Tag Archives: Vaseem Khan

Chai and crime

Still trying to get my head round being ‘back to work’ properly.

One of the many interesting books the Resident IT Consultant was given for Christmas – not by me – was the one about Dishoom, which some of you will know is a chain of rather tempting ‘Indian’ restaurants in the UK. It’s both a travel book and a recipe collection.

As I was idly looking through it, I noticed the map of Mumbai folded into the inside hard cover. Once unfolded by me, it revealed place names I recognised.

They were from another book, or rather, series of books. Vaseem Khan’s crime novels are set in Mumbai and his retired Inspector Chopra drives around his city, taking in these places. I realised I’ve just never had a visual idea of how these places relate to each other, or indeed, what Mumbai looks like at all, apart from the odd photo.

So that was nice; two different genre books having this in common. Both are about food, in fact, since Mrs Chopra always cooks and always makes me hungry. As does Dishoom.

Then I finished off by reading up on how the divine chai at Dishoom is made. I will have to make it, although I will use less sugar.

Bookwitch bites #146

Bookwitch hasn’t ‘bitten’ for a long time. But better late than never.

Danny Weston has a new book out, which he launched in Edinburgh on Friday. He had to do it without me, but I gather it went well enough despite this. It’s called Inchtinn, Island of Shadows. Danny had even baked Inchtinn cakes. I bet he ate most of them himself, or possibly his friend Philip Caveney helped with the eating. (I won’t post that picture here. It is too dreadful.)

Danny Weston, Inchtinn

If it’s dreadful you’re after, you only need to look at this photo from when the witch met Vaseem Khan at Bloody Scotland last month. Vaseem looks just fine, but, well, that creature on the left… Sorry.

Vaseem Khan Twitter

That was the event when we discussed humour and how important it is, while not being taken seriously (!) by enough publishers. This is what Sarah Govett has found as well. After her dystopian trilogy a few years ago, she has tackled teen humour, much in the vein of Louise Rennison. If she’s to be believed – and I see no reason why not – teens are crying out for more funny books. India Smythe Stands Up is the book for you, fresh from Sarah’s keyboard.

Sarah Govett, India Smythe Stands Up

It’s important to keep track of children’s books. Even the Resident IT Consultant seems to feel this. I was a little surprised to find his companion in the holiday reading sofa, but who am I to say anything?

Daniel Hahn, Children's Literature

And, I knew this news was coming, but it’s still good to have it confirmed. There is another book from Meg Rosoff. It’s old YA, or some such thing. And not very long, apparently. We will have to wait until next summer, but the witch who waits for something good… (The Great Godden, since you ask.)

Meg Rosoff book news

Bad Day at the Vulture Club

‘Man cannot live on dhansak alone.’ But they certainly try, those Parsees at the Vulture Club.

Vaseem Khan, Bad day at the Vulture Club

It’s time for Chopra and his baby elephant Ganesh to solve another murder when a wealthy and respected Parsee is found dead, in the place where the dead are put to be eaten by vultures. Could it have been an accident?

As usual Chopra does his best in the face of lack of belief in this ‘murder’ and meanwhile his partner Rangwalla is investigating a collapsed building. And Poppy, Mrs Chopra, has a new cause, Poo2Loo, much to Chopra’s embarrassment.

This latest crime novel by Vaseem Khan looks at some of the richest people in Mumbai, and also how some of the poorest people live, both in regard to their homes and jobs, as well as their [lack of] toilets. We get to know more about India today, with the help of fictional crime and a good dose of humour. Singing turds, anyone?

At times Chopra seems more literal than ever, even going so far as to point out to Poppy that ‘I don’t have a husband.’ And this time his mother-in-law actually has a point, and she’s starting to grow on me. Well, I suppose she is responsible for how the lovely Poppy turned out.

The crime turns round and round several times, and both the reader and Chopra think they know who did it, and they don’t, because they didn’t. And we don’t want it to have been one of the people we like.

But more than fairness in finding a murderer, we want a better and safer life for all Indians, at the mercy of crooks everywhere. This is neither cosy nor noir, but entertainment with humour, while educating us about that which we didn’t know or had forgotten about.

A twist on the cosy

And I’m afraid we all laughed at the memory of Catriona McPherson’s grandmother’s funeral. (But I’d say we were meant to.)

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Last night at the Golden Lion was one of the very best Bloody Scotland events I’ve known, and I’ve been to some good ones. As Vaseem Khan said, it was quality over quantity, referring to the fact that he and Catriona and Lynne Truss were competing with Ian Rankin and Nicola Sturgeon down the road. But really, who’d choose those two over these three, so ably chaired by Laura Wilson, who’s just as fun and capable as I remembered from CrimeFest eleven years ago?

Right, so it was a discussion on cosy crime with three authors and a select audience, which contained, among others, Catriona’s parents. I liked her parents and wouldn’t mind borrowing them.

But was it really cosy crime we were dealing with? No, it was more whether you can kill kittens, and about writing with humour. Which, as far as I’m concerned is the best. Well, perhaps not the kitten-killing.

Apparently all cats are psychopaths.

It was actually a fairly animal-centred discussion, ably led by Baby Ganesh, Vaseem’s little elephant. While it was his detective Chopra’s wife’s involvement with where to deposit your poo that got us onto this, it was Catriona’s question whether he never worried whether Ganesh might, well, deposit, something somewhere unsuitable as well, which took us straight to Blue Peter’s elephant poo memory. This made us laugh a lot.

(Here I have to insert an apology to Lynne. I am not at all sure I get my thats and whiches and anything else right. But that’s the way I am. I loved Eats Shoots and Leaves. I just didn’t learn anything.)

And let’s get the panda out of the way right now. Not allowed to say what Vaseem thinks about pandas. But he likes vultures. He gets mail from fans, warning him not to let anything bad happen to Ganesh. There is no great plan for his little elephant, since when he wrote the first book he didn’t expect to get published, or that there would be more books. Ganesh will obviously outlive Chopra.

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This makes dogs more suitable to your plots; they won’t live as long. But this thing with age is difficult. Apparently Catriona and her Dandy were the same age in 2002 when they started out, but now Dandy is four years younger than her.

Catriona wanted to write her period crime as though it was written back then, and the greatest praise she’s had was the comment that it was just like a novel you might encounter in a wet Norfolk cottage (and not in a good way). Or, Dan Brown meets Barbara Pym. Her problem is that the action happens in the shadow of WWI, while the reader knows what is to come.

Lynne’s novels are set in Brighton in 1957. She wanted to go back to a time when her parents were young, and while it’s easy enough to know what was in the cinema at the time, it’s harder to get people to act the way they did. Do you let them swear, or not? The criminals can’t be seen to swear, even if they would have.

And you certainly didn’t swear in the wet Norfolk cottage.

Murder on the other hand is fine. Even of kittens.

What all three authors were annoyed by is that cosy crime is seen as a ‘guilty pleasure’ and as not proper books, and you can’t be funny. This snobbery is so unfounded.

Police in Brighton were notoriously corrupt, and Lynne wanted to write about the ‘relentless idiocy’ of her stupid policemen. She quite enjoys the sexism from the 1950s, meaning the police can’t even imagine that a working class woman could be the villain. But Lynne doesn’t set out to scare people.

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This panel almost fought to chat to each other, and to ask questions, and it was all interesting and fun, and if I ever get one of those ‘who would you invite to dinner?’ opportunities, Catriona, Lynne and Vaseem will be the ones, along with Laura. And hopefully Catriona’s parents. Maybe their friends whom I eavesdropped on outside on the pavement afterwards.

Before that afterwards, there was the signing. I already had books by Vaseem and Catriona, but hurriedly bought Lynne’s book as well. It was that kind of event. Vaseem insisted on taking a selfie with me, even after looking dubiously at my [conventional] camera, realising that no selfies would be coming from that. He had a mobile to hand, and now I’m afraid the internet will explode once that goes on Twitter.

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Catriona remembered the Witch, even after so many months, after just the one review. I might have said I now need extra time in my life to be able to read all her books, but all she could offer was more books… Like the fourth in her trilogy. And she couldn’t speak to me until she’d written down the ‘just arrived’ idea for her new book title on the back of the Bloody Scotland programme.

And Lynne, well, her book on the pitfalls on grammar and punctuation has put her forever in my, erm, good books. It’s like talking to royalty. Her next book will be the impressively titled Murder by Milk Bottle.

Talking about the future, Vaseem clearly has too much time on his hands, as Chopra and Ganesh will be joined by a new series, about a female Indian detective in the 1950s.

I really will need that extra time.

A first bloody afternoon

Marnie Riches offered to carry my drugs for me. It was kind of her, but my haul from Boots weighed very little and I felt I could shoulder the burden on my own. Anyway, she’s the guest, about to enter her first Bloody Scotland weekend, and she should be looked after.

But I obviously didn’t take that sentiment so far that I didn’t let her pay for my tea and scone.

I had just had time for my drug run – I mean my long neglected shopping – before it was time to go and find Marnie at her hotel. Leaving the hotel en route for that scone across the road she encountered a hole heap of crime colleagues out on the pavement, and had to hug a few people like Luca Veste, Mark Billingham and Michael Malone, while I limited myself to uttering only one or two stupid comments.

We went to Loving Food, where we were offered a window seat, from which we saw the rest of Bloody Scotland’s cream of crime walk past while I demolished my scone and we both gossiped about what books we hadn’t finished and how well our children have done.

Craning her neck a little, Marnie kept a check of who seemed to be heading to the pub, asking me who that was who waved to me (Ann Landmann, on our second – of three – sighting of the day), my neighbours, and so on. It’s that time of year when everyone who’s out is a someone.

Well, maybe not the boob tube wearers. The weather was best Scottish and there were a fair few ‘light’ outfits  to be seen. However the two of us were decently covered at all times.

After waving in the general direction of where she’d find the Albert Halls as well as her church venue for Saturday, we recrossed King Street for Marnie to get ready for the evening’s torch-lit procession and for me to pick up my tickets before walking home in the sunshine. I’d like to think the lack of painful knees was due to David Almond’s walnuts. Not his personally; we have bought our own.

Bloody Scotland torches

What shall we do without Kerry?

Yesterday the Bookseller delivered the unwelcome news that my favourite publicist is retiring. Yes, Hodder’s publicity director Kerry Hood is hanging up her, well, I don’t know what she’s hanging up. But something. Her not being one of those 27-year-olds, I did realise this time would come, but I pushed the thought away and hoped for the best.

Because that’s what Kerry has given me; the best PR help and some of the bestest authors. (I’m sure the woman cherry-picks…)

We first met eleven years ago, when I forced her to bring me Sara Paretsky. Seriously, I had no idea people were so easy to force. Nor did I know that publicists could speak, I mean type, like normal people, which is why when I got this email I’ve treasured it all these years, ‘Crikey! Yep – that’s you!’ (It refers to an unexpected appearance by me on Sara’s website.)

Hodder's Kerry

The next time was in that maze they call Nottingham, and I will link to the whole blog post here, because it shows so clearly how Kerry provided 110% book & author experiences.

More recently I have had thoughts such as, ‘that looks like Peter Robinson over there! I wonder where Kerry is?’ I’ve not had enough time to be a Peter Robinson fan, but his choice of publicist is certainly a recommendation.

Kerry has not only facilitated meetings with authors of interest, but she has gently pushed me in the direction of others that she just knew would be my kind of author. And there have been so many books, usually dispatched with that admirable hands-on technique that I – well – admire. Everyone should be like that.

I have so many great Kerry-related events that I can’t link to them all. Hence Nottingham. I know I’m not alone in this fan behaviour. Just mentioning her name leads to others admitting they love her too.

Daughter and I met Kerry’s dog when we were in London. I had no idea that having your dog in the office could work so well.

I hope there will be another lovely dog for Kerry’s retirement, if that’s what she wants. And maybe the odd appearance at book events? Please? Or just call in for tea.

Murder at the Grand Raj Palace

In Vaseem Khan’s fourth crime novel about his detective, ex-Inspector Chopra and his lovely elephant, Baby Ganesh, we go to Mumbai’s finest hotel, the Grand Raj Palace, which has served its wealthy guests for a hundred years. It’s my dream kind of place!

And also Poppy’s, Mrs Chopra. We think alike on so much, although here Poppy is concerned with how best to mark her silver wedding day, and how to do it in the company of her husband, when all he seems to do is solve murders.

Vaseem Khan, Murder at the Grand Raj Palace

Is it a murder though? The American billionaire appears to have committed suicide. Chopra thinks not, and sets about to prove murder, and to find who did it. Meanwhile, Poppy finds herself her own wedding-related mystery, also at the Grand Raj, which satisfies her greatly. Irfan and Ganesha come along to help, and what can be more natural at a grand hotel than to have your own elephant with you?

Chopra wades around in the murky Mumbai arts world, and Poppy makes a royal friend. Great women think alike.

This book is even more fun, and thought-provoking, than Vaseem’s earlier novels. You learn much about life in India, in Mumbai and elsewhere, and you do so while almost not noticing. And there is the humour; between them Poppy and Ganesha have got it covered.

Luckily there was very little food described this time, so I didn’t get too hungry. It was mostly just the one samosa, eaten burger-style in a bun, which sounds truly unhealthily appetising.