The best detective novels from India

TWO LISTS OF THE BEST INDIAN DETECTIVE NOVELS

The titles below are grouped in two sections. First come the five novels I’ve judged the best of the lot — but with a caveat. I’ve only included one title per author. As you’ll see by my ratings, I found many of the books here to be outstanding. The full list follows. In both lists, I’ve grouped the books in alphabetical order by the authors’ last names. Following each title is a link to my review.

THE 5 BEST INDIAN DETECTIVE NOVELS

DJINN PATROL ON THE PURPLE LINE BY DEEPA ANAPPARA (2020) 345 PAGES ★★★★★ — A DEEPLY AFFECTING TALE OF CHILD TRAFFICKING IN INDIA TODAY

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is one of the most highly praised novels of recent years. It’s the fiction debut of Deepa Anappara, an Indian journalist transposed to London. It seems likely that in other hands, the story she tells in this novel might well have wandered off into sensationalism, pathos, or worse. But Anappara deftly relates a horrific tale of child abductions in a New Delhi slum by telling it through the voices of children. It’s a virtuoso performance, at the same time both deeply affecting and revealing. The book lays bare the harsh reality of child trafficking in India today more poignantly and more memorably than any journalistic account.

THE CASE OF THE DEADLY BUTTER CHICKEN (VISH PURI #3 OF 5) BY TARQUIN HALL (2012) 354 PAGES ★★★★★ — INDIA’S #1 PRIVATE DETECTIVE IS AN UNFORGETTABLE CHARACTER

There are several ways to get to know India. Naturally, you can move there and stay for, say, a couple of dozen years. (Anything much shorter won’t do the trick.) You could also read all the travel guides ever written about the country, and that might give you a pretty good sense of the place. Or you could read the mystery novels featuring Vish Puri, “India’s #1 private detective,” by Tarquin Hall.

MURDER IN OLD BOMBAY BY NEV MARCH (2020) 392 PAGES ★★★★★ — A BRILLIANT DEBUT NOVEL BASED ON AN UNSOLVED MURDER

All the elements are here for a gripping mystery. The brutal unsolved murder of two young society ladies. A posh mansion on a hill in the city’s most exclusive neighborhood. Military expeditions into territory ruled by violent tribesmen. The devout members of a tiny religious sect. And, yes, royalty. It all comes together in the widely-acclaimed debut novel by Indo-American author Nev March.

THE WIDOWS OF MALABAR HILL (PERVEEN MISTRY #1) BY SUJATA MASSEY (2018) 401 PAGES ★★★★★ — THE FIRST WOMAN LAWYER IN BOMBAY SOLVES A BAFFLING MYSTERY

I enjoy reading mysteries and thrillers, and I have a special preference for historical fiction. But when an author brings the two genres together and does a superior job in both of them, I’m entranced. And that’s certainly the case with The Widows of Malabar Hill. Sujata Massey‘s brilliant mystery novel is set in Bombay in 1921. And it casts a bright light on the little-known but fascinating Parsi minority in India.

A RISING MAN (WYNDHAM AND BANERJEE #1) BY ABIR MUKHERJEE (2017) 390 PAGES ★★★★★ — A BRILLIANT HISTORICAL DETECTIVE NOVEL SET IN INDIA FOLLOWING WORLD WAR I

India was the first major nation to gain its independence from Great Britain in the years following World War II when, in 1947, Viceroy Lord Mountbatten partitioned the subcontinent into two countries. But the nation’s independence had been a long time coming. The Indian National Congress, founded in 1885, led the movement for separation from Britain for six decades. Although Mohandas Gandhi is typically credited with leading that movement and achieving his goal through non-violence, in fact he didn’t return to India from South Africa until 1915, twenty years after the Congress Party was established and didn’t attain its leadership until six years later.

THE FULL LIST OF THE BEST INDIAN DETECTIVE NOVELS I’VE REVIEWED

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara (2020) 345 pages ★★★★★ — A deeply affecting tale of child trafficking in India today

THE VISH PURI SERIES BY TARQUIN HALL

SUJATA MASSEY’S PERVEEN MISTRY NOVELS

THE WYNDHAM AND BANERJEE BOOKS BY ABIR MUKHERJEE

FOR MORE READING

I’ve reviewed a number of other books about India. You’ll find them in Good books about India, past and present.

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