Perfect Murder Paperback – 2010
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Unfortunately this, who will kill who interesting reading plot, is over pretty early on in the word count. I won't tell you who was successful but the quality of the story does drop a little when there's only one left. The stupidity of the characters lessens the enjoyment as you read thinking, as if you'd do that, no one could be that stupid. It's still a fun short read but doesn't maintain the very high quality and tension of the first few chapters all the way to the end.
The Perfect Murder is part of the Quick Reads series of books to increase literacy levels by encouraging those who don't like to read beyond magazines and comic books to try fiction through cheap priced short story length fiction and non fiction. Like a various author anthology collection novel, some of these individual short story books are really good, and others not that great.
Whew! It was like leaving a dreary UK autumn day for a Delhi spring. Yeah, could be too hot and crowded eventually, but at least you thaw out first.
There is more than a slight hint of over-the-top comedy about *The Perfect Murder*, with its deliberately ambiguous title, its definitely over-the-top rhyming-slang - Hindu? he's certainly not Cockney - rich man Arun Varde, and the sub-plot Case of the Stolen Rupee (yes, just one rupee.) The link between the two cases is somewhat tenuous if finally vital, and the ongoing chaos at the Varde house also tends to the edge of credibility at times.
On the other hand,the power of money and the presence of corruption in Bombay come as no surprise, and the portrait of Varde's elder son with his exaggerated English argot feels as if it shd. strike maliciously home in a setting of post-British India. Then, too, the lyric scene when the monsoon and the case finally break together can seem, on reflection, just a tad too Indian, so to speak - one of those loces classici, like the sacred cows and the "brightly-clad women" that you wd. expect in any superficial treatment - but at the time, it's wonderfully cathartic, for the reader and Inspector Ghote both.
Which leads to the only real difficulty about Inspector Ghote, at least for me: for the first 9 Inspector Ghote books, Keating had never actually BEEN to Bombay.
Sure, he handles the inflections of Indian English as if he was born to them, not over-doing the flood of present participles, catching the wordiness nicely, sure, he adds in the odd Indian word - not sure if they are in Marathi or some other dialect, though Keating does know such exist - with the panache of an Amitav Ghosh. Sure, he has a convincing presentation up and down the strata of Bombay, from the street beggars to the magnificently miserly Minister's over-plush office, with a malicious side-look at "imported air-conditioning!" and such. And he treats all those strata with a democracy sadly lacking from P. D. James's apparently unconscious sieving of an English village into Those We Know and Those We Only Know About.
All the same, Keating is NOT an Indian. Like Alexander McCall, who wrote a very nicely defensive preface to my edition of *The Perfect Murder*, he is from a colonizing culture taking the voice of a culture that has been colonized. And yes, we shd. all let bygones be bygones. But if Australia had been colonized by, say, the US, (not that we aren't culturally colonized already) and some US writer decided to do a novel Down Among the Oz-ites, for the edification of those Not Down Among Same, taking on the language and outlook and setting of these (implicitly inferior)Others, as if he/she belonged there, how wd. I feel?
Not too damn friendly, I seem to think.
Keating does a Real Good Job of Bombay. It's wickedly alive, it's complex and dense and sloppy and vivid and Ghote himself is a treat. All the same, at times I had a sense of - exaggeration, for want of a better word, of stereotypic qualities, such as Indian volubility and "quaintness," especially in agitation. And a sense, which might have been wholly in my own view, that the writer, like the earlier writers of Children's Lit, is silently looking over his characters' heads to the (white Western) reader, and maybe not even consciously, asking, Oh, look at these excitable Orientals! Ain't they quaint?
It may be wholly unjust. In the wake of Kipling, who probably lived further into India than any outsider who ever wrote about the country, yet still could not shake off that white view at times, it wd. be hard for Keating NOT to have slid into such a stance. The theoretical question of his taking on an Indian's voice, however, did leave me putting 4 instead of 5 stars on Inspector Ghote's first appearance. Despite what McCall Smith says, I don't think even great works of fiction can wholly override the questions of who wrote them, about whom, and when.
Otherwise, kudos. And whyinhell aren't all the Inspector Ghote books on Kindle instead a mere handful, and the rest only on Audiobooks? Certainly a chance missed there with this reader, publishers.
The difficulty with the book is probably my difficulty. I am moderately interested in someone who has conquered his own environment, especially if I'm familiar with it. When I'm not and I'm faced with a man who has shaped himself to live in strange surroundings in a strange way, the difficulties are large. I have to be sympathetic to the man, in this case Inspector Ghote, and although his work is police procedure and his young son and somewhat stereotypically shrewish (yet beautiful) wife have all his love, they didn't manage to capture all of mine -- even though I love police procedurals and 'complicated' women.
Neither did his foreign attachment, a brash, loud Scandinavian man from other police forces ostensibly learning India's ways and ultimately playing an integral part in the story.
The story itself revolves around a wealthy Indian entrepreneur and his secretary. How Ghote deals with them, and they with him, is the crux of the plot. It is well presented as are all elements of the book, but the elements don't seem to fuse well. There I was in India, walking the streets, talking the talk, but not living the life. How can I make it clearer? I still read everything from English detective fiction to American fantasy, to Booker prize winners to nineteenth century novels of manners -- or not -- all with great joy. Inspector Ghote doesn't fit me, I'm afraid.
Who does? Let me just throw out Connie Willis and Jane Austen. Worlds apart, but oh, those worlds.
The big question, right from the very beginning, is who will succeed in murdering the other first? Or will the murders be so perfect that they occur simultaneously.
To find out the answer to that question, and many others that this story raises, you'll just have to invest an hour of your time to read it.
And the characters - Inspector Ganesh Ghote of the Bombay (now Mumbai) Police, his long suffering yet shrewish wife Pratima, Axel Svenson, the Swedish analyst, the corpulent Lala Heera Lal (brilliantly portrayed in the movie version of the book by the late Amjad Khan), Ghote's bureaucratic boss A.C.P. Samant -- they are all certainly well-characterized portrayals but the real jewel in the crown here is Bombay itself, the city of dreams shimmering in the subcontinental heat, punctuated by torrential monsoon downpours.
Interestingly, H.R.F.Keating had never set foot in Bombay when he wrote "The Perfect murder" but unlike the Africa of Edgar Rice Burroughs, or the Texas of J.T.Edson (other authors who neglected to visit the backdrop of their novels), the Bombay portrayed by Keating pulsates with a realism that lifts this book from the mundane whodunit to a truly classic literary work of the 1960s. And I can say this with perfect certitude because, much like Keating, I too have never visited Bombay, unless you count the time I flew via Sahar (now Chhatrapati Shivaji) International Airport from Madras (now Chennai) to Heathrow (now Heathrow).