Midnight at Malabar House

by Vaseem Khan

Malabar House is a small police unit in Bombay that is staffed with misfit officers, those whose careers are at an end and those who don’t fit the typical description of a police officer. Inspector Persis Wadia is one member of this eclectic team, who happens to answer a call on New Year’s Eve: British Diplomat, James Herriot, has been murdered at his home.

So begins Vaseem Khan’s new crime fiction series set in Bombay on the eve of India’s transition to independence. The backdrop of India in 1950 struggling to recover from the atrocities of the Partition is woven into this tale as we follow Persis, the first Indian female police officer, while she takes on the investigation. She faces resistance from within the force and the public at large, but finds an ally in Archie Blackfinch, a criminal consultant straight from Scotland Yard, and together they navigate this high profile murder.

The crime tests Persis, but she is straightforward, blunt and doggedly determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, despite roadblocks thrown her way. She is not sure who she can trust, or why such an important case came to their tiny, obscure police station. Despite the hazards, Persis carries on and begins to uncover corruption, secrets, lies and deception and with each discovery she puts herself and her career at risk.

On the homefront, Persis lives with her father, who owns a bookshop and withholds his own secrets from his daughter about her mother’s death. Growing up in the bookshop, Persis is stereotypically bookish and has limited social skills, which bothers her Aunt Nussie, who is convinced it is high time Persis was married with children, and sends a steady stream of suitors to the dinner table. Persis, however is unwilling to give up her career for any of these potential husbands, and is not shy about saying so.

On the whole, this small book is packed with mystery and intrigue, historical details of India, and a strong female lead navigating it all. I look forward to reading further installments in this series and getting to know Persis Wadia a little more.