When a book leaves you with a massive smile on your face you know something’s gone right. When a book leaves you with a massive smile and a burning desire to adopt a baby elephant…. well, it could only be “The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra”, the first in a series of books featuring a retired Mumbai police officer and his unlikely but totally endearing elephant sidekick.
The story begins on the Inspector’s last day with the Mumbai police department. Unfortunately for Chopra, the prospect of living out the remainder of his days as a man of leisure doesn’t appeal in the slightest. Not surprisingly, then, when a grief-stricken woman arrives at the station begging officers to investigate what she is convinced is the murder of her son, Inspector Chopra finds he can’t just walk away. The trouble is that none of the other senior police officers seem willing to concede that the boy’s death was anything other than a suicide. Chopra thinks otherwise, and so begins the adventure as he decides to take matters into his own hands and pursue the case alone. Well, not quite alone – because the book’s most adorable character is waiting for him, tethered outside his apartment block when he returns from his last day at work. Ganesha, as he’s eventually named, is a bizarre and unexpected gift from an eccentric uncle, and at first his bemused new owner has no idea what to do with him. It’s not giving too much away though to say that the little animal becomes an invaluable companion as Chopra ventures further into the criminal underworld.
I’m not going to lie: the fact I picked this book up in the first place was almost entirely down to the presence of a baby elephant, and what surprised me was just how quickly I warmed to the human characters. If I had to pin down the essence of this novel then actually warmth would probably be it. It’s clear that the author has an enormous amount of affection for all his creations, both the main players and the peripheral characters, and that rubs off on the reader without a doubt. There’s also a real sense of love for the Mumbai setting, from the glamour of the Bollywood residences to the slums that, while desperately impoverished, are still vibrant communities. Scenes of manic, overcrowded streets, stifling heat and fierce monsoon rains could easily make the city seem an inhospitable place, yet it never seems unwelcoming. At the heart of the book lies the idea that the city is its people and the people their city, and from this notion grows the sense that Mumbai itself is alive, a supersized, evolving creature. There is corruption at all levels of society, as Inspector Chopra knows only too well, but there is an eternal optimism here in the face of greed and dishonesty. This is a city which has a good heart buried amid the wickedness. Little Ganesha too is an innocent soul who can’t be corrupted and whose loyalty can’t be bought; the perfect teammate for a man whose motivation is to see justice prevail and the wrongdoers get their comeuppance no matter how wealthy, influential or famous they may be.
This charming book has the intrigue of a good detective story with the warmth of a steaming mug of hot chocolate. And, of course, a baby elephant, the addition of which adds that extra layer of emotional involvement for the reader. I will definitely be back for a second helping when the next one is published. If you want a novel to set you on your way into 2016 with a smile, this is it.