The Strange Disappearance Of A Bollywood Star by Vaseem Khan

The Blurb On The Back:

Mumbai thrives on extravagant spectacles and larger-than-life characters.

But even in the city of dreams, there is no guarantee of a happy ending.

Rising star and incorrigible playboy Vikram Verma has disappeared, leaving his latest film in jeopardy.  Hired by Verma’s formidable mother to find him, Inspector Chopra and his sidekick, baby elephant Ganesha, embark on a journey deep into the world’s most flamboyant movie industry.

As they uncover feuding stars, failed investments and death threats, it seems that many people have a motive for wanting Verma out of the picture.

And yet, as Chopra has long suspected, in Bollywood the truth is often stranger than fiction … 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

When Ashwin Chopra is persuaded by his wife Poppy to accompany her, their adopted son Irfan and their baby elephant, Ganesha, to a stadium show featuring Vikram ‘Vicky’ Verma – the biggest bad boy in Bollywood – he doesn’t realise that it will lead to the newest case for his detective agency.  Vikram disappears during the performance and given that he’s the star of Bollywood’s biggest movie – The Mote In The Third Eye Of Shiva – a troubled production that’s already over time and over budget, his mother, the famous actress Bijli Verma, is desperate to find him before he wrecks his career completely.  As Chopra and Ganesha investigate though, they find themselves caught up in artistic rivalries, mob connections and powerful interests who already have a grudge against the retired inspector that they’re anxious to make him suffer for …

Meanwhile Chopra’s partner, Abbas Rangwalla has been engaged by the Queen of Mysore, the head of Mumbai’s eunuch community.  She wants him to investigate a mysterious rich landowner who insists on hiring her eunuchs to visit his home and yet does nothing other than watch the dance and eat.  The Queen is sure that the landowner has some insidious intent in mind, the only problem is that for Rangwalla to investigate, he’ll have to go undercover as a eunuch …

The third in Vaseem Khan’s BABY GANESH AGENCY SERIES is an absolutely delightful crime mystery that explores the contrast between the adulation enjoyed by the Bollywood elite and the contempt and hated endured by its eunuch community but it’s the relationships that make it stand out and I loved Chopra’s dysfunctional family unit (especially Ganesh who is utterly charming) and how it’s friendship and love that keeps them together.

I hadn’t read the preceding two books in this series but you don’t need to as Khan gives enough information here of previous events as they become relevant to the plot.  I really liked Chopra – reserved, intelligent and aware of his faults and how lucky he is in his marriage – and his relationship with Ganesh (especially the way he speaks to Ganesh as if he was his real son) is just delightful. Khan does well at depicting the history of Bollywood as well as the excesses and abuses behind the razzle dazzle.  This is no cosy mystery though as Chopra’s investigation takes him to some dark places as he brushes up against corruption and political intrigue that sees him in a sticky situation.  I don’t want to go into spoilers but I really want to see more of Chopra’s chef, Lucknowallah (who has the best line in the book) and Malini ‘Shoot’em Up’ Sheriwal, the pistol packing, man-hating detective who replaced Chopra in his police station.

I also enjoyed Rangwalla’s B plot, which delves into Mumbai’s underbelly and the harsh treatment experienced by its eunuch community, who are often humiliated and treated as second-class citizens.  The eunuchs are all well characterised – witty and yet saddened by their experiences – and the ending to the storyline, although slightly telegraphed, did make me a little teary.

All in all, I found this a deeply moving, utterly charming read that makes the most of its Mumbai setting and had me utterly engrossed from beginning to end.  I’m definitely going to read the preceding 2 books and will be waiting eagerly for book 4.

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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