Sunday 9 August 2020

In The Spotlight: Vaseem Khan

Name: Vaseem Khan
Job: Author
Twitter: @VaseemKhanUK

Vaseem Khan is the author of the bestselling Baby Ganesh Agency series featuring Indian detective Ashwin Chopra and his baby elephant sidekick. The first book in the series, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, was a Times bestseller and a Waterstones Paperback of the Year. The second won the Shamus Award in the US. In 2018, he was awarded the Eastern Eye Arts, Culture and Theatre Award for Literature. Vaseem was born in London, but spent a decade working in India. 

Current book?
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. This book won the Pulitzer Prize and you can see why. A satirical masterpiece, written with verve, flair and extraordinary skill, the novel follows a Vietnamese double-agent forced to flee Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War, and finding that life in 1970s America is not quite what he has been led to believe. The book slaughters both American and Vietnamese cultural icons, exposing the hypocrisy and lies that characterise that turbulent time in the history of the two nations. Wickedly funny. (Also I have crippling literary pretensions, and love high quality literary fiction.

Favourite book?
Snow Falling on Cedars. A historical crime novel written to a literary standard, this book examines the murder of an American on a small fishing island by a Japanese local. The plot is complicated by the fact that both men grew up as friends before becoming enemies when WW2 broke out and Japanese Americans found themselves placed into internment camps. 

Which two characters would you invite to dinner and why?
Sauron (a.k.a the Dark Lord) from Lord of the Rings. I’ve always wondered why he was so angry. I think all he really needed was a cuddle and a decent curry. It would also be nice to have Bernie Gunther at the table. I am a recent convert to these WW2 Germany-set crime novels by Phillip Kerr. Bernie Gunther is brilliantly drawn, a cynical, hardboiled detective, harking back to the novels of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett (I love Sam Spade and Phillip Marlow – especially as played by Humphrey Bogart). He is part of the German machine, often morally compromised, yet at the same time contemptuous of its hateful rhetoric and actions. He’d be a good laugh I reckon.

How do you relax?
I play cricket. Badly. Also planning complex murders is very relaxing, I’ve found.

What book do you wish you had written and why?
Presumed Innocent. Lawyer Scott Turow’s debut was one of the great crime novels of the last century, rightly selling millions of copies and inspiring a fantastic Harrison Ford film. I enjoyed the novel, principally because I love Turow’s precise, lyrically formal prose. Each sentence is like finely spun wool. And that killer twist at the end!

What would you say to your younger self if you were just starting out as a writer.
Murder a few people. Because authenticity has suddenly become everything in publishing. It’s all about proving that you have the right to write something… (rolls eyes, sighs loudly, makes a rude noise)

How would you describe your series character?
Inspector Chopra made his debut in The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra the first book of the Baby Ganesh Agency series. The book went on to become a Times bestseller and set the foundation for the series. Chopra is forced into retirement from the Mumbai Police Force in his late forties but cannot seem to let go of his desire to see justice done in a country where, frankly, if you have wealth and influence you can get away with anything – up to and including murder. A thoroughly decent man, one who believes in old-fashioned policing, and an even older-fashioned moral incorruptibility, he slogs his way through murders, robberies and kidnappings in one of the world’s most colourful cities – all with a baby elephant in tow. The relationship between Chopra and this unusual sidekick (Ganesha) allows me to weave in some gentle humour in between the gritty depictions of modern Mumbai and various dark crimes.

Bad Day at the Vulture Club, the latest book in the Baby Ganesh Agency series, focuses on the murder of a wealthy Parsee in Mumbai's notorious Towers of Silence where the Parsee dead are left to be eaten by vultures. Vaseem’s next book (out in August 2020) will be the start of a new series. Midnight at Malabar House, set in 1950 in Bombay, introduces Persis Wadia, India’s first female police detective, as she attempts to unravel the murder of a prominent British diplomat. 

Midnight at Malabar House by Vaseem Khan (Published by Hodder & Stoughton) Out Now
Bombay, New Year's Eve, 1949. As India celebrates the arrival of a momentous new decade, Inspector Persis Wadia stands vigil in the basement of Malabar House, home to the city's most unwanted unit of police officers. Six months after joining the force she remains India's first female police detective, mistrusted, sidelined and now consigned to the midnight shift. And so, when the phone rings to report the murder of prominent English diplomat Sir James Herriot, the country's most sensational case falls into her lap. As 1950 dawns and India prepares to become the world's largest republic, Persis, accompanied by Scotland Yard criminalist Archie Blackfinch, finds herself investigating a case that is becoming more political by the second. Navigating a country and society in turmoil, Persis, smart, stubborn and untested in the crucible of male hostility that surrounds her, must find a way to solve the murder - whatever the cost.

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