Friday, February 1, 2019

The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star by Vaseem Khan

Reviewed by Jeanne

Police Inspector Chopra (retired) is enjoying his new job as a private investigator.  He named his business "The Baby Ganesh Agency" after his sidekick, a baby elephant inherited from his uncle. Ganesh certainly seems to have a flare for detective work, or so thinks Chopra-- or maybe he just enjoys having the energetic little elephant around.

In this third entry in the series, Chopra receives a call from a legendary Bollywood star who is searching for her missing son, Vikram.  The boy was starting to make a name for himself as an actor, but had the reputation of being difficult.  Now he’s starring in one of the biggest productions ever, but has inexplicably vanished.   He’s disappeared before, so it’s possible that he’s off partying somewhere but Chopra is troubled by some of the messages the young man had received.

Meanwhile, Chopra’s associate Rangwalla has been summoned before the Queen of Mysore, a formidable person who rules the eunuchs of the Red Fort.  She has been supplying entertainers for a mysterious patron who never appears.  He pays well, the girls aren’t harmed, but the Queen suspects there may be some malicious intent behind it. She wants to know exactly what is going on and the only way to find out is for Rangwalla to go undercover—as a eunuch.

I have enjoyed the previous books in the series, in part because I like the exotic (to me, anyway) setting and I am fond of the characters.  In some ways the books remind me of Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies Detective series:  not only is there a warmth to the books, but the characters have strong moral beliefs in things like justice and mercy and are able to recognize their own limitations. Chopra was a bit of a thorn in the side of authority when he was a policeman because he stood above the corruption: he didn’t take bribes and he didn’t turn a blind eye to crimes committed by the wealthy and/or powerful but did a thorough investigation no matter where it led him. There’s a well-developed supporting cast, too:  Poppy, Chopra’s devoted but independent wife; Irfan, a street urchin who they have befriended; Rangwalla, the more conventional but ever loyal assistant; and, of course, the baby elephant Ganesh, who steals every scene he is in.

The Indian setting was especially vivid in Bollywood Star.  The movie industry is incredibly popular, and everyone knows about the private lives of the actors.  Productions are lush and expensive, and many are based on Indian literature, history, or religion.

More than the film industry aspect—which reminded me of the American film industry in the 30s-50s, with the carefully crafted images of the actors—I was fascinated with the culture of the eunuchs.  They occupy an odd niche in Indian society where they are both reviled and feared.  They refer to themselves as female, hence the Queen. 

I am looking forward to the next in the series!

The books are:

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra
The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown
The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star
Murder at the Grand Raj Palace

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