A Five-Star Mystery With Inspector Ghote

I have just read Doing Wrong, No. 20 in H.R.F. Keating’s Inspector Ghote mysteries, this one published in 1994. There would be a few more before Keating’s death, but not many.

This one is a corker.

Inspector Ghote was Columbo before Peter Falk was Columbo. Ghote works out of the Bombay C.I.D., although, over the years, his investigations have taken him all over India. Doing Wrong takes him to the Hindu holy city of Banares.

Yes, they still burn bodies on the banks of the Ganges, and throw the ashes in the river. If the deceased is too poor for a proper funeral, the body is thrown into the river as is. It is believed that the water of the Ganges has the power to wash away sins, from the dead as well as the living. Persons in search of holiness bathe in the Ganges. They also brush their teeth in it.

Ghote comes to Banares following up a clue in the murder of Mrs. Shoba Popatkar, once a personage in the Indian independence movement. He has very little to go on, and next to no support from his superiors: but Ganesh Ghote, once he has his teeth in a case, never lets go.

This time Keating tells you right up front who committed the murder, and why: a Banares politician, H.K. Verma, strangled Mrs. Popatkar to keep her from broadcasting some embarrassing information that would have ruined his hopes of being appointed a minister in the government.

So where’s the suspense? Well, did you ever have one of those nasty dreams in which you’ve committed a murder and you’re trying to escape the consequences? And the murder in the dream is a given, a fait accompli: it happened before the dream started, and you’re stuck with it.

We have H.K. Verma’s nightmarish experience as Ghote comes closer and closer to a solution to the crime. And we have Verma’s increasingly frantic attempts to rationalize the crime, to justify himself in his own mind. He searches for absolution in the Ganges. He must also deal with a bitterly ironic stroke of fate.

The narrative goes back and forth between Ghote’s point of view and Verma’s, tightly focused on the two of them. The result is suspenseful indeed.

Keating was one of a very few writers who could use dialect without distracting and exasperating the reader. Indian English is not quite the same as American English. Keating’s mastery of it is infectious–and I had better stop thinking-thinking of it only, or it will be seeping into my own writing.

For more than 30 years the Inspector Ghote series was one of the most consistently clever and entertaining mystery series around.

I think it always will be.

8 comments on “A Five-Star Mystery With Inspector Ghote

  1. Sounds like many of the modern movie and television programs that give you the ending at the beginning and then weave all the clever intricacies in throughout. Sometimes the ending is a complete surprise, but they have become so predictable that many times the endings have become mundane.

    1. No, I wasn’t referring to this story, but today’s movie and television industry. Too predictable. There are few things on television worth watching and we never go to the movies.

    2. Well, we watch mostly old stuff. I haven’t been to a movie in years. Who can afford it? And what’s there to see? But we have the technology now to enjoy classic movies and TV, made before the whole business got ossified. We can always find something we like.

    3. We, too, watch mostly old stuff. I’m not much for television though. Documentaries that attempt to unravel history are a favorite.

  2. Actually that’s what I like about Columbo. You know from the beginning who committed the crime, and it’s so much fun to watch them start to sweat as the ‘bumbling’ detective gets closer and closer to the truth 😀

  3. This book sounds like Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. That was a page turner. A crime was committed and the reader knows who is the murderer early on. He is the protagonist of the story and the reader is carried along as his guilt deepens and begins to show itself in many ways. Gave me nightmares where I was committing dreadful crimes and it was looking like I would get away with them. I’ll have to check out Keating’s books.

    1. Yes, it reminded me of “Crime and Punishment,” too–especially as you describe it.

      My wife and I have loved the Inspector Ghote novels since we discovered them back in the 70s.

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