The Case of the Love Commandos is the fourth novel by Tarquin Hall to feature Vish Puri, head of India’s Most Private Investigators, Ltd., and readers can prepare for a wild trip through an assortment of crisscrossing and intersecting stories.
Take a missing student named Ram from India’s untouchable Dalit caste, link him with Thuri, the daughter of a landowner from the higher Thakur caste, and you get a couple of star-crossed lovers. Add one stolen wallet, a murder and attempted framing, and a pilgrimage to the mountain shrine of a popular deity that ends in a giant heist. Then mix these with an eerie genetic research facility called ICMB, whose influence—and funds—appear to reach the seats of local government and beyond, and you have the beginnings of a twisty, colorful tale that will whisk you through the countryside and city vistas of northern India and the streets of Delhi.
Puri, whose unfashionable sartorial style favors safari suits of different hues, often seems to be a step behind his main rival, the spiffily dressed Hari Kumar of Spycatcher Investigative Services. But watch closely and you’ll find that Puri’s scattered activities conceal a clever mind (working best on a full stomach) and the patience to conduct a clue-by-clue investigation of even the smallest bits of information. He uses a crew of operatives with wonderful names such as Facecream, Handbrake, Flush, Tubelight and Door Stop, whose crazy monikers belie their many capabilities of disguise and wile. A new, youthful addition to the agency, a boy named Deep, gives added dimension to the story and proves indispensable as Puri wraps up the case and one-ups his rival.
Hall’s colorful and direct writing is full of understated humor and gentle satire, and it provides a multifaceted look at India’s ongoing social issues of caste and hierarchy, family, love and marriage. The best thing about Love Commandos, however, is not its story, though it’s a fine and twisty tale. And it’s not the character of Puri, though the devious, clever, rather pompous, food-loving detective gets our attention and affection. What takes first place in this book is India itself. Hall offers us an up-close and personal view of present-day India, a vibrant, helter-skelter dance of color and hubbub in a pungent, savory atmosphere full of noise, confusion and corruption, bursting with change.