With a threatened heatwave this week, it seemed most appropriate to have books set in a hot country – far hotter than ours! Vaseem Khan and Alex Khan came to West Barnes Library to tell us about their India-set novels – Murder at the Grand Raj Palace and Bollywood Wives.
My first question was for them to tell us about their books. To help them (or maybe hinder) I gave them some props to help describe their stories. Alex had a toy Mercedes car, a picture of Colin Firth as Mr Darcy along with a copy of Pride and Prejudice and a red rose. At the beginning of Bollywood Wives, the main character, Zara Das, has just stepped out of a white Mercedes to attend the premiere of her latest Bollywood movie. Minutes later, her car explodes. Someone is trying to kill her. To keep her safe, she and the cast of her new film based on Pride and Prejudice are moved to London. Despite staying in a 7 star hotel with personal security, someone manages to leave a red rose full of blood on Zara’s bed.
Vaseem had a picture of an Indian painting, a little elephant and some ornate bangles which represented wedding jewellery. Inspector Chopra is called to discreetly investigate the suspicious death of an American billionaire at the Grand Raj Palace hotel. Not long before his death, the American had bought India’s most expensive painting. Chopra does his best to be discreet but it’s a little hard with a baby elephant in tow! Meanwhile, Chopra’s wife, Poppy, is a bit cross with her husband who’s showing no interest in celebrating their wedding anniversary. She manages to get a suite at the hotel to be nearer to him and ends up involved in a missing bride case. Can she find the bride before the wedding?
There’s a lot going on at the Grand Raj Palace because a film is also being made. It’s not a Bollywood movie though but Tollywood. Vaseem and Alex enlightened us on the Indian film industry. Tollywood is based in South Indian and the language is Tamil. Bollywood is based in Mumbai and because of the Indian diaspora, it’s Bollywood that’s known more around the world. In the past, the films didn’t really have a genre. They were a mixture of thriller, romance, comedy and a very long death scene usually followed by a big song and dance routine.
As well as the Indian film industry, the other link between the two books is hotels. Both have top star hotels with no CCTV in the corridors of the most expensive suites. Was this a writer’s dream? It certainly made it easier for both writers for events to occur. It was hard to know who had been able to access the American billionaire’s suite to kill him in Murder at the Grand Raj Palace or who had left the rose in Zara’s room in Bollywood Wives. Vaseem knows first hand about upmarket hotels in India because he was a hotel management consultant for ten years in Mumbai.
Another question I had was about genre and being labelled in a particular sub-genre. Was it helpful or not? Although Bollywood Wives has a fantastic thriller at the heart of the plot, it is (as its title suggests) quite erotic and has been put in that category on Amazon. Alex doesn’t mind too much but it has prevented him from advertising it on Facebook in any way. Vaseem gets very hot under the collar about the term ‘Cosy Crime’, a label often given to Crime books that feature animals. Having spent 10 years in Mumbai, Vaseem is keen to include the reality of India. In his debut, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, Vaseem takes his readers into the Mumbai slums where 6 or 7 people live in one room with no sanitary conditions and there’s 1 doctor for 10k people. In his latest book, there is a very tragic event based on a real-life event in India. I found it incredibly moving when I read it. Definitely not cosy.
I had lots more questions but it’s not easy to remember the answers as I couldn’t take notes. But since this was our last event before the summer break, I asked Vaseem and Alex for their recommended summer reads. Alex has just finished reading The Pool House by Tasmina Perry – a sexy, dark thriller. Vaseem has been a judge for the Betty Trask Awards this year and his recommendation is The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh, described by Margaret Atwood as ‘a dark, sinister fable’. I chose The Chain by Adrian McKinty and my review will be out on 17th July for the blog tour but it’s one of the most gripping stories I’ve read this year.
I’d like to thank Vaseem and Alex for trekking across London to our little library and to the Friends of West Barnes Library who hosted the event. And thanks to my daughter who takes all the photos. To find out more about the authors and buy their books, just click on their names.
We’re having a break now until Tuesday 1st October when we’ll be back with ‘Death on the Beach’ with Mark Hill and William Shaw.