Fridays Forgotten Book: The Perfect Murder by H.R.F. Keating

Henry Reymond Fitzwalter Keating (1926–2011) was an English journalist, book reviewer, and crime fiction writer, most well-known for his 26 mysteries featuring Inspector Ganesh Ghote of the Bombay (Mumbai) CID.  Other novels included seven about Detective Chief Inspector Harriet Martens and about 20 stand-alone crime stories and collections of short stories. He wrote a biography of Dame Agatha Christie entitled Agatha Christie: First Lady of Crime (1977) and The Bedside Companion to Crime (1989) as well as other crime non-fiction. He was chairman of the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) in 1970 and 1971 and president of the Detection Club from 1985 until 2000. In 1996 the CWA awarded him the Cartier Diamond Dagger for outstanding services to crime literature. On his 80th birthday in 2006, members of the Detection Club produced an anthology in his honor, Verdict of Us All, published by Crippen & Landru.

Inspector Ghote’s first appearance is in The Perfect Murder (1964), which won a Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger award and an Edgar Special award. The conscientious Inspector Ghote is sent to the home of the wealthy businessman Lala Varde to investigate what Varde reports as the murder of his secretary Mr. Perfect. Amid much lamenting Varde accuses unnamed corporate rivals of the murder while Ghote inspects the perimeter of the house, finding no opening where someone could have entered. Even the servants, of which there are a great number, appear to have been locked into their quarters.

When he asks to view the body, Inspector Ghote learns that the secretary is far from dead. He is upstairs with Varde’s physician, recovering from a severe blow to the head. While he is explaining the difference between murder and assault to Varde, Ghote is called to rush back to his office, where his supervisor places him in charge of discovering what happened to a single rupee that disappeared from the desk of the Minister of Police Affairs. In addition to juggling the two investigations, both with political ramifications for Ghote’s long-term career and both labelled top priority by his supervisor, Ghote also has Axel Svenson, a visitor from Sweden in Bombay to learn about India police methods, to contend with. Svenson has a gift for making incredibly awkward observations, such as if it’s true the Hindu gods are known to accept bribes, it’s no wonder the Indian police think it’s all right. Svenson turns out to be of more assistance than he originally appears to be, fortunately for Ghote.

The characters are wonderfully drawn in this quietly atmospheric book. Ghote’s devotion to the detection methods described in Gross’s Criminal Investigation, translated from the German, is a delight. Highly recommended.

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