- By H.R.F. Keating
- First published: UK: Collins, 1979; US: Doubleday, 1979
One of the best of the Ghote novels. Ghote, posing as research assistant Dr. Ghote, is sent to the heat-sweltering home of Sir Asif Ibrahim, a highly unpopular old judge notorious for condemning the Madurai Conspirators to death shortly before Independence, to protect the old man from death-threats. Since the Judge does not want police protection, Ghote’s battle of wits with the authority figure is not with the villain, but with the prospective victim—a particularly satisfying device. In the character of the Judge and his notion of duty, the book stands as one of the best examples of Anthony Berkeley’s maxim of the revelation of character, established in The Second Shot: a concept more easily written about than written. Nor does the absence of blood and action mean that the novel is without suspense. The solution is an excellent use of the least likely person, with legitimate misdirection: the author plays on the assumptions of the reader, who, like Ghote, draws the line in the wrong place, thereby demonstrating the danger of rigid thinking, of preconceptions.
Times Literary Supplement (T.J. Binyon, 7th December 1979): On the eve of Indian independence Justice Sir Asif Ibrahim sentenced the Madurai conspirators to death; legally a correct decision, politically an unwise one. Now, thirty years later, his life is being threatened. Sent to investigate, Inspector Ghote finds a vast, rambling and remote house, baked by intolerable heat, and peopled with only a few possible suspects—Sir Asif’s daughter, an American priest with ultra-Naxalite views, and a political agitator turned holy man. But his most difficult problem is not so much to find the author of the threats, as to persuade the inflexible eighty-year-old judge to let him carry out his work. The background is less crowded than in previous Inspector Ghote novels, but the atmosphere is still as convincing, while the duel between Sir Asif and the tenacious Ghote enables the author to go more deeply into character than before.
A Catalogue of Crime (Barzun & Taylor, 1989): Insp. Ghote is an acquired taste which these reviewers have only occasionally been able to share. His creator has presented him in a great variety of situations, and that of the present tale—“up country” and not in Bombay—has points of fresh interest. The formerly severe Judge Asif has retired to his country estate with his daughter. Receipt of threatening letters on the occasion of the approaching 30th anniversary of a famous “decision” involving Indian patriots leads to Ghote’s assignment to protect the judge. Lack of co-operation by the judge and the presence of an ill-assorted group of house guests, not to mention the presence of a deranged and violent son who is confined on the premises, all make Ghote’s eventual exposure of the least likely person difficult and meritorious.