Excerpt from The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing by Tarquin Hall, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing

From the Files of Vish Puri, Most Private Investigator

by Tarquin Hall

The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2010, 320 pages
    Jun 2011, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl

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Print Excerpt

From the moment they’d started to tail the Safari, the detective had watched its slow progress with incredulity. Unlike all the other cars, which treated the road like a Formula One racetrack, slaloming through the lumbering heavy-goods vehicles and diesel-belching buses, it had kept precisely to the speed limit. It was the only vehicle on the road that didn’t straddle two lanes at once and have its headlights on full beam. And its horn remained silent despite the instructions painted on the backs of the trucks, HORN OK PLEASE!

“Arrrrey!” exclaimed Puri in frustration as the Safari gave way to a lowly auto rickshaw. “I’m all for sensible driving— speed thrills but kills, after all. But this man is some sort of joker, no?”

Handbrake was equally bewildered: “Where did he learn to drive, sir?” he asked in Hindi. “Ladies’ college?”

“No, United States,” the detective answered with a laugh.

In fact, Shanmuga Sundaram Rathinasabapathy, Most Private Investigators Ltd.’s latest client, had got his license in Raleigh, North Carolina.

According to Rathinasabapathy’s dossier—Puri had managed to get hold of a copy from one of his military academy batchmates who was now working in Indian intelligence— “Sam” Rathinasabapathy was the son of a Tamil heart surgeon who had been born and brought up in the Tar Heel State. A nuclear physicist and MIT graduate, he had “returned” to India a month ago, bringing with him his fellow “non-resident Indian” (NRI) wife and two young children. He was meant to be working for a joint American-Indian partnership building a new generation of nuclear reactors but had so far spent all his time dealing with problems and corrupt practices as he had tried to rent an apartment, enroll his children in school and find his way around the city.

Three days ago, facing a crisis, Sam Rathinasabapathy had come to see Puri in his Khan Market office and outlined his predicament.

“This is my children we’re talking about! What am I going to do? I’m absolutely desperate!”

The detective had agreed to help him, advising the earnest, clean-cut Rathinasabapathy to play along with the demands of the middleman who had contacted him.

“Pay this bloody goonda the two lakhs and leave the rest to me,” was how he’d put it.

After that first meeting, Puri had marveled to his private secretary, Elizabeth Rani, about the naïveté of “these NRI types.” More and more of them were being posted to India by top financial institutions and multinationals. Like the Britishers before them, the majority lived in pampered luxury, spent a good deal of their time complaining about their servants and Delhi belly, and didn’t have the first clue about how things were done in India.

“A topper this Sam fellow might be, but here in India he is quite at sea,” the detective had said. “What is required in this situation is experience and aptitude. Fortunately, Vish Puri can easily and willingly supply both.”

Having bestowed on his new client the sobriquet Coconut—“The fellow might be brown on the outside but he is one hundred ten percent gora inside”—the detective had put his plan into action.

That afternoon, Sam Rathinasabapathy had withdrawn the two hundred thousand rupees demanded—a hundred K for each of his children—from the bank. He had brought the cash to Most Private Investigators Ltd., where Puri had made a note of the serial numbers and packed the wads of notes in a brown duffel bag.

The call from the middleman explaining where to make the drop had come at six o’clock. This had given Tubelight enough time to get to Fun ’N’ Food Village first and move into position.

Excerpted from The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing by Tarquin Hall. Copyright © 2010 by Tarquin Hall. Excerpted by permission of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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