India’s Greatest Detective

One of my all-time favorite mystery series–I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned it before–is H.R.F. Keating‘s novels featuring Inspector Ganesh Ghote of the Bombay CID. Written over a span of 45 years (1964-2009), and winning several major awards along the way, these books are a treasure. You may not have heard of them–which means you have quite a treat in store, once you start reading them. Most of them seem to be available via, and you might also try your local library.

Ghote is hard-working, dogged, modest, humane: if he’d been born in America, he would have been Columbo. He goes up against fiendishly clever criminals, wooden-headed superior officers, rich and powerful witnesses and suspects who think they’re above the law, and not-very-helpful assistants. He is a loving but often hard-pressed family man. I promise you’re gonna love this guy!

My favorite of the series is The Body in the Billiard Room (1987), in which Ghote is “assisted” by a retired ambassador–a person of great importance, whom he can’t get rid of. This character insists on introducing Ghote as “the Great Detective,” continually embarrassing and exasperating him by expecting him to perform like Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot. There’s an awful lot of humor in this book, but a touch of pathos, too: the old ambassador’s whole way of life–he is a relic of the British Raj–is passing away. No writer ever did a better job than Keating (d. 2011) at combining those two elements.

Then there is Sergeant Desai–incompetent, lazy, corrupt–who “helps” Ghote in a number of investigations. The wretched man provides wonderful comic relief.

I could go on and on about these books–their adroit use of local color, their ability to transport you to India, their satisfying solutions to often complex mysteries. But I won’t. Just go out and get one! You can thank me later.

Leave a Reply