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#CriminologyBookClub: Murder at the Grand Raj Palace

As you know from our last #CriminologyBookClub entry a small group of us decided the best way to thrive in lockdown was to seek solace in reading and talking about books. Building on on what has quickly become standard practice, we’ve decided to continue with all seven bloggers contributing! Our latest book was chosen by all of us (unanimously)  after we fell in love with the first instalment. Without more ado, let’s see why we all adore Inspector Chopra (retired) et al.:

@saffrongarside

What a great read! I was extremely excited to read another book in the Baby Ganesh Agency Series and once again I was not disappointed. There was more mystery, a rich subplot and of course my favourite baby elephant. Vaseem, charmingly immerses the reader into the colourful and picturesque Grand Raj Palace. The way the book is written sets your mind up as though you are watching a film.   The story allows you to escape from the uncertainty and mundane realities of life. Which is always welcome! And thrusts you into a mystery within a mystery. I would advise any reader that is interested in reading the series to definitely consider starting at the beginning, with the Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra. Although the stories do not pick up from each other, you definitely get an appreciation for the characters as they grow and change throughout the series. I liked the way Poppy is taken out of her supporting character role and is put centre stage, while investigating her own mystery. With laugh out loud humour, dark revenge and whacky characters, this is a book that will entertain you from start to finish.

@svr2727

In this instalment of the baby Ganesh Agency investigates a homicide of a very important person in a very important hotel. Inspector Chopra (retired) is on the case with his very unusual sidekick, investigating the world of corporations, big business and luxury. In the meantime, the Chopra universe is expanding and the characters are becoming more intricate and multifaceted. The household, now apart from the striking tenacious baby elephant, has little Irfan a child Chopra and his wife Poppy so desperately wanted. The story takes us through a different world paying homage to some corporate crimes that made it to the news. The conclusion of the drama is a reveal of whodunit in a very classic revelation scene. One thing you are left wondering, what will happen when the baby elephant grows to his full size?

@manosdaskalou

So far I have loved each of the Baby Ganesh Agency books. They have brightened my day and taken my attention away from life in a pandemic. As ever, with @vaseemk2’s series, you get the heat, the smells, the tastes, the views of India, attacking your senses. In this book, there is a striking contrast between light and dark in the cases resolved by Inspector Chopra (Rtd) and the wonderful Poppy. For me, the exploration of institutional violence caught my attention, the parallels to the Bhopal disaster, drawn clear and bright. Even in fictionalised form, institutional violence takes your breath away in the harm perpetuated and the complete absence of official interest. Lives lost without remark, without empathy. Without giving away any spoilers, equally striking was the almost Agatha Christie-like sleight of hand, where readers are encouraged to embrace their prejudices, only to have them destroyed with the denouement. At this point, I have the 5th book in hand and whilst I am excited to get started, I am also seriously worried. I really don’t want this series and its wonderful characters to come to an end….

@paulaabowles

Murder at the Grand Raj Palace was by far my favourite of the Baby Ganesh Agency novels! I particularly enjoyed the closeness of both cases, the uncomfortableness of Chopra in the presence of a beautiful woman who was not his wife, and Poppy’s strong and independent, yet interconnected, storyline. The twist on who committed the murder at the Grand Raj Palace, and why: I can honestly say I did not see coming! Without trying to give too much away: it is a must read which entwines themes of justice, family and social ills! Inspector Chopra does not disappoint: YET AGAIN!

@jesjames50

What is there to say about this series that we haven’t already? I love these books! They are vibrant and colourful and genuinely immerse you in another place with characters that feel like old friends now. The fourth book was possibly my favourite of the series so far: the setting of the Grand Raj Hotel, the monkey movie star’s assaults on Ganesha, spending more time with Poppy as she solves a mystery of her own, Chopra’s uncompromising resolve to crack the case and his grand unmasking of the criminal at the end. I didn’t want it to be over – bring on book 5!

@saffrongarside

This book includes my favourite sub-plot of the Chopra series so far. Poppy herself plays detective! I thought that it was great that the sub-plot and the main plot were based within the same setting, this made the book seem action-packed. Usually with the Chopra books I enjoy reading at a steady pace but I found this book difficult to put down, and this is not a bad thing. Sometimes when I read books I am disappointed by the ending, with this Chopra series this has not happened yet. Perhaps this is why these books are so pleasing to read. I was very pleased with what happened at the end with the women in red.

@haleysread

As the newest member of book club, I had missed out on the previous books in the Chopra series. Although the book is part of a series, I never felt as though I had missed anything or that I needed to catch up. I immediately liked the characters, particularly Poppy and the baby elephant, Ganesha. I identified with Poppy as a strong woman and Ganesha, despite being an elephant has the personality of a human. Secondly, I enjoyed the way in which the author wrote about India and how his fictional version reflected reality. Having been to India I was instantly reminded of the sights, sounds and smells. Members of the royal families and the fuss around the wedding recalled memories of my sister’s Indian wedding. Indeed, it was Poppy’s investigation which engaged my attention more than the murder. In the end, I was more concerned with the whereabouts of the bride than I was the uncovering of the murderer. This was a joy to read during the Christmas after a frantic first term of lecturing in the pandemic. I have already made a start on the final Chopra episode but I will definitely return to the first few books.

@amycortvriend
@5teveh

#CriminologyBookClub: The Tiger’s Wife

I selected The Tiger’s Wife for us all to read for book club. On first impressions the book seemed to be very interesting. My understanding was that the book would be about a tiger, his wife, a grandad and The Jungle Book. I have very little knowledge of Disney, but I did enjoy the upbeat ‘Bare NecessitiesJungle Book song as a child. As it turns out, both The Jungle Book and The Tiger’s Wife are both grim tales. In terms of The Tiger’s Wife, I enjoyed the elements of humour within the book. I also enjoyed reading about the smells, scenery and tastes of another country given that I have not been able to leave Britain for a while. The ‘deathless man’ character was also quite intriguing. I do feel unsure about this book though. At times I was puzzled about the plot. It is also an incredibly sad and heavy tale which covers themes like war, death, disease and domestic violence – perhaps not the most appropriate choice given that we are in a national lockdown! I think this is a book that I may return to in better times.  

@haleysread

What struck me about the book was that it centred around death but was largely devoid of emotion. The grandmother was described as being emotional about the death of her husband, but the book was narrated in such a way that this emotion was not felt by the reader because the grandmother was not wholly present. She was always at the other end of the phone and therefore removed from the reader. Instead, the book was lightened with humorous characters such as the Deathless Man and folk tales of superstition. These characters and tales transformed what could (and perhaps should) have been a depressing tale to a mildly sorrowful yet darkly comedic series of tragedies.

@amycortvriend

This was quite possibly my favourite of all the book club reads so far, although it is a particularly tight call (4th instalment of inspector Chopra is a gem: but shhhh spoilers)! I am quite surprised by how much I enjoyed this book which appears much to the contrast of my esteemed friends in book club. It was beautifully written, depressing, full of escapism and challenging at the same time. I was truly lost in this book as a story: I am not sure I can tell you what the story is about or what the message or meaning behind it is. But I adored it. It made me think of Big Fish and The Bee Keeper of Aleppo all mixed together (another 2 gems if you have not read them). I can appreciate how perhaps it was not the most fitting for a global pandemic, but nevertheless it is a text that I will most certainly read again!

@jesjames50

In a far away corner in Europe, people try to live with the aftermath of a war. The conflict has brought up in the community, wounds that take time to heal and the doctors who look after the physical wounds are trying to cope with the long-term effects of harm. In the backdrop of that, the story of a young doctor who is remembering her beloved grandfather takes central stage. The woman discovers a grandfather through the eyes of others. This is a post war society and many things do not make sense. The author, Téa Obreht, stitches together a story of reality with a lot of surrealism to underline the absurdness of war especially a civil conflict. Symbolism becomes intricate to the story and in the end you are left wondering who is The Tiger’s Wife?

@manosdaskalou

I found the book to be hard going. That’s not to say that there weren’t some parts of it that I enjoyed but on the whole I didn’t find much in the book to excite me and at the end I was left with a feeling of …’and’. I found that too often I was unable to follow the plot getting bogged down in, what I must admit, were beautiful descriptions of countryside, villages, animals and people. For me, the story lacked purpose, describing old superstitions, combined with historical tales which seemed to have little purpose other than to provide perhaps a vivid description of the cruelty of war and its aftermath. On a more positive note, it has prompted me to research the wars in the Balkans and maybe, that will push me to return to the book

@5teveh

The timing of The Tiger’s Wife as our book club read was impeccable. Leading up to the Christmas holidays, everything seemed to become overwhelming and I felt rather numb. Reading The Tiger’s Wife with its dreamlike qualities suited my mood extraordinarily well. The subject of war, and the damage it causes, is close to my heart. In this book, it is not tales of heroes and villains, but the quiet, pervasive harm which war leaves in its wake, touching everyone and everything, in small, often indiscernible ways. We may not be at war in the UK, but it made me consider what life will be like after the pandemic, when many of those harms are also prevalent. For instance, our NHS workers may not have been in battlefield hospitals, but treating severely ill Covid-19 patients, with a high death rate, on a daily basis will undoubtedly have a profound impact. Ultimately, The Tiger’s Wife is an anti-war book, with more questions than answers, but as the pandemic has shown us, uncertainty does not mean the end of hope.

@paulaabowles
https://pixabay.com/illustrations/tiger-walking-wild-art-watercolor-3564572/

2020: A Year on “Plague Island”

Last year in this blog, I argued that 2019 had been a year of violence. My colleague, @5teveh provided a gentle riposte, noting that whilst things had not been that good, they were perhaps not as bad as I had indicated. Looking back at both entries it is clear that my thoughts were well-evidenced, but it is @5teveh‘s rebuttal that has proved most prescient in respect of what was to come….

The year started off on a positive, personally and professionally, when both @manosdaskalou and I were nominated for Changemaker Awards. Although beaten by some very tough competition, shortly before leaving campus we were both awarded High Sheriff Awards, alongside our prison colleagues, for our module CRI3006 Beyond Justice. As colleagues and students will know, this module is taught entirely in prison to year 3 criminology students and their incarcerated peers. Unfortunately, the awards took place in the last week on campus, but we are hopeful that we can continue to work together in the near future.

Understandably much of our attention this year has been on Covid-19 and the changes it has wrought on individuals, communities, society and globally. Throughout this year, the Thoughts from the Criminology Team have documented the pandemic in a variety of different ways. From my very early thoughts, written in the panic of abandoning campus for the experience of lockdown to entries from @helentrinder @treventoursu @jesjames50 @cherylgardner2015 @5teveh @manosdaskalou @anfieldbhoy @samc0812 @drkukustr8talk @zeechee @saffrongarside @svr2727 @haleysread The blog has explored Covid-19 from a variety of different angles reflecting on the unprecedented experience of living through a pandemic. It is interesting to see how the situation and our understanding and responses have adapted over the past 9 months.

Alongside the serious materials, it was obvious very early on that we also needed to ensure some lightness for the team and our readers. With this in mind, early in the first lock down, we created the #CriminologyBookClub. We’re currently on our 8th novel and we’ve been highly critical of some of the texts ;), as well as fallen in love with others. However, I know I speak for my fellow members when I say this has offered some real respite for what’s going on around us.

Another early initiative was to invite all our bloggers to contribute an entry entitled #MyFavouriteThings. We ended up with over twenty entries (which you’ll find via the link) from the criminology team, students, as well as a our regular and occasional contributors. Surprisingly we learnt a lot about each other and about ourselves. The process of something as basic as writing down your favourite things, proved to be highly cathartic.

Whilst supporting each other in our learning community, we also didn’t forget our friends and colleagues in prison. Although, the focus has rightly been on the NHS and carers, the pandemic has hit the prison communities very hard. Technology can solve some of the issues of loneliness, but to be locked in a small room, far away from family and friends creates additional problems. For the men and the staff, the last 9 months has brought challenges never seen before. Although, we could not teach the module, we did our best, along with colleagues in Geography and the Vice Chancellor @npetfo, to provide quizzes and competitions to help pass the hours.

In June, the world was shocked by the killing of George Floyd in the USA. For many of us, this death was one in a long line of horrific killings of Black men and women, whereby society generally turned a blind eye. However, in the middle of a pandemic, the killing of George Floyd meant that people could not turn away from what was playing on every screen and every platform. This lead to a resurgence of interest in Black Lives Matter and an outpouring of statements by individuals, organisations, institutions and the State.

For a week in June, the Thoughts from the Criminology Team muted all their social media to make space for the #AmplifyMelanatedVoices initiative from Alishia McCullough and Jessica Wilson This was a tiny gesture in the grand scheme of things but refocused the team’s attention on making sure there is a space for anyone who wants to contribute.

Whether this new found interest in Black Lives Matters and discussions around diversity, racism, decolonisation and disproportionality continue, remains to be seen. Hopefully, the killing of George Floyd, alongside the profound evidence of privilege and need made evident by the pandemic, has provided a catalyst for change. One thing is clear, everyone knows now, we can no longer hide, there are no more excuses and we all can and must do better.

This year some old faces left for pastures new and we welcomed some new colleagues to the Criminology Team. If you haven’t already, you can read about our new (or, in some cases, not so new) team members’ – @jesjames50 @haleysread and @amycortvriend – academic journeys to becoming Lecturers in Criminology.

Finally, looking back over the last 12 months, certain themes catch my eye. Some of these are obvious, the pandemic and Black Lives Matter have occupied a lot of our minds. The focus has often been on high profile individuals – Captain Tom Moore, Joe Wickes, Marcus Rashford – but has also shone on teams/organisations/institutions such as the NHS, carers, shop workers, delivery drivers, the scientists working on the vaccines, the list goes on. Everyone has played a part, even if that is just by staying at home and out of the way, leaving space for those with a frontline role to play. Upon reflection it is evident that the over-riding themes (and why @5teveh was right last year) are ones of kindness, of going the extra mile, of trying to listen to each other, of reaching out to each other, acknowledging unfairness and privileges, recognising the huge loss of life and the impact of illness and bereavement and trying to make things a little better for all. Hope has become the default setting for all of us, hope that the pandemic will be over, alongside hopes that we can build a better world with its passing. It has also become extremely clear that critical thinking is at a premium during a pandemic, with competing narratives, contradictory evidence and uncertainty, testing all of our ability to cope with change and respond with humility and humanity.

There is no doubt 2020 has been an unprecedented year and one that will stay with us for ever in the collective memory. Going into 2021 it’s important that we remember to consider the positives and keep trying to do better. Hopefully, in 2021 we will get to celebrate Criminology’s 21st Birthday together

Remember to stay safe, strong and well and look out for yourself and others.

#CriminologyBookClub: The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star

As you know from our last #CriminologyBookClub entry a small group of us decided the best way to thrive in lockdown was to seek solace in reading and talking about books. Building on on what has quickly become standard practice, we’ve decided to continue with all bloggers contributing! Our seventh book was chosen by all of us (unanimously) after we fell in love with the first and second instalment. While we struggled with fitting in the discussions of book club, due to the rigours of an academic term, we all found space for reading about the adventures of Inspector Chopra (retired) et al.:

I find the predictable happy endings of Vaseem’s novels to be quite comforting, especially during such an unprecedented time. What I enjoy mostly about these novels is that each has a moral message. In this novel it is characters like the blind homeless teacher, the prison inmates and the eunuchs that remind me that we should all try to be better people, as this will help to build a better society. The Chopra series continues to be a top lockdown read.

@haleysread

The 3rd mystery for Inspector Chopra brings him to the glittering world of Bollywood. An unusual place for the inspector and his pet elephant who seems to enjoy the attention conjuring images of other elephants working in the entertainment industry. This instalment of the crime mystery novels seemed to have matured the characters, giving their relationships more depth. Even the acerbic mother-in-law grows in ways to give us a greater understanding of their lives. The combination of the everyday with the obscure is done seamlessly and makes the surrealism even more profound. Even the pachyderm, gains more of a character reaching the intellectual age of a rebellious teenager. In the end, the mystery is solved, revealing some more social injustices behind the façade of the sparkling movie industry. As always we are left, wanting more.

@manosdaskalou

The third Chopra book was a welcome return to familiar and colourful characters. This was my favourite book in the series so far for its strong themes of kindness and reflections on what it means to be a good person. The subplot was just as gripping as the main story and lovely Ganesha kept me smiling throughout.

@saffrongarside

You could be forgiven for ignoring the plaudits on the first page of most novels, consigning them to the usual blurb written by reviewers that feel the need to say something nice to aid publicity and sales. In this case you would be foolish to ignore the plaudits, if anything they are somewhat understated. Having read the first two books in the series I picked this up with anticipation and excitement. I wasn’t disappointed. Transported to a world of vivid colour, pungent and aromatic smells and the hubbub of a bustling metropolis, the description of Mumbai and its citizens fuels the imagination and leaves the reader eagerly turning pages. The bifurcation of the storyline means there is never a dull moment, Insp. Chopra (retired) has his hands full and as a consequence ‘The Baby Ganesh Agency’ has to make use of its ever-increasing, albeit quirky staff and associates. And so Rangwalla, Chopra’s sidekick finds himself in a rather trying and unusual circumstance. Of course, what is now becoming the indomitable Ganesh gets his usual share of adventure and inevitably saves the day at some point aided by Poppy, Chopra’s wife and rock. The book is a triumph as it provides wonderful descriptions of both the lighter and darker side of the city and its residents. As usual good triumphs over evil but in the case of Chopra’s nemesis, ACP Rao, the door has been left firmly open for more mischief to come.
Rarely do I get the opportunity to read a book that I struggle to put down. A book that put a smile on my face and gave me a warm feeling at its conclusion.

@5teveh

The third instalment of Chopra and gang is just as delightful and entertaining as the previous novels. For me, the third story in the series has crossed over to the fantasy genre, whereas the previous two were toeing the line. I want to make it abundantly clear: this is not a criticism of the book. I still loved every page, as I have with the others. But for me, when reading I felt as if I was in a fantasy world with villains and heroines, magical elephants and mystical tales. The realism was somewhat lost on me this time around.

What I absolutely adored about ‘The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star’ was how Vaseem Khan beautifully tackles the topic area of prejudices. Rangwalla’s journey in this book was possibly my favourite aspect of the Inspector Chopra series so far. Rangwalla attempts to face his prejudices; and in a way that mirrors reality. Vaseem has reminded us through Rangwalla’s experienced that our prejudices need to be constantly put in check, and this requires a conscious effort from us all. Roll on book number 4!

@jesjames50

If ever a year called for some escapism, 2020 certainly did. Fortunately, @vaseemk2’s tales of Inspector Chopra et al. have provided that, in bucket loads. The books transport me to a place I’ve never been, the heat, the colour and the vibrancy recreate India in front of my very eyes. The third volume in the series, is probably my favourite to date. The sparkling glamour of Bollywood, juxtaposed against dark issues of discrimination, prejudice and social injustice, creates a story which will stay with me. In particular, the bringing to life of the eunuch community and the recognition that prejudice is within us all and can be combatted, gave me a great deal of pause for thought. With it’s overarching themes of kindness and striving to do the right thing against all odds, this book captures the (hopefully) enduring lessons of lockdown, that we all need each other.

@paulaabowles

We are Spartacus: the publishing industry and race

As one of only a handful of non-white authors on the British crime fiction map, I thought it might be worthwhile spending a moment reflecting on the worldwide rebalancing touched off by the George Floyd killing in America. Fear not. There’s no need to put on your tin hats and dive for the trenches. My purpose isn’t to haul anyone over the coals. But there’s little doubt that some of what I say might make for uncomfortable reading. More importantly, I will ask you to reflect, at a personal level, on what we mean by systemic inequality, particularly as it applies to the publishing industry.

Screenshot 2020-06-30 16.14.40

First, some background. My parents are from the subcontinent. They came to the UK in the early seventies, lured by the immigrant dream. The streets of London may not have been paved with gold, but they were paved with opportunity. My father, who was not literate, spent his life in honest labour, in an industrial bakery, while my mother raised children, demonstrating the much-lauded immigrant work ethic by slaving away at her sewing machine every hour she wasn’t feeding us or stopping us from poking each other’s eyes out with eraser-tipped pencils. She instilled in us the need, above all else, to study, to educate ourselves, to progress.

So far, so good.

But what if I were to tell you that my parents were, in a broad sense, xenophobes, too? Not overtly. They didn’t oppress anyone; or traffic slaves across the oceans; or pillage defenceless communities for profit. But their attitude towards black people – cultivated by the insular world they had grown up in – was, at best, indifferent, or, at worst, mistrustful.

Here’s a simple, unpalatable truth. Racism, in its most basic form, is a feature of most societies. It shouldn’t be. But it is. A simple example illustrates my point.

The outpouring of angst and handwringing currently gripping the world has seen celebrities across the globe express their views on racism (rightly so), only for some to discover that a seat on this particular bandwagon can be an uncomfortable one. In India, numerous Bollywood stars were called out for the disparity between their #blacklivesmatter tweets and the fact that they had fronted campaigns for skin-lightening creams. Across the subcontinent, lighter skin has traditionally been valued (usually alluded to in matrimonial ads by the rainbow-bending adjective “wheatish”), so much so that white foreigners, especially Brits, are treated with overt deference, while black people are routinely afforded a lesser welcome. An odd perversity, given that it was the whites that pillaged the subcontinent for three centuries while, with those of Afro-Caribbean descent, one might assume Indians would evince a colonial-era solidarity.

Let me be clear: this idea of a sort of universal xenophobic instinct does not in any way excuse or mitigate the horrors of the slave trade, or the enormous, long-term damage done to black people because of that terrible practice. Nor does it justify the entrenched, systemic prejudice that continues to colour western societies, prejudice that culminates in overt racism of the kind that permits white American policemen to routinely kill black men with little fear of reprisal, and prejudice of the less obvious kind that serves to keep black people ‘in their place’. My point was merely to demonstrate that, in the wider, global race equality agenda now under discussion, we all have a part to play.

Part of the issue is that many well-meaning efforts to redress the balance are hampered by a profound lack of insight into how unconscious bias can affect the lives of people of colour, in a million different, small, but, ultimately, debilitating ways. The problem is further hampered by an education system that often fails to properly tackle the ‘race issue’.

Yet, the problem must be addressed. Because the world has become a smaller place. The goldfish bowl has shrunk and we are now all swimming in the same seas. It behoves us to make the effort, not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is also the most effective means of progressing humanity towards a more equitable, more meritocratic, global society. If the Covid-19 pandemic has proven anything, it is how interdependent we are.

Coming, now, to the publishing industry. Cards on the table. Since my first book was published six years ago, I have received tremendous support from my agent, publisher, critics, bloggers, readers, event organisers, and crime writers. My experience is not typical. A simple look at the statistics tells us what we already know. Any way you slice it and dice it – diversity of publishing staff, published writers of colour, books featuring characters of colour – the industry is dominated by white thought and enterprise. Some of this can be ascribed to the fact that, in terms of population, BAME communities, by definition, are a minority. You wouldn’t expect there to be a 50:50 split along these dimensions. That isn’t the issue. The problem is the entrenched attitudes that make it so damned difficult for writers of colour to break into the industry and then to enjoy the same rewards and freedom of expression that is accorded to their white counterparts.

The world’s most successful crime writer, James Patterson, became famous with a series about a streetwise black detective, Alex Cross. James Patterson is not black. Nothing wrong with that scenario, in my opinion. Authors should not be constrained by artificial constructions of propriety. But, if the industry is being honest with itself, it will acknowledge that a writer of colour attempting to do something similar – trying, as it were, to write outside of their cultural straightjacket – is rarely accorded the same privilege. Questions of ‘authenticity’, ‘voice’ and ‘cultural appropriation’ suddenly come racing to the fore, like Cinderella’s ugly sisters questioning our right to go to the ball. Asian writers, for instance, are often expected to pen literary tomes about colonialism or exposes of the immigrant experience. Again, nothing wrong with that, and, indeed, brilliant writing is regularly published exploring those themes. But there are so many other stories that we would like to tell. White writers can be published writing about matters far outside their experience – wizards, serial killers, aliens. But for non-white writers, the same consideration is much harder to find. A lot of this is not the result of overt racism, but rather the mindset that accepts as perceived wisdom the idea that profitability comes almost entirely from white authors writing white stories, or writers of colour writing stories suited to their ethnic background. This thought is so prevalent in the industry that it may as well be an eleventh commandment.

A terrific article by Laura B. McGrath, associate director of the Stanford University Literary Lab, in a Jan 2019 issue of the Los Angeles Review of Books, entitled “Comping White” identifies the true nature of the problem. Paraphrasing her research, it goes like this: publishers buy new books by comparing them to books that have been successful. Is this the new Harry Potter? Is this the next Gone Girl? Given that the majority of books are white, the process becomes a closed loop, a vicious cycle. The industry buys and promotes white books because they sell. White books sell because they’re the only books the industry buys and promotes. Do you see the problem?

Making the gatekeepers more diverse, McGrath argues, will have only a marginal impact. It’s the system that’s at fault. The same applies to practically any walk of life that you might care to name – hence the reason so few people of colour in boardrooms, or lecturing at top universities, or opening Michelin-starred restaurants. White people have done all those things successfully before, so why take a chance on the unproven?

Until we change this structural, often unconscious, bias, all the current furore around race will do little to improve the prospects of the average BAME person.

Can readers help? Of course! By voting with their feet. By buying books written by authors of colour, readers signal to publishers that they won’t be put off by a ‘funny-sounding’ name on the cover, or a protagonist who doesn’t share their own cultural background. The only bar should be quality.

In an ideal world, a good story, well told, should stand on its own merits.

What else can we do? In my opinion, people shape people. If we want better, more thoughtful attitudes in the industry, we must all stand up and be counted. Solidarity is the name of the game. A solidarity of thought that acknowledges that a genuine change of perspective is needed. From agent to reader, all along the chain. What we need, in other words, is for all of us to stand up and say: ‘We are Spartacus.’

Vaseem Khan, author, Midnight at Malabar House and Baby Ganesh series

London, June 2020

#CriminologyBookClub: My Sister, the Serial Killer

The latest book to grace the Criminology book club was My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, and after some excellent choices by @5teveh and @manosdaskalou, and a meh choice from @paulaabowles, the pressure was on for my choice. Unfortunately, it received mixed reviews, but I think I speak for all members of the book club when I say: It’s definitely better than The Yellow Room (sorry @paulaabowles)!

The negatives of the book, as expressed by the uneducated and picky members of the club (I promise I’m not bitter-HA), include the unlikableness of the characters: all morally repulsive, selfish and uninspiring. Whilst the book is set in Nigeria, there isn’t much description to transport you there, something the other books have done well, so this was disappointing. And there is a lot left unanswered. At times the book drops some hints into the characters’ past, hinting at why the sisters are the way they are (basically why one of them is a serial killer of her ex-boyfriends and the other mops up the mess), which is gripping and exciting, until it is left unanswered. The ‘older’ members of the club who weren’t overly keen on the book, felt it had potential but it wasn’t their cup of tea… and in all fairness the factors which they raised as being disappointing, were disappointing. BUT, it was still an excellent read! Myself (@jesjames50), @saffrongarside and @haleysread enjoyed the book, and below we have shared our views:

It is fast past, written in what feels like snippets, dangling possibilities and explanations in each chapter, throwing it back to their childhood, alluding at the dangers they faced together, fighting over the same man who isn’t great so that is slightly confusing: c’mon, have better choices in life partners, or even just dates! So many questions raised and so many left unanswered, but this is part of the book’s charm. It’s a story, an experience, a gripping account of a sister’s devotion to her strange, ex-boyfriend stabbing, sister. How far will she go? Why does she go to these lengths? What happens when the sister becomes too much of a loose cannon? You’ll have to read and not find out! But that’s what makes it an excellent read, by an excellent writer!

@jesjames50

My Sister, the Serial Killer is unlike any other book I have read before. I loved the fast pace and the creeping sense of dread that builds as you read on. The book is like a snapshot in time of the lives of two sisters – there are no right answers, no resolutions and no sense of justice served. Although I felt little affection for the characters, I was invested in their relationships, the story and how it would play out. I think it would work well as a TV or film adaptation and I look forward to reading other books by Oyinkan Braithwaite in the future

@saffrongarside

In an odd sort of way this book reminds me of my relationship with my younger siblings. I’m sure that many older siblings will agree that there is an unwritten obligation to support and protect younger siblings in many situations. In Kerode’s case… she takes this obligation to the extremes! I enjoyed this book as a thriller, but as with the last thriller we endured for book club I did not like any of the amoral characters. I also desired a bit more depth to the story line, the characters and location background – but maybe this is what makes thrillers so successful? Who knows?

@haleysread

So overall, not quite as successful as the Baby Ganesha Detective Agency novels, but I mean come on, its competing with a Cadbury chocolate eating baby elephant! But it’s a book that’s modern, well written, gripping and possess twists and turns. It’s short, sharp and snappy! I am proud and satisfied with my choice, as is Saffron and Haley. The others are in agreement that they struggled to put it down, it was intriguing! But alas not all literature is for everyone (albeit I think they are just being fussy)! On to @saffrongarside’s choice next, wonder what the club will think of The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada? Stay tuned…

#CriminologyBookClub: The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown

As you know from our last #CriminologyBookClub entry a small group of us decided the best way to thrive in lockdown was to seek solace in reading and talking about books. Building on on what has quickly become standard practice, we’ve decided to continue with all seven bloggers contributing! Our fourth book was chosen by all of us (unanimously)  after we fell in love with the first instalment. Without more ado, let’s see why we all adore Inspector Chopra (retired) et al.:

Another great edition to the Baby Ganesh agency series. After thoroughly enjoying the first book, I was slightly sceptical that book 2 would bring me the same level of excitement as the former. I was pleasantly surprised! The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown, will take you on a picturesque journey across Mumbai. The story definitely pumps up the pace giving the reader more mystery and excitement. We now get more of an insight into characters such as inspector Chopra (retired) and his devoted wife Poppy. We also get to meet some new characters such as the loveable young boy Irfan, and of course the star of the show Ganesh, Chopra’s mysterious elephant. This novel has mystery within mystery, humour, suspense and some history, which is a great combination for anyone who wants to have an enjoyable read.

@svr2727

In the second instalment of detective Chopra’s detective (retired) adventures he is investigating the disappearance of the infamous Koh-i-noor diamond.  The mythical gem disappears from a well-guarded place putting a strain on Anglo-Indian relations.  In the midst of an international incident, the retired inspector is trying to make sense of the case with his usual crew and some new additions.  In this instalment of the genre, the cultural clash becomes more obvious, with the main character trying to make sense of the colonial past and his feelings about the imprint it left behind.  The sidekick elephant remains youthful, impulsive and at times petulant advancing him from a human child to a moody teenager.  The case comes with some twists and turns, but the most interesting part is the way the main characters develop, especially in the face of some interesting sub-plots

@manosdaskalou

I am usually, very critical, of everything I read, even more so of books I love. However, with Inspector Chopra et al., I am completely missing my critical faculties. This book, like the first, is warm, colourful and welcoming. It has moments of delightful humour (unicycles and giant birthday cake), pathos (burns and a comforting trunk) to high drama (a missing child and pachyderm). Throughout, I didn’t want to read too much at any sitting, but that was only because I didn’t want to say goodbye to Vaseem Khan’s wonderful characters, even if only for a short while…

@paulaabowles

It was a pleasure to read the second book of the Inspector Chopra series. Yes, sometimes the characters go through some difficult times, the extreme inequalities between the rich and poor are made clear and Britain’s infamous colonial past (and present) plays a significant part of the plot, yet the book remains a heart-warming and up-beat read. The current character developments and introduction of new character Irfan is wonderfully done. Cannot wait to read the next book in the series!

@haleysread

One of the reasons for critiquing a book is to provide a balanced view for would be readers. An almost impossible task in the case of Vaseem Khan’s second Baby Ganesh Agency Investigation. Lost in a colourful world, and swept along with the intrigue of the plot and multiple sub plots involving both delightful and dark characters, the will to find a crumb of negativity is quickly broken. You know this is not real and, yet it could be, you know that some of the things that are portrayed are awful, but they just add to the narrative and you know and really hope that when the baby elephant Ganesha is in trouble, it will all work out fine, as it should. Knowing these things, rather than detracting from the need to quickly get to the end, just add to the need to turn page after page. Willpower is needed to avoid finishing the book in one hit. Rarely can I say that once again I finished a book and sat back with a feeling of inner warmth and a smile on my face. If there is anything negative to say about the book, well it was all over far too quickly.

@5teveh

The second Inspector Chopra book is even more thrilling than the first! As I read it I felt as though I genuinely knew the characters and I found myself worrying about them and hoping things would resolve for them. The book deals with some serious themes alongside some laugh out loud funny moments and I couldn’t put it down. Can’t wait to read the third instalment!

@saffrongarside

I have always found that the rule for sequels in film is: they are never a good as the original/first. Now, there are exceptions to the rule, however these for me are few and far between. However, when it comes to literature I have found that the sequels are as good if not better than the original- this is the rule. And my favourite writers are ones who have created a literature series (or multiple): with each book getting better and better. The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown (Chopra 2.0) by Vaseem Khan has maintained my rule for literature and sequels! Hurray! After the explosive first instalment where we are introduced to Inspector Chopra, Poppy and Baby Ganesha, the pressure was well and truly on for the second book to deliver. And By Joe! Deliver it did! Fast paced, with multiple side-stories (which in all fairness are more important that the theft of the crown), reinforce all the emotion you felt for the characters in the first book and makes you open your heart to little Irfan! Excellent read, beautiful characters, humorous plots! Roll on book number 3!

@jesjames50

#Criminology Book Club: The Silent Patient

As you know from our last #CriminologyBookClub entry a small group of us decided the best way to thrive in lockdown was to seek solace in reading and talking about books. Building on the success of the last blog entry, we’ve decided to continue with all seven bloggers contributing! Our third book was chosen by @5teveh and it’s got us all talking! Without more ado, let’s see what everyone thought:

I enjoyed reading The Silent Patient – it was a quick and gripping read that kept me guessing (and second guessing!) throughout. I found it almost impossible to put down and could have happily read it in one sitting if time allowed. I didn’t empathise with many of the characters however, and found a couple of the plot points frustrating. I’d still recommend it though!

@saffrongarside

This is a psychological thriller that embraces Greek drama and pathos. From the references to Alcestis by Euripides and the terrible myth of death swapping to the dutiful Dr Diomedes, the characters are lined up as they are preparing from their dramatic solo. The doctor is trying to become a comforting influence in the fast pace of the story only to achieve the exact opposite. In the end he leaves in a puff of smoke from one of his cigars. The background of this story is played in a psychiatric facility, that is both unusual and conducive to amplify the flaws of the characters. This is very reminiscent of all Greek tragedies where the hero/heroine is to meet their retribution for their hubris. Once punishment comes the balance of the story is restored. This norm seems to be followed here.

@manosdaskalou

Well done to @Steve for selecting the anxiety inducing book that is The Silent Patient. I found it difficult to put this book down, as it was easy to read and a definite page turner. Once I started reading, I desperately wanted to find out what had actually happened. If Alicia had a perfect life then why would she shoot her husband FIVE TIMES in the head? It’s difficult to say much about this book without giving the plot away. I did feel for Alicia as she was surrounded by a sea of creepy and unlikable characters. Some might find the portrayal of mental health and Alicia (as the main female character) slightly insulting. Although, as we discussed in the book club, perhaps we should see this book for the thriller that it- and not try to criminologically analyse it?! As far as thrillers go, I think the book is a very good read.

@haleysread

The Silent Patient is 339 pages of suspense-filled, gripping fiction which leaves the reader with their jaw wide open. As a novel it is brilliant. Binge-worthy, unbelievable and yet somehow believable: that is until you have finished the book, and you sit back and start to pull the novel apart. DO NOT DO THIS! Get lost in the story of Theo and Alicia, be gripped and seated on the edge of your seat. It is worthy of the hype (in my humble opinion)!

@jesjames50

The Silent Patient is without a doubt a page turner! From start to finish the mystery of Alicia Berenson’s silence keeps you guessing. It is important for me to warn perspective readers that, when you start reading, it is difficult to put down, so clear your schedule. Throughout the novel you are guided through the complex life of psychotherapist Theo Faber and his mission to understand and connect with his patient that has ‘refused’ to talk, after she is found guilty of killing her husband. Alicia Berenson is admitted to a mental health hospital. This is the backdrop to disturbing yet intriguing story of how Alicia’s seemingly perfect life comes crashing down. With quirky characters, shocking revelations and suspense throughout The Silent Patient is a must read. Don’t take the story at face value, as there is a brilliant twist at the end.

As is only right and proper, we’ll leave the final word to @5teveh, after all he did choose the book 🙂

@svr2727

Not the normal sort of book I’d read, I was drawn in by the comments on the cover. It is impossible to warm to any character in The Silent Patient. The book is quite fast paced, and the writing makes it a real page turner. If you think you’ve got it, you are probably wrong. This is not a usual ‘who done it’ narrative. There are twists and turns that lead the reader through a small maze of sub plots involving characters in a tight setting. If you are looking for a hero or heroine and a happy ending, this is not the book for you. An enjoyable read in a sadistic sort of way.

@5teveh

#CriminologyBookClub: The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra

As you know from our last #CriminologyBookClub entry a small group of us decided the best way to thrive in lockdown was to seek solace in reading and talking about books. This blog entry is very different from any other we’ve published before, in that it has seven bloggers contributing! There is a very good reason why and that is because @manosdaskalou managed to choose a book that delighted all of us, and believe me, that is a challenge for a group of bibliophiles. Without more ado, let’s see what everyone thought:

“The second book of book club was a huge success- excellent choice @manosdaskalou! The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan was delightful! Whilst fulfilling all the ‘usual stuff’ associated with a crime novel, it also adds a layer of fantasy and wonder which is usually alien to crime fiction. As I raced through the novel, falling in love with characters- Poppy is kick ass, the complete opposite of drippy Carol (The Yellow Room) and safe to say I now want a baby Elephant; I was transformed into another world, something which crime fiction has never done for me before. It brought back feelings of nostalgia and memories of reading David Eddings and Derek Landy in the summer after GCSEs, when life was simpler and full of joy! A wonderful, intriguing and mysterious crime novel with a hint of fantasy, pulling you away to a different place. An enchanting and wonderful read which blends serious social injustices and issues with mystery, suspense and humour- I cannot wait to see what Inspector Chopra and Ganesha get up to next!”

@jesjames50

“The problem with writing a mere paragraph for a blog about a book that I really did enjoy is that I fear I won’t be able to do it justice.  The story, well I’m sure others might tell you what the book is about but, if you want to know, really want to know, read it.  Rarely can I say that I couldn’t wait to finish the book and yet didn’t want it to finish.  The characters come to life, especially the elephant, in a way that makes it seem almost real, but not quite. The story moves on at a fast pace and yet has a steadiness to it. There are surprises along the way and, yet they are almost expected, it was always going to be that way. Within the narrative there is a demonstration of what we know to be good in humans and, yet it encompasses so much of what we know to be bad. How then can I have left the final page, sad that the book was finished, but uplifted by the narrative and almost salivating at the anticipation of reading the next in the series? The plaudits on the cover don’t do it justice, to answer my question, all I can reiterate is that you have to read it to understand.”

@5teveh

“When I first received this book, I was a bit sceptical, as I did not know how an elephant was going to be incorporated into a detective crime novel. However, I was pleasantly surprised. The first book in the series was a delight and a much-needed escape in these uncertain times. This book captured my attention very quickly and whisked me off on a colourful, picturesque adventure to Mumbai, with the amazing inspector Chopra and of course the star of the story, Ganesh the mysterious baby elephant. The book introduces you to an interesting plot. At first you are made to think that the focus of the book will be on Inspector Chopra investigating the murder of a young man. However, you are quickly introduced to the wider issues that sit at the heart of social and economic challenges present in India. Without leaving you glum, the book has a nice balance of crime and mystery, coupled with humour, great food, wonderful scenery and lovable characters. I liked this book as it was unique to any other books that I have read. I am looking forward to continuing the Baby Ganesh Detective Agency series.”

@svr2727

“Vaseem’s novel had me from to get-go. Set in bustling Mumbai this novel has more depth than the usual “whodunit” scenario. This book is a criminologist’s dream, as yes, we all find out who did it in the end, and yes the case is also solved but there are also issues of poverty and corruption to contend with. The story would not be complete without Ganesha the elephant who makes solving the case possible (and survivable). Ganesha goes through a lot in the story. From being depressed and chained up outside an apartment complex, to being mistakenly left to drown during heavy rain and fed chocolate. Despite all of this, Ganesha is often the hero of the hour, so for me the book symbolises the true greatness of animals: We do not deserve them.”   

@haleysread

“I really enjoyed this book. It was great to lose myself in a different country and culture and to meet so many relatable characters there – even (especially?) the chocolate loving elephant! I can’t wait to find out what happens next…”

@saffrongarside

As well as having the joy of reading The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, we also had the very unexpected pleasure of welcoming the author Vaseem Khan to our book club meeting today. To be able to hear about Vaseem’s motivations for creating the colourful world in which Inspector Chopra and Ganesha work and play was fascinating. The opportunity to ask questions was fantastic and we’d like to say a big thank you to Vaseem for allowing us a peak inside his world of writing. It is now easy to see where Inspector Chopra gets his generosity of spirit from. And now we’ll leave the final word to @manosdaskalou….after all he did choose the book 😉

“What does a gang of criminologists do at lockdown?  We read crime books and talk about them.  On this occasion The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra was a welcomed distraction from reality.  The book introduces the retired inspector with a very unusual sidekick!  The retired inspector is a very honourable, incorruptible professional whose investigation will bring him in conflict with the criminal underbelly of Mumbai.  The retired inspector is not fazed, and he is determined to carry on regardless.  The investigation takes inspector Chopra around the city; which gives the reader a unique opportunity to get to know a metropolitan megapolis.”             

@manosdaskalou

#CriminologyBookClub: The Yellow Room

In times of crisis it is beneficial to occupy yourself with things to do. This helps us to cope with boredom, and to distract us from the bleakness of reality. What better way to help with this than to start a book club? That’s right, whilst some of us were sitting at home twiddling our thumbs, @paulaabowles had sent us all a book that we were to read and discuss in virtual book club meetings. Little did we know that this book club was to be our very own ray of sunshine during such an unprecedented time.

Our first book is The Yellow Room by Mary Robert Rinehart (dubbed the American Agatha Christie by the blurb, which is generous). Set in Maine (USA) during WWII, this is a classic whodunit crime novel. With the wealthy Spencer family finding themselves tangled in a web of evidence that instigates their involvement with a dead woman that is found in the closet of their holiday home. The book is filled with intrigue and the plot thickens with each chapter, with more and more clues being thrown into the mix. Until too much is thrown in, and what is left of the book is quite simply… a mess.

The book consists of 30 chapters, and we think the club is in agreeance that the first 20-24 chapters are pretty great. Rinehart throws a number of spanners in the works, with near misses, burning hillsides, death by frights, illegitimate children and secret marriages. We all had our theories, some boarding on plagiarism (they know who they are!). However as it turns out a few of us were half right, and then so were some of the others. We will not give away any spoilers, but the ending, the answer we were all waiting for was disappointing and quite frankly we are still not 100% sure who did it, and what was actually done. The leading lady of the book Carol Spencer, dubbed drippy Carol by the club, because she is, well… DRIPPY, does nothing but smoke and drink coffee, whilst surrounded by crime and uncertainty. But, alas, when all is righted, she finds herself in the arms of an arrogant moody man, all happily engaged! Possibly a romance (although a bad one) or possible a classic whodunit (a half decent one), who can tell?

Overall the book was a success: it inspired intrigue and discussion! The virtual book club even more so! A bunch of misfits, gathered together (20minutes after the allotted time because one member of the group is late- @manosdaskalou), discussing the book, thinking about the social context, the characters, and how it is received today. It is a fantastic virtual club consisting of familiar suspects: the princess, the athlete, the criminal, the brain, the basket case, the parent and the “carol” (representations may not be literal or accurate). What will the misfits think of the next book? Will they all agree? Will one read ahead and sit silently and sheepishly, without the others knowing? Stay tuned…

@jesjames50 and @haleysread – founding members of the #CriminologyBookClub

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