I’ve Been to Bombay*

mumbai_banner-3Mumbai is one of the largest cities in the world (population: approximately 12 million people). It’s a city of great wealth and beauty, millennia of history, and one of the world’s largest film-making and commercial hubs. It’s also a city of appalling poverty, crowds, and, sometimes, conflict. For many people, it’s an exotic place, too. And of course there are gorgeous beaches, fine restaurants, and more.

With all of these contrasts, and with its long and rich history, it’s little wonder that Mumbai has also been the setting for plenty of crime fiction. There’s not space enough in this one post for me to mention all of the novels and series set in Mumbai; here are just a few.

For the crime fiction fan, one of the classic series set in Mumbai is H.R.F. Keating’s Inspector Ganesh Ghote series. Inspector Ghote is a thoughtful, almost philosophical sort of detective who carefully thinks out the implications of what he does. He sees both sides (and in some cases, more than two sides) of situations, and tries to do the best he can in sometimes morally ambiguous situations. For instance, in The Iciest Sin, Ghote is assigned to find out if Dolly Daruwala is an extortionist. To that end, he hides in her apartment to see what he can learn. That’s how he happens to be on the scene when she is murdered. As though that fact weren’t enough, Ghote knows who the murderer is. He’s reluctant to turn the killer in; at the same time, he knows that this person is a murderer. As it happens, Ghote is seen leaving the victim’s apartment. So he’s drawn further into this case when he is targeted by a blackmailer. It turns out that solving this one murder draws Ghote into a web of extortion, fraud, and plenty of moral and philosophical dilemmas.

In Kalpana Swaminathan’s The Page 3 Murders, readers get a look at Mumbai’s upper class. Dr. Hilla Driver has recently inherited a large villa (and a considerable fortune) from an uncle. So she decides to host a house party. In part, of course, it’s to show her guests the home. It’s also to celebrate her niece Ramona’s upcoming eighteenth birthday. Hilla wants the party to be extra-special and unforgettable. So with input from her cook, Tarok Ghosh, Hilla decides to make the event a ‘foodie weekend,’ with special meals from all over India, and a capstone event: a seven-course gourmet meal. Hilla is well connected, so the guest list includes several celebrities, as well as some of her well-off friends. It also includes retired police detective Lalli and her niece. Everyone arrives, and at first, things go smoothly enough. Then, on the night of the special seven-course meal, Ghosh makes it clear that he knows at least one secret about each of the guests. Later that night, he is killed. Then, another body is discovered. Now, Lalli and her niece work together to find out who wanted to commit the murders.

Ask a group of people what they think of when they think of Mumbai, and at least a few will mention Bollywood. That’s not surprising, considering that Mumbai is home to India’s highly successful and prolific film industry. So it’s not surprising that Bollywood features in murder mysteries, too. For example, in Shadaab Amjad Khan’s Murder in Bollywood, we are introduced to famous director Nikhil Kapoor. One night, he’s at a party where he announces that he knows someone in the group has committed murder, and will do so again. Two nights later, he dies of electric shock. His wife, famous actress Mallika Kapoor, dies of a drug overdose. At first, both deaths are put down to tragic accident. But it’s soon shown that they were murders. Now, Senior Inspector Senior Inspector Hossein Sheriyar Khan investigates, and finds that this case is much more complex than he had imagined at first.

In K.D. Calamur’s Murder in Mumbai, Inspector Vijay Gaikwad takes on a very difficult case when American-born Liz Barton is killed, and her body left in a dump. The victim was the CEO of Mohini Resources, a well-known mining company, so the case is made much of in the media. And for disgraced journalist Jay Ganesh, it could be the story to salvage his career. So, each in a different way, and for different reasons, he and Gaikwad work to find out the truth. As it turns out, there are several possibilities in this case. For one thing, there’s the victim’s cheating husband, who could have found out that she might not have been exactly faithful, herself. She’d made several business enemies, too. And there’s the fact that Mohini’s been the target of activists who’ve been protesting its methods. It’s not going to be an easy case to solve, and it’s not made better by the fact that Gaikwad will need to wade through bureaucracy and corruption to get answers.

There are plenty of novels, too, that feature travel to Mumbai. For example, in Karin Fossum’s Calling Out For You (AKA The Indian Bride), we meet Gunder Jormann, who lives a quiet life in the Norwegian town of Elvestad. Jormann is no longer young. But he’s in good health, he’s a steady worker, and he’s presentable. He believes he’d make a good husband, and decides to find himself a wife. What’s more, he decides to go to Mumbai to do it. His sister Marie and the other people in Elvestad are all surprised at this sudden decision, but Jormann doesn’t let their opinions stop him. Once he arrives in Mumbai, Jormann settles into his hotel. At a café where he eats, he meets Poona Bai, a waitress who works there. They strike up a friendship that leads to more, and within a couple of weeks, Jormann asks her to marry him. She agrees, and the arrangement is that he’ll return to Norway, and she’ll follow as soon as she finishes up the details of her life in India. Jormann goes back to Elvestad to wait. Soon enough, the day comes when his bride is to travel to Norway. But she never makes it to his home; the day after her scheduled arrival, her body is found in a field near Elevestad. Now, Oslo Inspector Konrad Sejer and his assistant, Jacob Skarre, investigate to find out who would have wanted to kill the victim.

And then there’s Shamini Flint’s A Curious Indian Cadaver. In that novel, Inspector Singh, who lives and works in Singapore, has been on sick leave, but he’s getting ‘cabin fever.’ So at his wife’s request (and anyone who’s read this series will know what I mean by that), he agrees to join her on a trip to Mumbai to attend the wedding of her niece, Ashu Kaur. Things start to go very wrong when the bride disappears on the day before the wedding. Then, there’s a murder. Now, Mrs. Singh’s family falls under suspicion. She wants very much both to help her family get answers, and to clear everyone’s name if possible. So she makes it clear that her husband will have to get involved and find out who the killer is.

Mumbai is a lovely city, full of history, natural beauty, and plenty of find food and cinema. But peaceful? Not so much. Which Mumbai-based mysteries have you enjoyed?

Thanks, Maharashtra Tourism, for the lovely ‘photo!


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bel Canto’s Bombay.


Filed under H.R.F. Keating, K.D. Calamur, Kalpana Swaminathan, Karin Fossum, Shadaab Amjad Khan, Shamini Flint

34 responses to “I’ve Been to Bombay*

  1. Oh Margot, Murder in Mumbai sounds like my kind of story! What an exotic, chaotic place. I will have to keep it mind.
    You write as though you have been there. Have you? I love travel, but I can’t imagine going there. I can use my imagination and read without having to set foot. I told a friend from India that I would be a walking target in his country!

    • If you do get the chance to read Murder in Mumbai, Lesley, I hope you’ll enjoy it. I wish I could say I’ve been to Mumbai myself, but I haven’t (yet). I hope to sometime. Fortunately, I’ve friends from there, and I’ve read books and seen films that depict the city, so I have a bit of a sense of it.

  2. James Coakes

    The thoughtful detective is a great character. The problem with theories is the moment you back one there is a tendency that you will focus on the evidence that supports it, so keeping an open mind until you have some sort of proof is critical. When you seen some of the more bombastic detectives portrayed on screen you wonder if they could ever actually solve a real case.

  3. I remembered the Merchant-Ivory film The Perfect Murder based on H.R.F. Keating’s Inspector Ganesh Ghote novel. The spectacular visuals of this great city shown in the opening credits is fantastic. Bombay is one of the best cities I have ever visited. There is so much in this city to fall in love with every day. Nice blog, loved reading this post. 🙂

    • Thank you, Shiva. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. And thanks, too, for mentioning the film version of The Perfect Murder. I confess I’ve not seen it, but now I think I’ve been missing out!

  4. I can’t think of a single crime novel I’ve read that was set anywhere in India. How could I have overlooked such a fascinating country over the years? Thanks for this post, Margot, and the list of books I can choose from.

    • Honestly, Pat, there are so many great books and series out there, from all over the world. It’s impossible to keep up with all of them; it really is. If you do get to try some of these books, I hope you’ll like them.

  5. My goodness what a lot of different books, looking at different aspects in Mumbai. We have an office in Noida and I’m fascinated by their culture and particularly their traditions so I now know where to go to read crime fiction set in this country!

    • I didn’t know you had a business connection in India, Cleo! Fascinating! What I find really interesting about India is that there are so many cultures there – endless possibilities for learning. If you get the chance to read some of these books, I hope you’ll like them.

  6. I’ve not read anything set in India before and I think it’s time I did. All of these books sound fascinating. When reading books that feature the culture of other countries, I especially enjoy listening to the audios of the books that way I get a better understanding of the language and the proper way the names are pronounced. Great post, Margot.

    • Thanks, Mason. You know, you make such a well-taken point about audio books. when you listen to a story (as opposed to reading it) it really is easier to get a sense of how things are pronounced, and you can often get a sense of what words mean and how they sound. That can really add to a story, can’t it?

  7. Like Patricia, India as a crime setting has not crossed my path in any of the books I’ve picked up. It does sound like a beautiful city though. I really need to read faster!

  8. Col

    The only Indian set books I’ve read are Brian Stoddart’s excellent Le Fanu mysteries.

  9. What a wonderful post, Margot! I couldn’t have put it together if I wanted to, in spite of having been born and raised in Bombay. It’s one huge melting pot, the kind of city that grows on you, even as you love it and hate it at the same time. I know people who swear by the city and wouldn’t live anywhere else. It has just about everything, that is if you can ignore the crowds, the heat and humidity, traffic jams, the hawkers, and insufficient infrastructure. It’s also one of the safest places in the country. Things are improving, though, but we are at least a century away from, say, a New York or a London. It is said, rightly, that you can get out of Bombay but you can’t take Bombay out of you.

    The two Taj Hotel buildings in the picture, next to the iconic Gateway of India, was the scene of a three-day long terror attack in 2008. It’s a lovely waterfront and is situated in upmarket south Bombay.

    • Thank you, Prashant, for the kind words. Thank you also for letting us know more about the ‘photo. I remember reading and hearing about those awful attacks, and seeing the images in television. How terrible!

      I’m also really grateful for your insights on the post, since you were born and raised in Mumbai. One day, I hope to visit the city. It hasn’t happened yet, but I hope to be able to. And I know precisely what you mean about it being the sort of city that grows on you. Sometimes it’s a city’s soul that gets you, even if it is crowded, or there’s crime, or it’s hot, etc… There’s just something about it.

  10. Can’t say I’ve ever read a crime novel set in Mumbai. But it sounds like a perfect place to wreak havoc. Fictionally speaking, of course. 🙂

    • Sue, I liked the way you put that. Fortunately, organised crime is down and women are more safe in Bombay than in most parts of the country.

      • Prashant, did the government do something in particular to lower the crime rate? Just curious.

        • Sue, the law enforcement agencies have cracked down on the mafia and the notorious gang wars of the 70s through 90s are almost a thing of the past. I think government action against terrorists and their terror cells might have indirectly contributed to a lower crime rate. Of course, we have our share of local crimes including murders and burglaries.

    • It really is, Sue. There’s so much complexity there, and it’s got a lot of the setting/context elements that can make a very effective backdrop for a crime novel.

  11. kathyd

    I can see that I must read some of these books. I have read some books set in India, two by Kishwar Desai, a book by Anita Nai located in Bangalore, Bombay Ice read years ago, and then partially set in India, The Indian Bride you mention and one book by Kjell Eriksson. But there’s so much more to read and I will check out a few of those mentioned above, and certainly the film, The Perfect Murder.

    • There is so much great crime fiction set in Mumbai, Kathy, and that’s to say nothing of the rest of India. There’s no way to do justice to it all in one post. I may have to do another post on Indian crime fiction some time.

  12. I’ve read more straight novels set in India than crime novels, which is strange – I should change the balance. I think I’m right in saying that HRF Keating had never been to India when he wrote his Inspector Ghote books….

  13. I cannot remember if I have read any crime fiction set in India. I should certainly try some, and you have some great examples.

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