By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown
By Vaseem Khan
The Koh-i-Noor diamond has been a centuries-long point of contention between the United Kingdom and its former colony of India. So when the diamond — now part of the British Crown Jewels — goes on display at a museum in Mumbai, it is understandable that authorities amp up security.
Despite these extra measures, the crown and diamond are stolen, right under the nose of (retired) Inspector Ashwin Chopra.
The heist is both the British and Indian governments’ nightmare come true and as law enforcement struggles to find the culprits, it soon becomes clear that Chopra — and his pachydermic ward, Ganesha — will be the only ones who can crack the case.
In this second installment of the Baby Ganesh Agency series, we see Chopra fully enjoying his retirement from the Mumbai police force, as he takes on cases through his private detective agency. And just as it was in Khan’s debut, Chopra’s partnership with Ganesha takes a front seat.
In this installment, we see that the duo has found their groove and rhythm in working together.
It is clear that Chopra (and by extension, Ganesha) takes his job as a private detective seriously and he will go to great lengths to solve his case. And some of those lengths have hilarious results.
The circus scenes are particularly enjoyable, especially as readers catch a glimpse of the world from Ganesha’s point of view — who, despite his apparent wisdom, is still a child of about a year.
Khan does a great job of balancing the seriousness of the crime with humor, especially when it comes to some of the older characters’ disgruntlement with the direction India is going and the younger generation’s sense of entitlement and focus on technology.
In addition to the human and pachyderm characters, Khan’s vivid description lend to create a character in the city of Mumbai, from its fancy private schools to its worst slums, Khan does a good job of showing readers the odd juxtapositions that occur throughout the city.
Jake Fonko M.I.A.
By B. Hesse Pflingger
Watchfire Press, 2013
Jake Fonko is no stranger to danger. As a U.S. Army Ranger, he served in the Vietnam War as part of a long-range reconnaissance patrol, or LRRP. But any danger he saw was alongside his LRRP team.
So the ex-surfer from California is more than a little out of his depth when the army loans him to the CIA in the spring of 1975, as the war in Vietnam is wrapping up. He is quickly given the mission of locating a former CIA asset who is missing in Cambodia.
Despite his military training, it is soon clear that James Bond he is not.
As soon as he arrives in Phnom Penh, Jake senses something is off about his assignment — especially as he is seemingly unsupported and, more or less, on his own. But like a good soldier, he focuses on the mission. Things initially go well, but then the Khmer Rouge take over the country and Jake is captured and thrown into Tuol Sleng, the regime’s infamous torture chamber.
As Jake works to escape, he slowly discovers that what he saw in Vietnam was nothing compared to what is happening in Cambodia.
“M.I.A.” is a story about the Khmer Rouge told from a Western point of view. Having grown up in a family who survived the genocide, it was interesting to read a different take on the events. While Jake is mainly concerned about himself and saving his own skin (understandable, given the circumstances), he does show concern for the Khmer people. We also see how helpless he is to do anything about anything, given the orders he receives from the U.S. government.
Through Jake’s experiences, Pflingger highlights the differences in the Americans’ involvement (or lack thereof) between Vietnam and Cambodia, and the effect that had on the respective countries.
The Silent Dead
By Tetsuya Honda
Minotaur Books, 2016
At 29, Reiko Himekawa is a bit on the younger side to have made a lieutenant in the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department’s (TMPD) homicide division — especially as she does not have any sort of political or family connections.
But none of this stops Reiko from doing her job, especially on her squad’s latest case. After a brutally slaughtered body wrapped in a blue plastic tarp with twine is discovered in a quiet suburb of Tokyo, Reiko and her colleagues must work to figure out not just the “who” and “why” of the crime, but also the “what,” as nothing initially makes sense. More bodies are discovered — all similarly wrapped — but there is no clear connection among the victims.
As Reiko works to solve the crime, she finds herself coming up against more than just a difficult case. Due to her age and gender, she is often doubted, by colleagues, as well as witnesses. Reiko is a strong character who has no problem standing up for herself, whether it’s sexist co-workers, the murderer, or traditional family members who try to set her up with potential husbands (she is almost 30, after all). She shows readers the importance of going after what you want and sticking to your beliefs.
“Silent Dead” is told from various points of view, including officers working under Reiko’s command, as well as her nemesis on the force — all working to solve the murders. Through these different perspectives, Honda paints a complex mystery that will have readers constantly guessing who is behind the crimes and why.
Samantha can be reached at email@example.com.