Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.
Nine-year-old Jair loves watching police shows where they solve real crimes. He knows he can solve the case of a missing schoolmate with the skills he has learned from Police Patrol. His friend thinks a djinn took them but soon more children are missing and Jai is no closer to an answer.
Our gods are too busy to hear our prayers, but ghosts – ghosts have nothing to do but wait and wander, wander and wait, and they are always listening to our words because they are bored and that’s one way to pass the time.
I was actually expecting it to be about djinns, but the only supernatural elements are two spirits, who each have a chapter each and the rest of it is a pretty straight mystery. It’s a shame because I loved the opening chapter about Mental, who protects his band of kids from beyond the grave. The other ghost is a woman who avenges her daughter’s lethal rape.
The bulk of the story is told from Jai’s point of view and I’m not the biggest fan of child narrators in works intended for an adult audience. Sometimes it works but I just found Jai a bit of a simple character. He’s not a great detective and I didn’t feel like I could use his investigation to guess who was responsible. There were moments when he was charming or funny but I definitely preferred the chapters in third person.
‘Do your parents know you’re here?’ the didi asks. This is the biggest problem with being a child detective. I bet no one ever asks Byomkesh Bakshi or Sherlock-Watson about their parents.
The core of the story is the plight of poor children in India, where it’s estimated that 180 children go missing every day. Jai and his friends live in a basti, which is basically a slum, but they are better off than the street kids. Some of the parents work for “hifi” people, the middle classes who live in gated communities and shut themselves away from the poverty on their doorstep.
As more children go missing, racial tensions start to rise and people start to blame the Muslims who live peacefully among them. This Islamophobia is sadly a common occurrence, and India is no exception. The police are also indifferent at best and corrupt at worst, preferring the protect the rich from the poor than find the missing children. It highlights the divides along wealth and religion in modern India.
Deepa Anappara does an excellent job conjuring up the sights and smells of the basti and bazaar, with food being not far from Jai’s mind. The kids make sure they go to school to get a free meal and any spare rupees they can scrounge together will be spent on the food stalls.
Maybe Pari is so quick at coming up with lies because she has ready many books and has all their stories in her head.
Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is published by Chatto & Windus and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 30th January 2020. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.
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