A Wicked Welcome to Vaseem Khan!

by Julie, summering in Somerville

I am delighted to welcome Vaseem Khan to the blog today! Many of us had a chance to meet him at Malice Domestic this year, and perhaps be introduced to his Malabar House series or his Baby Ganesh Agency series, or to learn more about them. There’s a new book in the series coming out soon, so there’s time to catch up.

An elephant in a crime novel?  

I wrote my first novel aged 17 – a comic fantasy. Even then I loved the notion of being a tweedy writer, a man of letters, admired, envied, a doyen of the literary establishment… I also thought it would be a good way to avoid having to get a real job. There was one small problem with my cunning plan… that first book was rubbish!

I wrote six more novels across twenty-three years before finally being published at age 40 with The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, a crime novel about an Indian policeman who is forced into retirement in his forties and, while solving a murder, also has to deal with the unusual predicament of inheriting a one-year-old elephant. The book was a bestseller and picked by the UK Sunday Times as one of the 40 best crime novels published 2015-2020. Many readers tell me it’s the closest they’ve come to actually traveling to India!

Why the elephant? Though I was born and grew up in London, England, I lived in India for a decade in my twenties. One of the first sights I saw was that of an elephant swaying through the insanely congested traffic of a Mumbai road. That image stayed with me, so that when I returned to the UK, and decided to write about this incredible country, I knew an elephant had to be part of the cast.

After five books in that series (known as the Baby Ganesh Agency novels), I moved back in time to write a historical series set in 1950s India, written in a Golden Age style. The Malabar House novels were born of my desire to explore India just after Independence, when the modern India we see today was formed.

Beginning with Midnight at Malabar House, we witness a nation still reeling in the wake of Gandhi’s assassination and the horrors of Partition when a million Indians died in religious riots. My lead character, Persis, India’s first female police detective, is determined to prove herself in a man’s world, but is banished to Bombay’s smallest police station, Malabar House, populated by rejects and misfits. (The Times said: “Think Mick Herron in Bombay”!) And then the murder of an English diplomat falls into her lap, and she is forced to work with Archie Blackfinch, an English forensic scientist deputed to Bombay from the Met Police in London. It’s an uncomfortable, will they-won’t-they relationship. After all, how can an Indian woman in post-colonial India consider an Englishman as anything more than a colleague…?  

I have readers all around the world and they are endlessly fascinated with India, both past and present. With each book I want to explore a particular theme – for me, that’s the challenge. For instance, the Malabar House novels are crime novels, but they allow me to slip in details to correct omissions and misconceptions from the British time in India. In The Lost Man of Bombay, the third in the series, a white man is found murdered in the Himalayan foothills with only a notebook in his pocket containing cryptic clues. In the book I mention that Mount Everest was named after a Welsh surveyor who worked in India. But George Everest never went near the mountain, nor determined that it was the world’s highest peak. An Indian named Radhanath Sikdar did that. Alas, you won’t find Sikdar’s name on any map. We often hear that history is written by the winners. It gives me great satisfaction to redress the balance!

My latest novel (out in the UK on 8 Aug) is Death of a Lesser God and asks a simple question – can post-colonial societies treat their former colonisers justly? James Whitby is an Englishman born in India during the Raj, convicted in post-Independence India of murdering a prominent Indian lawyer. He claims he is innocent, the victim of a form of ‘reverse racism’. Persis and Archie have eleven days to find out if Whitby is innocent or guilty before he is hanged. The clock is ticking!  

Reader question: Do you enjoy learning about hidden history or facts you didn’t know when reading crime novels?  

About the Author

Vaseem Khan is the author of two award-winning crime series set in India. His debut, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, was a Sunday Times 40 best crime novels published 2015-2020 pick. In 2021, Midnight at Malabar House, the first in the Malabar House novels set in 1950s Bombay, won the Crime Writers Association Historical Dagger. In 2023, Vaseem was elected the Chair of the 70-year-old UK Crime Writers Association. Vaseem was born in England.

Website: http://vaseemkhan.com

Social media: Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/VaseemKhanOfficial/
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/VaseemKhanUK
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/vaseemkhanwriter/

Buy links to Amazon:
The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra
Midnight at Malabar House
The Lost Man of Bombay
Death of a Lesser God  (Available for UK pre-order)

17 Thoughts

  1. Vaseem, welcome to the blog! It was was delightful meeting you at Malice, and I’m looking forward to picking up your latest.

    I have a special fondness for historical mysteries, having written nine (seven in print). I love sliding in the kind of fact you mention about Everest (Sikdar? Who knew?) and learning things about the past.

  2. it’s so nice to meet a new to me author whose books sounds so fabulously interesting. I do love reading stories that give tidbits of actually history facts in them. To me non-fiction details bring reality to a fiction story and makes the reading more depth and interest. Good luck with the upcoming release! I can’t wait to explore your books.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  3. Thanks so much for visiting with us today, Vaseem! I have savored each of your Persis novels and am looking forward to more! I love armchair traveling, especially back in time so your books offer particular pleasure! And, congratulations on your recent election!

  4. I love history and trivia, and I find I can learn something even from a fictional book. Plus it makes the story seem more realistic if there’s some truth to it. And you know the author actually knows or has thoroughly researched the subject.

  5. Hi Vaseem, it was wonderful meeting you at Malice this past spring! Your new book sounds as intriguing and exciting as the previous ones.Congratulations on being elected to lead the Crime Writers Association!

  6. Thank you, Julie for introducing me to Vaseem. Sadly, I have been in complete ignorance of all the fascinating mysteries that Vaseem has published, but I am so happy that I now have so many intriguing mysteries to read! I know that these books will bring me back to India, where I have visited in depth, and have so many amazing memories from my travels there. I love the Indian culture, the food, the music and the dances, and I must have a curry or two every week 😉 To answer the question…I admire books that teach you facts that you did not know about…such as the fact that Mt. Everest should have been Mt. Sikdar!!!! Thank you for sharing your writing talents with us eager readers, Vaseem! Luis at ole dot travel

  7. Yes, I am always interested in learning about history and other things when reading any kind of novel. Don’t ever be hesitant to write about this kind of stuff!

  8. Yes, I’m definitely interested in learning about history and their facts. Your books sound interesting!

  9. These books definitely sound interesting. And I enjoy it when some real history/facts are slipped into the fiction, although I often confirm elsewhere since I am reading fiction. I get that authors often twist things slightly to fit their story. So I really appreciate it when an author has some notes at the end to talk about what they tweeked and what is true.

  10. Welcome to the Wickeds, Vaseem.

    “With each book I want to explore a particular theme – for me, that’s the challenge. For instance, the Malabar House novels are crime novels, but they allow me to slip in details to correct omissions and misconceptions from the British time in India.”

    I love this quote. I have a friend who writes literary fiction who bemoaned how in crime fiction you can include these sorts of themes without hitting people over the head with them–because the story is about the crime and resolution. He finally wrote a thriller.

  11. Thank you everyone for your lovely words and warm thoughts. I love writing about India and these characters. The ten years I lived there are still some of the best of my life. Best of luck in all your endeavours! ~Vaseem, London

  12. Thank you everyone for your lovely words and warm thoughts. I love writing about India and these characters. The ten years I lived there are still some of the best of my life. Best of luck in all your endeavours! ~Vaseem, London

  13. I love both the Baby Ganesh and the Malabar House series. And one of main reasons us because I learn something from them. We read Midnight for our cozy book club and the book was unanimously liked – a real rarity. Looking forward to the latest.

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