Tag Archives: Vaseem Khan

Putting people in their place

Black or fat. It doesn’t matter. You’ll still be put in that special group. The one that shows that white people – or thin people – are feeling inclusive. They will let you have what they have ‘always’ had, but only because the winds are such that it appears best to allow ‘minorities’ to do what everyone should have the right to do, be it write books and have them published, or buy and wear clothes that look nice and actually fit.

Thank you. It is most kind.

The Guardian Review on Saturday had a long article about how things have almost got a little better [fairer] for dark people in the publishing business.

I was struck by two things. First is that authors who are somehow different get their own imprint, as witnessed by the hiring of Sharmaine Lovegrove as publisher of Dialogue Books, a new ‘inclusive’ imprint at Little, Brown. (Ironic, isn’t it?)

As the Guardian says, ‘but why does inclusivity have to have its own ring-fenced imprint? Shouldn’t it be part of every imprint rather than becoming its own distinctive brand?’

This, incidentally, reminded me of what I wrote earlier this year, “there is always something that can be done, putting people in their place. Quoting Wikipedia, Tamarind Books ‘was founded in 1987 as a small independent publisher specialising in picture books, fiction and non-fiction featuring black and Asian children and children with disabilities, with the mission of redressing the balance of diversity in children’s publishing.’ This is very worthy and I have the highest opinion of Tamarind. But now that it is also an imprint within a much larger organisation, has it become the place to stash away the slightly foreign authors? You know, ‘you will be happier next to your own kind’ sort of thought.”

I know someone who ended up being put there after a publishing house reshuffle. He/she was both offended and pleased. Offended because colour of skin suddenly made this the right place for him/her. Pleased because Tamarind have really keen publicists, which ought to be good for sales.

And second, a comment by Abir Mukherjee, part of a ‘dynamic new circle of British Asian crime novelists.’ Abir* has been told ‘his work is not “authentically Asian enough” because his debut A Rising Man is about a white, British detective in India.

So, the whites get to tell the ‘minority’ writers what to write. We’re back to the situation where you can only ever write about what you are; i.e. for my part a novel about a short, fat girl in southwest Sweden.

Which brings me to one of my fondest gripes, clothes for fat people. Don’t design especially ugly and different clothes ranges for us. It’s enough – well, preferable, actually – if you make larger sizes of the same as everyone else gets. This should have several benefits. No need to design twice. The fat customers will be happier. Happy customers buy more, thus providing more income.

And let’s face it; if you don’t make it, we won’t buy. We can’t suddenly use smaller clothes, just because you think that’s the best. So that’s a loss of revenue to you.

Something similar must surely happen in the book trade. Publish good books about anything at all, and we will buy. Doesn’t matter what colour skin the author is, or their accent, or if they were born in a different place than where they live now.

Yes, unlike the jeans that are too tight, if one book has not been written or published, a keen reader can buy another book. But there must still be a certain loss of potential income. To some extent publishers can and will tell someone what ought to be in a book [for it to sell], and sometimes they will even be right. But to limit Asian writers to write about Asians, or for that matter, to prevent a Muggle author from writing about wizards, is just silly.

In fact, I recently read a crime novel by Vaseem Khan, featuring his Mumbai detective as usual. Lovely book. But what makes that different from, say, Alexander McCall Smith’s lovely books about a female detective in Botswana? Is he female? Is he black? Is he a detective?

Neither Vaseem nor Alexander have been ring-fenced into an imprint suitable for their colour. Why should anyone else?


*When xenophobia is at its worst, immigrants are often told they need to adopt the same values and behaviour as the British. While I happen to think that this is wrong, I feel that it is precisely what someone like Abir has done. He has assimilated, which, considering he was born here, is fairly natural. And also what the real natives want. Except when they want their foreigners to be a little more authentically foreign.

It’s not easy.

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Series – to abandon or not to abandon

That is the question.

As has become clear over the Bloody Scotland weekend, there are series everywhere. Not only do the long – and medium – established writers have series. The debut authors are also planning several books. Even the unpublished ones pitching their first novel, spoke of series.

If you are free to read whatever you like, whenever you can, with no blog commitments, you can probably keep up with lots of series.

I no longer know what to do. I tend to wait and see what happens. Because I can’t actually make the decision. It has to be made for me. I will – temporarily – abandon a series of books I love, if there is something else, equally loveable out there. Maybe something that is noisier when looking for attention.

And that first abandoning was never intentional. It just happened. It’s not you; it’s me.

In the last maybe fifteen years I have read and thoroughly enjoyed the crime novels by Kate Ellis and Stephen Booth. I read every one up to a certain point. I read about Mma Ramotswe. I read these usually in the right order, moving backwards to catch the odd earlier book, and then waited in real time for the next one to be published. It seemed like a long wait, until it wasn’t so bad, and then until the next two books were here and I didn’t know how to fit them in.

I discovered Sara Paretsky, whose books I still read when a new one comes along, and slowly reading the older ones.

Among my new people, as you know, are James Oswald and Vaseem Khan. I don’t know how long I can keep going. I want to. But I wanted to with the others as well.

With Sophie Hannah I grew too scared to continue, so that was an easier decison to make. And thankfully we have the new Poirots.

Or there is Harry Potter, but we knew how many books to expect. Knew there would be an end. As we did with Skulduggery Pleasant, at least until Derek Landy decided to keep going a bit longer. With Lockwood you might not have known for certain, but unless something changed, the characters would eventually be unable to do what they did because of their [lack of] years.

Which books do you keep? Will I ever reread the abandoned series? Will I restart one day? Which ones will I regret once I have ditched my copies? When we moved, we parted with about half our Dorothy Sayers. That seemed OK. Many of Agatha Christie’s books I’ve never owned as I borrowed them from the library.

And then I looked at my shelves for inspiration, and considered Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh. Those books I read slowly over a long time, and I don’t claim to have read all. But the thought that I might get rid of the books made me want to cry. They are staying. Campion is like a crazy older brother, and Alleyn some benevolent uncle. Yes, I know I have now bypassed them in age, as far as most of the stories are concerned.

So what to do about those just starting out? Not read at all, just in case? Read one and be hooked? Have nervous breakdown?

The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star

I just love Ganesha, the baby elephant detective in Vaseem Khan’s Inspector Chopra novels! And I rather admire Poppy, aka Mrs Chopra. (I may have mentioned this before. Like every time I review Vaseem’s books.) I reckon Poppy is finding herself, going from loving wife of a police inspector to someone who… Well, maybe better not give it away, but there were one or two scenes in this, the third outing for Chopra and his elephant, that made me laugh out loud. Poppy knows her mind, but she still can’t prevent her personality from getting the better of her.

This crime adventure is set within the Bollywood business, but it is also pure Bollywood in itself. It is colourful and crazy, while also showing the reader the serious side to life in India; how some people have very few rights and lead dreadful lives.

Vaseem Khan, The Strange Didappearance of a Bollywood Star

Chopra’s sidekick Rangwalla has his own mystery to solve and he definitely discovers a few things about himself that he’s not proud over. But people can change.

So on the one side we have a kidnapped Bollywood hero and on the other we meet the Mumbai eunuchs. Chopra’s decent behaviour gets him into trouble, and were it not for those around him who love him; Ganesha, his adoptive boy Irfan, Poppy, his staff and his friends, things wouldn’t have ended so well.

Forgive me if I keep going on about how much I love these books. There is a charm and a decency, coupled with humour and a good crime plot and a fantastic setting. It leaves me wanting to learn more, but first I want some of chef Lucknowwallah’s food. And I’d like an elephant best friend.

The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown

Somebody please give me a baby elephant! I am so in love with little Ganesha in Vaseem Khan’s crime novels about the retired inspector Chopra. I hope young elephants really do act and think like Ganesha, because if they do, the world will be better for it.

Vaseem Khan, The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown

In his second book about this upright citizen and private detective – a man who cannot be bribed – Vaseem aims very high indeed. The crime is the theft of the Crown Jewels, and most importantly the Koh-i-Noor. The police are incompetent and corrupt, so it is up to Chopra to work out who did it, and also to find the priceless jewel.

This was even more fun than the first book, with a new character to care about, and with a much larger role for Mrs Chopra (and her mother…) and the retired inspector even gets himself an assistant. I hope his unreliable heart will stand up to all this private detecting and rushing about, because I want a lot more.

As in the first novel, we get to see India as we – probably – didn’t know it, and the food is delicious! I mean, it really seems as if the food is very good. I wouldn’t object to a small sample included with the book.

A Baby Ganesh Agency Investigation

This is India’s answer to The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Vaseem Khan has written a sweet and funny crime novel about Inspector Chopra, who is forced to retire on health grounds from the police in Mumbai. In his early fifties, he is an honourable man who has always tried to do the right thing, and who could never be bribed.

In The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra we meet him on his last day, as he agonises over what will become of him, now that he no longer has a job to go to. His wife, Poppy, is rather pleased he will be staying at home, but of course he ends up doing no such thing.

Vaseem Khan, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra

First there is the baby elephant. His uncle has sent this large gift for a reason. It’s just that ex-Inspector Chopra can’t work out what that is. And on his last day in the office he meets the distraught mother of a murdered young man, and rashly takes on the task of finding the murderer.

Chopra is a brave and determined man, who will let neither a bad heart or old colleagues stop him from doing what’s right. And then there is Ganesha, the baby elephant. The Chopras live in a tower block, so keeping even a small elephant is tricky, but Poppy is as determined and fierce as her husband is honourable. There is a priceless scene when she and Ganesha sit down in the living room to watch Bollywood films together while snacking on goodies!

The murdered young man leads Chopra to many bad and seemingly impossible discoveries. And who can he trust, when everyone can be bought?

This is a nice, comfy kind of whodunnit, set somewhere exotic to the European reader, and very satisfying. Described as a Baby Ganesh Agency story, I wonder if there will be more? There certainly could be. Elephants are as loyal and dependable as the former Inspector Chopra.

(And the food! Poppy prepares the most wonderful dishes for her husband. He has little time to eat while out solving crimes, but oh, how delicious it sounds.)