I love to read murder mysteries that are set somewhere in the world that I have never been. Let me hasten to say that I do not care for such mysteries when they’ve been written by someone who has also never been there, or who has not been there for more than a visit.
No, I want a book that oozes local color and a narrator who has clearly lived there, walked the streets every day and been part of the community. Sometimes it’s an ex-pat, sometimes a person sent there by a job (or a spouse’s job). Or it may be an English-speaking native, or the books may have been written in another language and translated into English.
The author also needs to be a skillful and inventive mystery and suspense writer, so the kind of books I’m talking about are few and far between. When I find them, I love them. When the book is part of a series, well then. Hog heaven!
Right now for me the exotic murder mysteries are set in India. I’ve found several! MM Kaye, of Far Pavillions fame, was born in India and spent much of her adult life there. Did you know she wrote six murder mysteries? Her “Death in” series is a veritable clinic in the romantic suspense genre, and the one that’s set in India, Death in Kashmir, evokes the waning years of the British Raj.
Tarquin Hall’s Vish Puri series is more fun than a basket of Macaques (thank you, Russ Hall, for recommending them). Start with The Case of the Missing Servant. I cannot get through one of these books without making Punjabi curry and browsing Google images of Dehli.
Shamini Flint’s delightful Inspector Singh travels to Mumbai in A Curious Indian Cadaver. Flint is an attorney who lives (like her Sikh detective) in Singapore and has travelled extensively throughout Southeast Asia. Her books are set in India, Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, and China.
And why go to the expense and bother of world travel when you can read Paul Theroux? He has written about India in a number of his travel books, but did you know he set a murder mystery in Calcutta? A Dead Hand is an interesting read, but what I highly recommend is the Elephanta Suite—it’s terrific! It’s not a murder mystery, though. It’s a collection of short stories set in Bangalore, Mumbai and a spa in northern India.
Since I am digressing from murder, I have to mention Chitra Divakaruni’s books. In One Amazing Thing, an earthquake traps a diverse group of people in the basement of an Indian Consulate in America, and to while away the hours waiting to be rescued, they tell stories from their lives. When the first character began her story, I literally got a chill down my spine.
One last recommendation: If you try any of these books, you may be seized by the need for a spicy korma or rogan josh. My trusty House of India Cookbook has served me well for forty years, and it’s still available on Amazon!
Next time I’ll share a list of murder mysteries set in Africa.
Elizabeth Buhmann is the author of Lay Death at Her Door (Red Adept Publishing, May 2013), a stand-alone mystery/suspense novel about an old murder that comes unsolved when the man who was convicted of it is exonerated. The story is told from the point of view of the woman on whose eyewitness testimony the prosecution was based. When the book opens, her life is about to come apart at the seams.