Reviewed by Jeanne
Periodically, I will find a collection of first lines from novels that a compiler has found to be especially interesting or effective. I have never done such a list myself, because I try not to judge a book on its first line any more than I try to judge it by its cover. But if I do ever create such a list, the first line of The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra might be a contender:
“On the day that he was due to retire, Inspector Ashwin Chopra discovered he had inherited an elephant.”
Inspector Chopra is a reluctant retiree, handing in his resignation on doctor’s orders. He enjoys his job; moreover, he believes in his job. He knows corruption is widespread, that class and wealth grants privilege and too often immunity from punishment, but he loves his city of Mumbai and his country and he wants to make it a better place.
On this last day of work, he finds a poor woman crying over her dead son. The official verdict is that the young man died after passing out drunk in a creek but the mother is insistent that he was murdered but “for a poor woman and her poor son, there will be no justice!”
There is some truth to her words, Chopra knows, but he is determined that the matter will be investigated—even if it has to be done unofficially.
I actually read the second book in this series first, just because it was handy. It was good and I enjoyed it, but this one was a real delight. The plot was well constructed, and the conclusion surprised me. Chopra is a thoroughly likeable character: honorable, intelligent, kind, and persistent. The supporting characters are also well developed, especially his wife Poppy, and his . . . um. . . opinionated mother-in-law, Poornima Devi. Khan makes excellent use of the setting, describing the sights, smells, and rhythms of Mumbai.
And of course, there’s the elephant, a doleful young calf later dubbed Ganesh. He seems so sad and frail when he’s delivered to the apartment that the Inspector’s heart goes out to him. Chopra is determined to do what is best for him, though that might mean sending him away. (Even small elephants do not make good apartment dwellers, and having an elephant in the courtyard draws complaints—from Poornima Devi.) I gave this book to an elephant-loving friend and she was as charmed as I was.
If you’re in the market for a solid mystery with an exotic setting, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra might be just the ticket.