I have not come across Shamini Flint’s Inspector Singh series before, but I enjoyed this one. The said Inspector is attached to the Singapore Police Force, but has somewhat unwillingly accompanied his termagant of a wife to Mumbai to attend the wedding of a distant relative by marriage.
The head of this particular Singh family of Sikhs (it was recently explained to me in India that all Sikhs are Singhs, but not all Singhs are Sikhs), is an extremely wealthy industrialist, who is getting on in years. The bride-to-be is his granddaughter, Ashu, who is Tara Singh’s favourite grandchild. He has paid for the living expenses and education of Ashu and her two brothers, Tanvir and Ranjit, since their father was brutally murdered by anti-Sikh extremists following the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Tara Singh has also magnanimously paid for Inspector and Mrs. Singh’s accommodation at the Taj hotel, the best hotel in Mumbai, which was the subject of a notorious terrorist attack in recent years.
Ashu is a very modern young woman, with an important job in a chemical company, which although it is owned by her grandfather, she got entirely on her own merits. Somewhat surprisingly, she has agreed to an arranged marriage with a young Sikh man selected by her grandfather, whom she has never met.
The initial stages of the complicated wedding ceremonies have already taken place, and the actual wedding is due to happen within days. Inspector and Mrs. Singh are invited to meet the family, but upon arriving at the home find chaos. Ashu had slipped out the night before, taking almost nothing with her, and has not returned. How could she bring such dishonour to the family? Where can she possibly have gone?
The Inspector, whose wife has exaggerated the importance of his job to the other Singhs, reluctantly agrees to undertake a discreet investigation into the disappearance. Ashu’s mother is devastated and completely unable to stand up for herself, the elder brother, Tanvir, is an arrogant snob with secrets, and the younger brother is a wimp. It also emerges that Ashu had a close relationship with a Muslim work colleague. The plot thickens.
Before the Inspector’s investigation has really got going, the local police find the charred body of a young woman, burnt beyond recognition, but Tanvir identifies it as his sister because of the single ruby earring worn by the corpse. Inspector Singh now works in co-operation with the local police, and many other factors come into play. The family seem to want to believe that Ashu committed suicide by immolation, but the Inspector doesn’t believe this. The cast of characters is nearly as populous as the Indian sub-continent. One, a young boy who lives in the slum next to the chemical factory, has a large part to play in the convoluted plot. A thoroughly good read, full of local colour.