Muhammed Abdul Karim Khan, a quiet widower, has just been appointed superintendent of police for India's Ramgarh district in February 1952--a time and place fraught with Hindu/Muslim tensions. Before he even gets to Ramgarh, in fact, Muslim cop Karim (from an old Indian family) is the target of a failed assassination plot. Then a Hindu terrorist accidentally burns himself to death while planning an arson-attack on the local Muslim university. Furthermore, these Hindu extremists are also secretly plotting to kill ethnic moderate Nehru during an upcoming visit to the college. There's little suspense here, then, with no mystery: Hirt's narration moves from Karim's sleuthing to the Hindu plotting to miscellaneous doings at the university. And the rather unfocused plot eventually settles primarily on a thin love affair--between cop Karim and the restless American wife of an impotent Muslim chemistry professor. (She'll give Karim some help during the finale--when he foils the Nehru-assassination scheme.) In all: an intriguing, modestly atmospheric debut, strong on ethnic-conflict details--but too sketchy to be a full-fledged novel (with crude, gratuitous dollops of amateurish sex) and too predictable for detective-fiction pleasure.