Today it’s my pleasure to feature author Vaseem Khan. Having attended various online panels featuring Vaseem I was delighted to finally catch up with him in Harrogate, in July. Vaseem is the author of two award-winning crime series set in India, the Baby Ganesh Agency series set in modern Mumbai, and the Malabar House historical crime novels set in 1950s Bombay. His first book, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, was selected by the Sunday Times as one of the 40 best crime novels published 2015-2020, and is translated into 16 languages. The second in the series won the Shamus Award in the US. In 2021, Midnight at Malabar House won the Crime Writers Association Historical Dagger, the world’s premier award for historical crime fiction
Vaseem was born in England, but spent a decade working in India. Vaseem also co-hosts the popular crime fiction podcast, The Red Hot Chilli Writers.
Over to Vaseem :
Which five pieces of music/songs would you include in the soundtrack to your life and why?
When Doves Cry by Prince – when I was a teen you were either a Michael Jackson or a Prince fan. I chose Prince. Not because of those nifty purple outfits, but because he was just so damned cool.
Dancing in the Dark by Bruce Springsteen – I love music that has something to say. Springsteen wrote this song in frustration because he’d spent a long time working on his Born in the USA album, but his manager told him it still wasn’t good enough. It’s a feeling we writers can sympathise with!
You Know I’m No Good by Amy Winehouse – Winehouse may have had a chaotic personal life, but what a voice! I’ve managed to get into a few scrapes in my life – nothing serious – but this song makes me feel I could be a dangerously cool rebel-without-a-cause. (Instead of the reality of my life which is about as dangerous as a cream tea.)
Ode to Joy by Beethoven – I may not be a classical music buff, but I do love this piece. It makes you feel as if you can climb mountains, etc. Not that I have any intention of doing so. Mountains have never done me any harm, and I intend to keep it that way.
Earth Angel by The Penguins – It’s not many British Asians of my generation who are in to doo-wop songs from the fifties, but I do love that musical era. This song first caught my attention because it featured in the film Back to the Future. Loved Michael J. Fox!
What five things (apart from family and friends) would you find it hard to live without.
My father’s briefcase. My late father moved to Britain some fifty odd years ago. He wasn’t an educated man, and was quite a strict disciplinarian. He worked his whole life in an industrial bakery, but made sure we all got a good education. We never had a close relationship, but after he died I had to go through his things including a battered old briefcase he’d had for as long as we’d known him, never letting any of us look inside. What I found in there were some old papers, and a framed photo of me on my graduation day. He’d had it in there for over two decades. In that moment I understood, perhaps for the first time, that love comes in many forms. It doesn’t have to be loud or demonstrative. It can simply just be.
Cryptic crosswords. I love an intellectual challenge and I tend to use cryptic clues in my novels, especially my Malabar House series. In The Dying Day, a 600-year old copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy vanishes from Bombay’s Asiatic Society, leaving behind only bodies and cryptic clues written in verse. I spent months creating those damned clues! They had to point to real places/artefacts in Bombay and I also had to make them rhyme. It was worth it. The book has been compared to The Da Vinci Code, but set in India.
My cricket helmet. As I get older I tend to miss the ball a lot while batting. Usually while it’s aimed at my head. Recently, one pinged off my cranium. Luckily, I have a very thick skull.
The intense hatred I feel towards mime artists. What is that all about, anyway? No one cares whether or not you can pretend to be trapped in a box while wearing white gloves! If it was up to me all mime artists would be arrested on sight.
The daily WhatsApp memes about living your best life. I need a good laugh every morning. Such gems as: “What you seek is seeking you” or “Belief is the little place inside you where magic grows.” Who comes up with these? More importantly, what are they smoking?
Give five pieces of advice to your younger self?
Be more evil. Evil people seem to have all the fun. I don’t necessarily mean go out and invade small countries or torture tax accountants… Just maybe occasionally allow your inner Caligula out instead of being the nicest person in the universe. Which I am. Totes. Everyone says so.
Nothing is more important than friends and family. Always treat them with understanding and a generous spirit. Even if they upset you.
Invest in a ridiculous sounding company called Google. Then buy out an even sillier sounding company called Facebook. Then merge them into Foogle and rule the galaxy.
Everything happens for a reason. Sure, it may be a crap reason, but don’t regret anything. Every experience teaches you something, if you’re open to learning from it.
“Hey, idiot. Yeah, I mean you. Vaseem, aged 14. Remember that time you thought you were some sort of high-wire artist and walked across the 3 inch railing above a 30 foot drop down into a busy underpass, and then slipped and landed on your crotch, barely avoiding falling to your death? …Yeah. Don’t do that. Idiot.”
Tell us five things that most people don’t know about you
I co-host one of the UK’s most popular crime fiction podcasts: the Red Hot Chilli Writers podcast. Many of the world’s most famous names from the crime genre have been subjected to our irreverent interviewing style: Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Lee Child, Richard Osman, Dean Koontz, Ann Cleeves, David Baldacci, Lord Jeffrey Archer, SA Cosby, Ruth Ware, Dorothy Koomson, Rev. Richard Coles… to name a few … Tune in here.
I’m a huge film buff and I often go to the cinema on my own – my wife hates the sort of dark films I enjoy. I go for late night shows on weekdays because I despise other people being in the cinema. The way they ruffle crisp packets, cough, whisper sweet nothings to each other whilst a serial killer is creatively dispatching some hapless moron onscreen. I want to grab them by the scruff of the neck and drag them out into the street and throw them into the gutter. A little extreme, I know, but they deserve it.
I once saved a man’s life. A friend of mine in India decided he’d go swimming in a hotel pool in Goa. We were the only two there; and no lifeguard. There was one problem. My friend was an idiot. He didn’t know how to swim but decided to jump in the deep end as if he was Michael Phelps. He sank like a stone. I had to dive in and pull him back out. Ever since, he’s thought of me as a sort of shorter version of David Hasselhoff.
I was once attacked by a yogi. I was working in India, and a friend thought it would be fun to take me to an ashram. One of the spiritual ‘treatments’ was to be whacked across the face with a holy branch from a holy tree.
I can’t draw. I was once thrown out of art class because our art master tasked us to draw his face. When he saw my effort, he thought I was taking the piss.
Tell us five things you’d still like to do or achieve.
Carry out brain surgery… OK, so that’s an ambitious one. But if anyone would like to volunteer for me to practise on, I’d really appreciate it.
Win the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, one of the UK’s biggest prizes for crime fiction. (I was shortlisted this year with Midnight at Malabar House, the first in my historical crime series set in 1950s Bombay and featuring India’s first female police detective and English forensic scientist Archie Blackfinch.)
Find the lost treasure of the Incas. It might help me pay this winter’s gas bill. Just about.
Publish the literary novel I’ve been working on for 20 years, set in Egypt.
Have a mountain named after me. Fact: George Everest never climbed Everest or even determined it was the highest mountain in the world. I know this because I mention it in my latest novel The Lost Man of Bombay. I often use such anecdotes to shine a light on historical injustices. My Malabar House series examines the changing relationship between Britain and India at the end of the Raj; it’s my way of setting the record straight while simultaneously offering what I hope are intellectually challenging murder mysteries in a unique setting.
Many thanks for joining me today Vaseem, I appreciate you taking the time. I’m not sure that comparing your life to a cream tea, fully takes into account the danger that can come with eating a scone with cream the wrong way in Devon/Cornwall !! That said it sounds like you’ve already diced with danger with your underpass incident and random cricket balls. I’m afraid I’m with your wife on watching serial thrillers, although I can read things I could never watch! Still, all that blood and gore might make unqualified brain surgery easier – I’m not sure you’re going to get too many volunteers. Good luck with achieving your goals, especially securing a Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year award, I’m sure it’s in the offing.
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Malabar House series
Midnight at Malabar House (#1)
Bombay, New Year’s Eve, 1949
As India celebrates the arrival of a momentous new decade, Inspector Persis Wadia stands vigil in the basement of Malabar House, home to the city’s most unwanted unit of police officers. Six months after joining the force she remains India’s first female police detective, mistrusted, sidelined and now consigned to the midnight shift.
And so, when the phone rings to report the murder of prominent English diplomat Sir James Herriot, the country’s most sensational case falls into her lap.
As 1950 dawns and India prepares to become the world’s largest republic, Persis, accompanied by Scotland Yard criminalist Archie Blackfinch, finds herself investigating a case that is becoming more political by the second. Navigating a country and society in turmoil, Persis, smart, stubborn and untested in the crucible of male hostility that surrounds her, must find a way to solve the murder – whatever the cost.
The Dying Day (#2)
A priceless manuscript. A missing scholar. A trail of riddles.
For over a century, one of the world’s great treasures, a six-hundred-year-old copy of Dante’s The Divine Comedy, has been safely housed at Bombay’s Asiatic Society. But when it vanishes, together with the man charged with its care, British scholar and war hero, John Healy, the case lands on Inspector Persis Wadia’s desk.
Uncovering a series of complex riddles written in verse, Persis – together with English forensic scientist Archie Blackfinch – is soon on the trail. But then they discover the first body.
As the death toll mounts it becomes evident that someone else is also pursuing this priceless artefact and will stop at nothing to possess it . . .
Harking back to an era of darkness, this second thriller in the Malabar House series pits Persis, once again, against her peers, a changing India, and an evil of limitless intent.
The Lost Man of Bombay (#3)
When the body of a white man is found frozen in the Himalayan foothills near Dehra Dun, he is christened the Ice Man by the national media. Who is he? How long has he been there? Why was he killed?
As Inspector Persis Wadia and Metropolitan Police criminalist Archie Blackfinch investigate the case in Bombay, they uncover a trail left behind by the enigmatic Ice Man – a trail leading directly into the dark heart of conspiracy.
Meanwhile, two new murders grip the city. Is there a serial killer on the loose, targeting Europeans?
Baby Ganesh series
The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra(#1)
Mumbai, murder and a baby elephant combine in a charming, joyful mystery for fans of Alexander McCall Smith and Rachel Joyce.
On the day he retires, Inspector Ashwin Chopra discovers that he has inherited an elephant: an unlikely gift that could not be more inconvenient. For Chopra has one last case to solve…
But as his murder investigation leads him across Mumbai – from its richest mansions to its murky underworld – he quickly discovers that a baby elephant may be exactly what an honest man needs.
The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown (#2)
For centuries the Koh-i-Noor diamond has set man against man and king against king.
Now part of the British Crown Jewels, the priceless gem is a prize that many have killed to possess.
So when the Crown Jewels go on display in Mumbai, security is everyone’s principal concern. And yet, on the very day Inspector Chopra visits the exhibition, the diamond is stolen from under his nose.
The heist was daring and seemingly impossible. The hunt is on for the culprits. But it soon becomes clear that only one man – and his elephant – can possibly crack this case…
The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star (#3)
Mumbai thrives on extravagant spectacles and larger-than-life characters.
But even in the city of dreams, there is no guarantee of a happy ending.
Rising star and incorrigible playboy Vikram Verma has disappeared, leaving his latest film in jeopardy. Hired by Verma’s formidable mother to find him, Inspector Chopra and his sidekick, baby elephant Ganesha, embark on a journey deep into the world’s most flamboyant movie industry.
As they uncover feuding stars, failed investments and death threats, it seems that many people have a motive for wanting Verma out of the picture.
And yet, as Chopra has long suspected, in Bollywood the truth is often stranger than fiction…
Murder at the Grand Raj Palace (#4)
For a century Mumbai’s iconic Grand Raj Palace Hotel has welcomed the world’s elite. Anyone who is anyone stays at the Grand Raj.
The last thing the venerable old hotel needs is a murder . . .
So when the body of American billionaire Hollis Burbank is found, the pressure is on to label it a suicide. But then Chopra is called in . . . and finds a hotel full of people with a reason to want Burbank dead.
Accompanied by his sidekick, baby elephant Ganesha, Chopra navigates his way through the palatial building, a journey that leads him steadily to a killer, and into the heart of darkness . . .
Bad Day at the Vulture Club (#5)
The Parsees are among the oldest, most secretive and most influential communities in the city: respected, envied and sometimes feared.
When prominent industrialist Cyrus Zorabian is murdered on holy ground, his body dumped inside a Tower of Silence – where the Parsee dead are consumed by vultures – the police dismiss it as a random killing. But his daughter is unconvinced.
Chopra, uneasy at entering this world of power and privilege, is soon plagued by doubts about the case.
But murder is murder. And in Mumbai, wealth and corruption go in hand in hand, inextricably linking the lives of both high and low…