Mumbai 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.