Death of a Lesser God by Vaseem Khan – Review
By Sandra Callard
Vaseem Khan’s Malabar House novels, all set in India in the 1950s, have already gathered a strong and loyal readership. His latest book is set in familiar territory, as Inspector Persis Wadia, the only female detective in Bombay, takes on a dangerous and unusual job to save the life of an Englishman who is due to be executed in two weeks’ time.
Persis leans on the side of the condemned mans’ innocence, but the police are so sure of his guilt that it seems to be no problem to them when Persis asks if she can make further investigations to clarify things. The fact that Persis has had an on/off relationship with the condemned man also appears to be no problem for the Bombay Police, as they allow her to take the lead in the case. She is relieved, but it soon turns out that she has to face the toughest and most dangerous undertaking of her life as she tries to clarify the decisions of the police.
Vaseem Khan’s writing is as meticulous and exhaustive a read as you will ever find. He covers every small detail of the story and brings the clashing, riotous and colourful sights of India right in front of the readers’ eyes in all its consummate grime and glory – and he can still come up with a shock or a surprise for the reader to cherish. His main character, Persis, is an intelligent and brave detective, unusual for a woman to be in the role for that time in India, but she loves her job and is proud to battle through. The story of what follows is one of the most harrowing, exciting and unique scenarios that the reader will have come across.
Vaseem Khan – the new Chair of Harrogate’s Crime Writing Festival, no less – writes beautifully. It flows with an ease that makes the reading of his work remarkably easy, helped in part by a regular stream of artful and very unexpected shots of astute humour, which in no way reduce the importance of the theme of the book, but rather offer a small segment of relief amid the horror of murder. In fact I enjoyed them so much I went through the book again to have another look at them, resulting in further small but appreciated humours.
Most ordinary readers will never see and enjoy the wonders of India, let alone the India of the 1950s, but the sensitive and joyful writing of Vaseem Khan can give us a small touch of those glory days; sensitive, beautiful or violent as they may have been, so I would hope that this author will find the time to bring more of his exciting and unusual detective works to his growing and attentive readers.
‘Death of a Lesser God’ by Vaseem Khan is published by Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99