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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What I'm Reading: The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing

The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing: From the Files of Vish Puri, Most Private InvestigatorI recently finished the second book in the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall entitled, The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing.

I enjoyed the second installment of this smart, funny, cozy with its undercurrent of the contradictions that define modern India.

Much of what I said about the first book, which I read here, is true for the second.

The plot here once again revolves around the new India which is both modern and old fashioned. Here, a man known as "The Guru Buster," who has spent his career trying to dissuade Indians from believing in supernatural spirits and instead trust the truth of science, is murdered in a public park, during his laughing therapy group, by what appears to be a goddess.

Vish Puri is recruited by the police to help solve this murder. Puri, a spiritual man,who also appreciates science. This makes him the perfect person to solve the crime. What ensues is a story much like the first Vish Puri book in which old fashioned, Agatha Christie style detection mixes with new, technology to solve a very complicated case. A case, which also makes an implicit statement about life in India today.

Also, Puri's mummy is back trying to investigate other crimes. This time she ropes Puri's wife into it. Hilarity and some good old fashioned detection both ensue in this secondary storyline. But again, even this sillier story line is laying the foundation to some pretty serious commentary about the contradictions of life in modern India--about how the old ways are co-existing and, at times, clashing with the new ways of the upper middle class.

Appeal: Although Puri is the protagonist, Hall includes the point of view of his mummy, wife, and a few key employees. Hall did this in the first book, and I still like the technique here. It helps add tension, moves the story along, and it lets us see how the other characters feel about Puri.

This is basically a cozy, with eccentric characters and not too much blood. It is all about the characters and the complex case. A reader will only enjoy this book if he or she likes Puri and his idiosyncrasies. This is hard to gauge. I usually describe Puri to a reader, and tell them if it sounds like something they would enjoy, try it. I have yet to have someone who took the book home come back disappointed. This is a great mystery to give to a wide range of mystery fans and even to readers who do not typically like mysteries, since the characters reign supreme here.

It is also important to note that the level of detail into everyday Indian life is incredible here. This is a short, fast paced book, but it is filled to the brim with details. A glossary helps you to decipher some of the Indian lingo too.

Finally, now that the second book is out, I can say that you do not need to read this series in order (at least for now).

Three Word That Describe This Book: India, humorous, character-centered

Readalikes: Here is a link to the numerous times I have suggested this series and mentioned readalikes.  Just click through and you will have many choices for thought-provoking, cozy mysteries with lots of eccentric characters.

For a list of other humorous mysteries click here.

For those who find the setting most appealing, click here for a list of mysteries set in India.

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