Sanghi, Ashwin & Patterson, James. (2014). Private India. London. Arrow Books. Pages: 470 (Genre: Crime Fiction)
The first murder took place at Marine Bay Plaza a Mumbai five star hotel. The hotel called in Private India the Indian branch of Private, the world’s biggest detective agency. Marine Bay Plaza is Private India's regular client for investigative work as it did its job discreetly without the glare of publicity that inevitably followed when official investigation agencies were involved and which is bad for business in the hospitality industry.
We do not know whether criminal investigations are outsourced to private agencies anywhere in the world except perhaps in crime fiction stories. Arthur Conan Doyle’s hero, Sherlock Holmes described himself as England’s first consulting detective. He used to assist the official law enforcement agencies and while sharing the product kept himself aloof from the limelight and honours. Mumbai police agreed to work with Private India on the understanding that the company should keep it always in the loop and share progress with it regularly. The novel has another similarity with Sherlock Holmes stories. Private India’s head Santosh Wagh has his own band of urchins as informants à la ‘Baker Street Irregulars’.
What is even more surprising is Private India helped Indian intelligence agencies solve terror related cases! This brought it on to the radar of international terrorist organisations. The July 11, 2006 Mumbai train bombings which killed 213 people brought Santosh Wagh, an officer of the Indian government’s external investigation agency, ‘Research and Analysis Wing’ more popularly known by its acronym, RAW into contact with Private’s Chairman, Jack Morgan, himself an ex US marine.
Two years later tragedy struck Santosh in the form of an automobile accident that killed his wife and son. As a grief-struck Santosh was on a loose end, Jack hired him to head his company’s Mumbai operations. In no way did the new assignment lessen Santosh’s grief as it is aggravated by self-guilt, borne out of the belief that it was his carelessness that caused the fatal road accident. He has been seeking to anaesthetize his pain-filled nightmares with drink.
If Santosh thought it was one murder that he had to contend with he was in for a surprise. It was not only one murder after another but also Rupesh Desai, ACP in the crimes division of Mumbai police, a former friend turned villain in his life.
Private India not only employs the very latest in backroom technology — forensics and pathology lab, cyber technology for ethical hacking etc — but also employs gorgeous female operatives like Nisha Gandhe to conduct its investigations. The employees of Private India, it appears — at least attempt to — speak in epigrams. If Santosh cracks, ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’; Nisha calls, ‘one woman’s hobby could often be another woman’s hubby’.
The murders pile up. Blackmail, revenge, religious symbolism, underworld-terrorist nexus and a terrorist plot are thrown into the mixer. All in all it is a challenge to the investigative acumen of Private India and its ace-detective chief, Santosh. As readers try to second-guess the mystery by following clues sprinkled throughout the book, they are upon the terror plot.
The book could have done with fewer chapters. It has 116, the last one containing all of four lines, an epilogue and an appendix. And there is so much of James Patterson. Well, does overkill really kill the plot?