Over the next few weeks, we will be revealing the remaining titles that will become the summer reading options for the summer of 2015. Students will select one title from a list of around five novels per grade (In the subject line of the post, “Freshmen” means that the book will be read by incoming freshmen, not existing ones, etc.).
The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall
When the young servant girl of a well-to-do family in India goes missing, Ajay Kasliwal, the family patriarch and a prominent lawyer, becomes the prime suspect in the case. This story, however, revolves around private investigator Vish Puri, who is called in by the family to clear the man’s name. Puri is a gifted detective with a crack team of characters in his employ, but his efforts are hampered by Kasliwal’s wife, the police, Dehli’s overburdened justice system, and the breathless press coverage of the mystery. The Case of the Missing Servant is a thrilling detective story, and Vish Puri is a compelling protagonist who simply defies the one-dimensional characterization so common to the detective archetype. Described as India’s Sherlock Holmes, Puri is indeed deft and clever, as well as highly regarded in his field, but he is also comically self-aggrandizing and often plainly frivolous. He and the similarly well-drawn supporting characters make this mystery novel truly entertaining –a book you won’t want to put down.
Apart from sheer entertainment value, the narrative of this novel also serves as a representation of place. The novel slowly and subtly reveals India itself as one of Hall’s well-drawn characters. In the course of his investigation, Puri travels around India, and the reader shares a glimpse into the sights, the sounds, the scents, the history, and even the food of a fascinating country and its people. Set primarily in the heat of Dehli, this novel presents a city and country of both tradition and progression, a place of beautiful complexity. Puri’s investigation exposes a string of social issues that are entrenched in this complex place, while simultaneously highlighting its strengths. Puri’s position in the social strata is a crucial element of the story. He is successful, in-demand, and extremely useful to his clients, which include some of the most wealthy and revered people in India. But his position as a private investigator – not the most respectable occupation in society – defines and limits him in the eyes of those same clients. Puri is well aware of this, and he struggles against his limitations, but still clearly respects and even embraces this caste system. This dynamic is further on display in the relationships between the Kasliwal family, their children and their servants, and even between Vish Puri and his own household. Although the mystery presented in this story is compelling, and offers many twists, Hall’s candid, yet affectionate depiction of India and its people is what makes this book truly unforgettable. The first book in Hall’s Vish Puri detective series, The Case of the Missing Servant, is a must read.