Modern day Mumbai
Bad Day at the Vulture Club is another of the charming novels in the mystery series featured Mumbai Private Investigator Ashwin Chopra and his baby elephant, Ganesha. (The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra )
In Bad Day, Chopra is asked to investigate the death of a prominent Parsee (1) businessman Cyrus Zorbian, who died three months earlier in a random attack. No arrests were made, and Cyrus’s daughter is convinced that the police bungled the investigation. Initially reluctant to second guess the authorities, Chopra agrees that certain elements of the crime do not add up, and he takes the case.
After interviewing Cyrus’s friends at the Vulture Club, the last place Cyrus was seen alive, he and Ganesha travel to the scene of the crime, the Towers of Silence in Doongerwadi, the Parsee park-like funeral ground located on fifty acres in the middle of Mumbai.
The Towers of Silence itself is a roofless circular structure where the Parsee take their dead to be disposed of by vultures. (2)
Upon arrival, Chopra is greeted by a disgruntled custodian, several of whom live on the premises to manage the corpses. Chopra learns that many Indians think that Doongerwadi should be closed and redeveloped. Not only is the property incredibly valuable, but 95% of the vultures recently died, (3) leaving the facility less than fully functorial.
As his investigation advances, Chopra is soon knee-deep in crooked real estate deals, old Parsee feuds, and corrupt politicians. And as always, when Chopra is in an especially tight spot, Ganesha comes to the rescue!
1) The Parsees are descendants of Zoroastrians (4) who emigrated to India from Persia to avoid religious persecution by the Muslims during the 7th-8th centuries. The close-knit Parsee community adapted well to their new homeland becoming successful industrialists and philanthropists. For more about the Parsee community, I recommend the Perveen Mistry mysteries which take place in 1920s Bombay. (The Widows of Malabar Hill )
2) Known as excarnation, the practice of exposing dead bodies to carrion birds, usually vultures.
3) In the early 1990s, India introduced a livestock version of the drug diclofenac which may have been beneficial for cows, but proved deadly to the vultures feeding on their carcasses. The drug was banned in 2006, but by then 95% the country’s vulture population had died. Efforts to breed Indian Vultures in captivity have been less than successful.
4) Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic religion founded by Zoroaster, a Persian priest in 6th century BC.
What Other Reviewers Say
Sunday Express (London): “There have been many insipid imitators of the Alexander McCall Smith formula, grafting a cozy mystery into a depiction of a foreign culture dripping with local color, but Khan has the quirkiness and hint of grit to make his portrayal of modern Mumbai memorable.”
Who Wrote It
Vaseem Khan received a BA from the London School of Economics and worked in India for many years. He returned to the UK in 2006, and currently works at University College London for the Department of Security and Crime Science. Bad Day at the Vulture Club is the fifth novel in the Chopra series.