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For those of us who don’t know tell us about the real Tarquin Hall.
The real Tarquin Hall? Well, I can give you the facts. I’m 41, born and brought up in the UK. Didn’t go to university and wanted to travel all over the world. I left immediately after finishing my A levels and went to the US. There I worked as a bellboy in a five star hotel in New York and later as a cowboy on a ranch in west Texas. The first article I ever wrote was on rattlesnake hunting. From there I went to live in Pakistan and travelled in Afghanistan. I’ve also lived in Turkey and east Africa and of course India, which has become my second home. I’m married to an NRI, Anu Anand, whose a BBC world service presenter. Her parents are both Punjabi but live in Florida where they own a crazy motel. We have one son, Maurya.
The Case of the Man who Died Laughing is your latest book- tell us a little bit about the book.
‘Died Laughing’ is the second in my series of mysteries set in contemporary Delhi and starring the fictional private investigator, Vish Puri. Actually, I should say the books are different to other detective novels in that Puri works with a whole team of undercover operatives – ‘Facecream’, ‘Tubelight’ and ‘Flush’. His domineering Mummy-ji is also an amateur detective and is always poking her nose where it doesn’t belong. In this book, her kitty party is robbed by some goondas and she and her sister-in-law set out to try and find out who did it. As for the main plot, it’s about the murder of a scientist. He’s killed by an apparition of the goddess, Kali, one morning on Raj Path in Delhi. Everyone thinks it’s some kind of miracle apart from Puri who sets out to solve the mystery. The answers lie in Delhi’s Shadipur slum, home to India’s ancestral magicians, and the holy city of Haridwar.
How did you come up with the title.
I had been to a laughing club here in Delhi – laughing yoga where everyone does fake laughing – and thought it would be a great setting for a murder! I pictured the victim laughing and laughing and then dropping dead and everyone else in the group pointing and laughing. It’s the kind of sick idea us murder mystery writers come up with! The title then came to me and then I came up with the plot to go along with it.
Where do you draw inspiration from for the characters in your book?
I live in Delhi so my inspiration comes from all around me. Anyone who knows this place or has Punjabi ‘near or dear’, will instantly recognise the characters. I often get emails or letters from people saying they’ve read the books and such-and-such an uncle reminds me of someone in their family. Vish Puri himself was inspired by some of the real life detectives I met a few years ago when I was writing an article for the Sunday Times. They were in their mid-fifties, wore flat caps, bragged about their skills and accomplishments, and dealt with an amazing variety of cases – everything from matrimonial investigations to murders. Puri is a composite character and I’ve bolted on certain other habits and mannerisms that I’ve collected during the five or more years I’ve spent living here. His love of Delhi street food, for example, comes from a good friend of mine, Rishi, who knows every eatery in the city. His habit of eating blow- your-head-off green chillis for breakfast comes from my father-in-law.
You have lived in India and some of your books are set in the country. What do you like so much about the country?
What I love most about India is the adaptability of the people. Indians can turn their hands to anything. In the West, we’re losing that fast. We don’t produce polymaths anymore. We produce people who can only do one job for the rest of their lives. That makes the culture dangerously inflexible and in some ways quite boring, rankly. For all its problems, India is also the most culturally complex country in the world and that makes it extremely vibrant and endlessly fascinating.
Vish Puri, idiosyncratic Punjabi private investigator has been described by some as the Indian Poirot. Do you think India had been missing a great Indian detective?
I know people compare Puri to Poirot and I suppose there are similarities. But they’re purely coincidental. The fact that Puri is pompous and boastful, for example, is a very Punjabi characteristic. I think Indian has been missing a great Indian detective. It’s an extraordinary time to be a detective working in India. In some ways, the place is changing beyond recognition and yet in many respects it hasn’t changed at all. I’m talking about corruption, poverty, conservatism. Delhi, where Puri works, has gone from a sleepy city of 6 or 7 million in the mid-90s when I first lived here to about 20 million now. Crime is soaring and the types of crimes get more elaborate by the day – just look at the Jessica Lall case, the Nithari serial killings and the Aaurushi double murder to name but a few.
In the past, you have written about and lived in Brick Lane. What do you think makes Brick Lane so unique in multi-cultural Britain?
Brick Lane, or rather the East End, is extraordinary because it’s one of the world great melting pots. You’ve seen wave after wave of immigrant groups settling in those narrow British street – Huguenots, Irish, Jews – and yet none of them are there any longer. They’ve all moved on, become a part of the English gene pool, greatly enriching it. You see the same thing happening with the Bangladeshis now.
What can readers expect from your latest novel?
The next book is called The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken. The main plot is set around the IPL. The murder victim is the father of a Pakistani international cricketer. But there’s also a sub-plot about the theft of the world’s longest moustache, which is shaved off its owner in the middle of the night.
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