexes, golf clubs, malls. You can’t write about Indian cities today without getting to know these new extensions. It was fascinating to see people living a lifestyle that would have been unthinkable when I first came to India at the end of the 1980s.”
“I’ve found that writing fiction is a totally different process,” says Hall. “The first draft is the bare bones, with some flesh on it. But the detail and the flourish can only be added once you’ve got the story and characters down in some form. It takes several re-writes to create the whole thing.”
“Simon & Schuster bid on the book through my agent, so that’s how I met them,” says Hall. A fellow author introduced Hall to his agent Christy Fletcher of Fletcher & Co in New York.
Hall’s editor is Amanda Murray at Simon & Schuster. “Amanda wants the first draft a year in advance of publication,” says Hall. “Once I hand it in, she comes back with comments on the plot and suggestions on big things like the characters, but also details like language that might be unfamiliar to an American readership.”
Hall has written five books. The next book in the series is The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing, about a scientist who’s killed by an apparition. Hall was born in London and lives in East London near where the 2012 Olympics will be held.
The Missing Servant has characters who are well defined. The detective Puri is an Indian version of Agatha Christy’s Poirot. The book has many Indian words and names that may be unfamiliar. A glossary at the back comes to the rescue. The descriptions of the many varieties of food there is enough to make you hungry. Delicious.
The Case of the Missing Servant: A Vish Puri Mystery
by Tarquin Hall
Hardcover, 320 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release date: June 2, 2009