Not Your Typical Victim

In an earlier blog entry that was dedicated to the memory of H.R.F. Keating, I mentioned that he was an unusual writer in the field, who excelled when he wasn't attempting to pen down a formally plotted detective story, but when he focused his direction on the battle-of-wits between his subservient police inspector, Ganesh Ghote, and a powerful adversary.

The best example I could provide at the time was Inspector Ghote Goes by Train (1971), in which the poor inspector is locked in a mental standoff with a cunning confidence-trickster, but also remarked that Inspector Ghote Draws a Line (1979) and Under a Monsoon Cloud (1986) apparently took a more interesting and earnest approach to this form of story telling, however, I was unable to comment on them then since neither book had yet come into my hands – a glaring omission that has now been rectified.

In the past two weeks, I added both titles to my ever-growing collection and have just finished reading Inspector Ghote Draws a Line, in which Keating puts a nifty spin on the old cat-and-mouse game between protagonist and antagonist.

Lest You Be Judged

The servile Inspector Ghote is ordered off to the heat sweltering abode of Justice Asif Ibrahim, situated in a secluded spot of the sultry country side, to find out whose been leaving the old judge threatening letters and prevent any attempts on his live. But the pensioned-off judge, who earned himself an unpopular reputation by condemning the plotters in the Madurai Conspiracy Case to death shortly before India's independence, is obstinate in his refusal to accept any help and is determined to make Ghote's job as difficult as possible, by obscuring information and attemps at restricting him in his investigation.  

Ghote's presence is only tolerated on insistence of a two relatives and because he's in the guise of a Doctor of Philosophy, there to assist him in committing his memoirs to paper, which conveniently strips him of his official status and privilege of asking importunate questions – and before long it begins to dawn on the inspector that his foe is not the nebulous would-be killer, but his prospective, unyielding victim-to-be.

This makes for a satisfying and original artifice on the authors' part, in which the solution to the case at hand is not revealed by peeling away the many layers that cover-up a murderous plot, but the ones that encumber the character of Sir Asif Ibrahim – resulting in one of the rare triumphs of characterization over plotting.

Nevertheless, even with the characters emerging triumphantly from the book, its plot is nothing to sneeze at, either, offering both misdirection as well as a properly clued solution – proving once again that he wasn't completely inept with the traditional format and makes for an overall gratifying reading experience.

Inspector Ghote Draws a Line is perhaps not as fun a read as Inspector Ghote Goes by Train, even plodding in parts, but it shows Keating at the top of his game in what undoubtedly is his masterpiece.


  1. This sounds like a fascinating read. I really liked the way Keating made his setting come alive in "The Perfect Murder", and how the characters who made up the dysfunctional family interacted with each other. He struck me as the sort of author who would be at the top of his game in a battle of wits, because there were two or three minor ones in that book, and they were all excellent.

    I recently found two Keatings in the same bookstore where I found Volume 20 of Case Closed: "The Body in the Billiard Room" and "Inspector Ghote Goes by Train"-- looks like the quality of their stock is going up! ;)

    Incidentally, are the JDCarr forums working for you by any chance? I haven't been able to connect to them at all since trying to update the Bookstore Exploits thread.

    On a tangentially related note, have you possibly heard of/read Hal White and his Reverend Dean stories? I stumbled onto his site from Barry Ergang's links page, and it struck me as a potentially excellent short story collection- particularly when I was assured by the author that he attempted to play notoriously fair with the clues...

  2. Nice review! It sounds like the sort of story I'd like. I'll have to get this. The only HRF Keating I own is "The Perfect Murder", which is a pretty poor showing on my part.

    @Patrick The forums are working for me. I did post about the Reverend Dean stories on there a while back, actually. I didn't think they were very good (surprise!). Hal White doesn't seem to have realised that it's not just enough to have a locked room, there has to be a good reason for it to be locked. He doesn't even offer a tenuous one most of the time. The clues are fair in the sense that they exist and are plentiful but often bear no relation whatsoever to reality (a basically spoiler-free example: who would measure a multi-storey building by lowering a tape measure out the window?!).

  3. How strange... I have no idea why I'm unable to connect to them...

  4. The JDCarr forum is working fine for me, too, it's the GAD group that's giving me problems. Is there parental protection on your PC, that has been switched on?

    Yes, I read The Mysteries of Reverend Dean and overall it's a passable collection of impossible crime stories, however, some of them are over-the-top complex (a compliment, really, to any modern writer) while others were just plain bizarre (if I recall correctly, the final story is a combination of both).

    In this case, I preferred the toned down and simple locked room stories to the more extravagant ones.

  5. Oh, no, I haven't got anything like that on my computer. Never happened to me before... I've also tried from three others, and they're all coming back negative...

    I've noticed that emails and messages sometimes get delayed on the Yahoo group. When they do show up, they're buried in between the messages that came in the meantime.

  6. The last one is hilarious! I solved it about a third of the way through and was laughing until the end. Such a silly solution.

    I'm maybe being too harsh on Hal White. I would read a full length novel, but I don't think he's mastered the short story form at all. But then neither did Christie, so that's not much of a complaint.

    He writes nicely and I think the sense that he's straining for pathos (Reverend Dean can't look at a teacup or a windowsill without remembering his dead wife) and trying to do too much in too few words would disappear in a full length story.

  7. @Patrick

    I think there's either a problem with your provider or the server is blocking users from Canada. Have you tried restarting your internet modem?


    Thanks for your comment, and welcome back to the online mystery community – we missed your input! Oh, and you actually solved that one?!

    The stories I remember best, perhaps for all the wrong reasons, is the second one, that needed at least ten pages to explain its solution (this is a short story, remember) and the one with all the biblical characters appearing in church.

    But the first story (offering no less than three different types of no-footprint scenarios) and the one about a locked room murder aboard a cruise ship had good and workable impossible set-ups and solutions.

  8. Thanks! Did you look at my thread on the fiction part of the jdcarr forum? You might wish I'd kept my mystery inputs to myself! :)

    I agree, the first one and the cruise ship one are the best.

    I solved all of them. I don't think Mr White quite understands how to conceal a culprit. He thinks giving exactly one character an airtight alibi makes them less suspicious! Again, this is the sort of thing that's much harder in a short story, but he could have taken a leaf from Chesterton, who he obviously admires.

    I think the last one is obvious as soon as the coroner bothers to explain about the difference between rigor mortis, livor mortis and algor mortis. In a book that would be fine, but in a short story, where every word is precious, the reader is bound to find long digressions suspicious. Then it's only one hilarious conceptual leap to the solution.

    It still makes no sense. The culprit stupidly doesn't bother to obtain an alibi and it seems that none of the characters can have had noses!

    It won a writing award though, so what do I know?!

  9. Interesting comments. I looked through the various quotes, which obviously can be slightly edited for the sake of publicity, but I found a very positive one from Doug Greene, and I've found myself often agreeing with his evaluations. I will read it sometime soon (after all, attempts at fair play locked room mysteries in modern day shouldn't go unnoticed) and hopefully be able to give some insight of my own to the discussion.

  10. I love your blog. I am a big reader too and I appreciate having reviews from real people to help me choose my books.

    I recently published my first book as an eBook. I am looking for reading bloggers to read and review it. Here is a link to MUD BAY http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Mud-Bay/jd-chandler/e/2940012306227/?itm=1&USRI=mud+bay

    If you are interested in reading/reviewing it please let me know your email address and I will send you a copy at no charge.


  11. JD Chandler,

    I'm glad to hear you're enjoying the blog, but I'm afraid I can't help you with your ebook – as I have neither the patience nor the attention span to read an entire novel on my computer.

    However, I'm sure there are enough of our fellow mystery fans on the GADetection group who want to read and review the book for you.


    All the best in your writing endevours! :)