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.