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by H R F Keating
Allison & Busby, May 2009
285 pages
19.99 GBP
ISBN: 0749007311

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Inspector Ghote, newly promoted to the prestigious Bombay Police Crime Branch which deals with cases of high importance, has found that his duties have so far been confined to labourious bureaucratic tasks assigned by his aloof and forbidding superior Mr Divekar. Indeed, when Ghote discovers the severed head of Bikram, an incompetent servant given to drink, in his waste-paper basket, Mr Divekar's reaction is to order Ghote to dispose of the head and take no further notice of the incident as it is beneath the attention of the Crime Branch. But Ghote is unprepared to accept this dismissal of the importance of a man's death, however lowly the murder victim's status may have been, and, encouraged by his wife Protima, embarks on his own investigation. This becomes even more complicated when he is finally assigned by Mr Divekar to investigate the murder of the son-in-law of one of Bombay's most prominent industrialists. As the personal and professional quests proceed it becomes clear to Ghote that, unlikely as it might seem, there are possible links between the cases.

This is the 26th book in the Ghote series, of which the first, THE PERFECT MURDER, was published in 1964; two years after P.D. James launched Adam Dalgleish's career and the same year that Ruth Rendell introduced us to Wexford. This is therefore an impressive record in terms of longevity. A SMALL CASE is by no means the 26th in chronological order however - this is actually set in the early years of Ghote's career and is the second of what his web-site describes as a 'new series' in which Keating examines his creation's early career. For some reason this was the first Ghote book I had read and I do therefore feel ill-placed to pass judgement as I have no knowledge of how good or otherwise the previous series books were, or what the general standard was. I can therefore only proceed on the evidence of this particular entry and would have to judge it a considerable disappointment. In the first place the plotting is actually pretty minimal - it is all very straightforward with no real twists or surprises. As always this is a pretty crucial failure.

Beyond this however there is the question of how one reacts to the very peculiar style, the use of what might be termed 'comic Indian English'. I do accept that reactions to this will be highly personal but I found it at best jarring, at worst almost colonial. Perhaps this was different in the 1960's and 1970,s but now one can read a really excellent Indian mystery like Swarup's SIX SUSPECTS, it appears even more superfluous. There is very little of psychological interest here and the sociological observation is fairly commonplace. The opening scenario is certainly a fascinating and, as far as I know, unique one, but I am afraid that for me, and I know there are many fans who would say very differently, that, on the evidence of this particular book, the only thing Ghote shares with Dalgleish and Wexford is longevity.

Reviewed by Nick Hay, September 2009

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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