A Darkening Horizon

"A policeman's lot is not a happy one."
- Gilbert & Sullivan
Well, I have now officially tagged more blog entries with the post-GAD label than with the GAD one, which goes to show that things seldom turn out the way you envisage them – and how fitting that today's subject of discussion is H.R.F. Keating's Under a Monsoon Cloud (1986).

The long-suffering Bombay police inspector, Ganesh Ghote, has faced many formidable adversaries, from an infamous confidence trickster to a vexatious ex-judge, but the dueler he'll be crossing swords with in this book may be the toughest opponent he has ever faced: himself!

Inspector Ghote is temporarily transferred to a small place named Vigatpore, several miles removed from his familiar stomping ground, to take charge of its police station and whip it into shape for an important inspection by the referred "Tiger" Kelkar – whom we've met before in Bats Fly Up for Inspector Ghote (1974). Over the course of that book, he became an example to the servile Bombay detective and this respect, dangerously crossing the border into blind hero-worship, drove him into making one of the biggest mistakes of his career: covering up a murder committed by his fiery tempered senior officer! In a fit of uncontrolled rage, the respected policeman chucked a brass inkwell at the head of a clumsy and exasperating police sergeant – leaving one of their own dead on the floor of the police station. Ghote voluntarily becomes an accessory after the facts by coming up and providing a helping hand in staging an elaborate accident.

Upon his return to Bombay, he quells his conscience with the conviction that he saved an important policeman for the force, whom he allowed to return to his invaluable duties in service of their country, and as the weeks turn into months the unfortunate incident is stored in the attic of his brain – where it rapidly starts accumulating a layer of dust that obscure most of our memories. But then one day, a new challenger appears a relative of the unfortunate sergeant turns up, one who doesn't buy the official story of a tragic accident, and a new investigation is launched that prompts "Tiger" Kelkar into taking his own life. He graciously takes full responsibility for the murder in his suicide note, but it's obvious to everyone that Ghote, at the very least, must have known about the murder – and he's suspended pro-tempore.

The second half of the story consists of a disciplinary inquiry hearing, with all the trimmings of a courtroom drama, in which the cross-examiner creates a convincing case against the always-downtrodden police inspector and squires off with his legal representative. However, the real battle waged in that semi-courtroom is not between the accuser and defender, but between Ghote's conflicting sense of duties to the truth and his family and it's fought out in the confines of his own mind. Ghote is well aware that he must be found innocent, not only to cling on to his beloved job, but also to safeguard a future for his wife and son, whose horizons have been darkened by black clouds gathering in the sky above them. But he's also painfully conscious of his own guilt and the lies he's been telling and wishes he could unburden himself without ruining his career and his family.

The story came very close to matching Inspector Ghote Draws a Line (1979), but I felt that the ending wasn't handled with the same skill as the rest of the book. In the end, Keating wanted it both ways and that just didn't work – not for me anyway. But in spite of the botched ending, this is an engrossing read that allows you to peek in the darkest nooks and niches of Ghote's psyche and demonstrates why its author was one of the most innovative crime writers of the previous century.

On a final note: this is one of four books currently brought back into print as Penguin Modern Classics.

Inspector Ghote Trusts the Heart (1972; didn't like this one, though)


  1. I must say I really like those Penguin covers...

    Ah, I am long overdue reading another Keating... Unfortunately, his name isn't among the pile of books I have with myself (I still won't be home for another week, though I now have regular Internet access and my own computer back)... The way you describe "Under a Monsoon Cloud" really fascinates me: I'll keep an eye out for it.

  2. The new covers are really stylish and I hope more of them are in the planning. I still have a few titles from the early period on my wish list.