An Indian detective looks into an alleged haunting and winds up investigating a murder in Singh’s (The Witch of Senduwar, 2016, etc.) mystery.
The fact that private investigator Bhrigu Mahesh doesn’t believe in ghosts doesn’t stop him from helping Nataraj Bhakti, who’s certain that his late wife, Damayanti, has returned from the beyond. Bhrigu, a former police inspector, is convinced that he and his friend Sutte will either expose a nefarious plot or prove the existence of ghosts once and for all. Bhakti’s been hearing his wife’s shrill cry at night, and her beloved comb keeps turning up unexpectedly. Bhrigu and Sutte stay at Bhakti’s ancestral home, where several of his relatives reside, including name-calling younger brother Chiranjeev and nosy sister-in-law Premkala. They are, of course, also suspects, as their proximity to Bhakti would make it easy for any of them to stage a haunting, whatever their motives. But before Bhrigu can resolve the case, there’s a murder—someone’s apparently been stoned to death. Now all of Bhakti’s relatives are potential killers, as is Bhakti himself. The PI has already amassed a wealth of information, so he offers to share his data with a local police inspector in exchange for crime-scene details. Together, maybe they can find the culprit—and split Bhakti’s proposed “fat prize” of a reward. Singh’s story is a worthy spin on the Sherlock Holmes formula, as intelligent Bhrigu’s manner is akin to the famous sleuth’s, and first-person narrator Sutte acts as his Watson. The characters are well-rounded—even the murderer is portrayed with sympathy—and often illustrated in bold details, as when someone’s “swarthy complexion…absorbed the light like an opaque object.” Unfortunately, grammatical errors and peculiar phrasing hamper the experience, as when characters are “subjugated to the piercing white noise,” someone has “a loose encounter with a ghost,” or a victim is “badgered...to death.” Still, the protagonist and his pal make a great pair, and the book ends with a quick case that shows how expedient Bhrigu’s deductive reasoning can be.
Despite its flaws, this mystery’s winsome gumshoe will likely bring readers back for further installments.