Last night I went to Mostly Books to hear Vaseem Khan talk about his two crime novels featuring Inspector Chopra which are set in Mumbai. I didn’t have time to read one of the books before the event, but any novel that begins:
On the day that he was due to retire, Inspector Ashwin Chopra discovered that he had inherited an elephant.
… can’t be bad!
Unusually, the young elephant who is christened Ganesh (what other name could you give a literary Indian elephant becomes a sidekick for Chopra in his last case and when he sets up his detective agency.
The books sound as delightful as Vaseem himself, who charmed the audience with tales of working in Mumbai for ten years – in which one of the first sights he saw when he arrived was an elephant – what better inspiration could you want.
Vaseem is not Indian though. His parents are from Pakistan – one from each side of the partition. He was born and brought up in the East End of London and went to the London School of Economics to become an accountant. He went to work for a company building environmentally friendly hotels in Mumbai.
He told us that Mumbai, which got its new name from the goddess of the original fisherfolk who lived there, is the best city on the sub-continent. “glamorous, populous, and clamorous,” he said. The contrast between the new and old India provides a dynamic backdrop for anyone writing about it.
Inspector Chopra is a slightly old school character with a wife called Poppy. Vaseem told us that Poppy had been such a popular character in the first novel, that he now had to make sure she had plenty to do in all the subsequent ones! He admitted she is a reflection of his own wife too. Given that the second book in the series is all about the theft of the Kohinoor Diamond which has an old Hindu curse associated with it – that only females can handle it safely – I’m sure she’ll have lots of action.
Vaseem told us a little of his writing journey to getting published – it’s taken 23 years, 6 novels and 200 rejection letters until Inspector Chopra was accepted. Talking of his influences, he said how nervous he was meeting one of his heroes, Ian Rankin, at a recent crime festival but he plucked up the courage and they had a wonderful conversation. Vaseem also told us his favourite detective is Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch, and that one of his all-time favourite crime thrillers is The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris.
He ended with a funny story about how he was signing a batch of the first book for Goldsboro Books, and someone there said his signature was too simple. So he’s developed a signature for book-signings which we’d see if we bought one! So I did (I would have anyway) and have his elephant doodle in my copy.
Vaseem was entertaining and full of self-deprecating humour, but full of interesting information about modern India and his crime novels sound brilliant. I shall look forward to reading them.