Mr. Vish Puri ('Chubby' to his family, 'The Boss' to his employees), founder and director of Most Private Investigators, Ltd. (Confidentiality Is Our Watchword) is India's most celebrated detective, evidenced by his picture on the cover of India Today and the seven national and international awards he's won. He writes letters to the Times of India, scorns Sherlock Holmes as a Johnny-come-lately, favors Savile Row-made safari suits, silk dressing gowns, Sandown hats and to the consternation of his wife and doctor, greasy street food. His cases are mostly matrimonial in nature, families hire him to vet their sons' and daughters' intended spouses (the MPI, Ltd. offers a pricey Pre-Matrimonial Five Star Comprehensive Service) until he's called upon to look into the mysterious disappearance of a maidservant.
The inimitable Mr. Puri is as at home in the poorest villages as in the most opulent and Moghul-esque marble palaces. In his dogged pursuit of the truth, he slips undercover at the drop of a hat and engages in judicious larceny and blackmail. At the Most Private Investigators, Ltd, the client always comes first, though The Boss is entirely capable of holding back information that will damage a bride's one chance at marriage. In short, Mr. Vishi Puri is a most engaging and resourceful character on the order of Rumpole or Precious Ramotswe.
The Boss handles several cases at once with help from his fearless Mummy; his unflappable wife, Rumpi; assorted friends in high and low places; and a stable of investigators nicknamed Facecream, Flush and Handbrake. While investigating the title case, unmasking a balti-cook pretending to be the owner of the Indian Empress Restaurant, tailing a fiancé who's just too good to be true, and one who isn't; someone shoots at The Boss as he's tending his roof-top chili plants. His entire cadre of friends, family and employees is called into service.
Through these coloful characters, Tarquin Hall provides glimpses into contemporary Indian culture--class distinctions, outsourcing, the Byzantine Indian legal system, the erratic infrastructure of modern Delhi that makes it necessary to fill one's washing machine with buckets of water, and domestic life. It is engaging and by turns hilarious and touching; The Boss' plane trip is one of the funniest things I've ever read, while his experience in the town next to the uranium mine brought a lump to my throat. Mr. Vish Puri does what he can, however, and as all the cases are wrapped up and the missing servant is found, the reader happily celebrates the Festival of Lights along with the Puri family.
Mr. Hall uses many Indian colloquialisms for which he mercifully provides a glossary, and there are several allusions to Bollywood that might be unfamiliar to the reader (thank you, Google). While this was initially annoying, I came to appreciate the book not being dumbed down, and found I enjoyed recognizing words as they cropped up again. It's obvious that Mr. Hall adores India and its people; The Case of the Missing Servant is a loving portrait of modern India, warts and all and Mr. Vish Puri is a unique and wonderful new addition to the international detective community.