The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, by Vaseem Khan

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector ChopraI had picked this book up to read because, well, elephants, but then I wavered on reading it because it seemed like it might be a cozy mystery, but then I read a very complicated book that I will talk about here soon and it broke my brain and I was like, hey, I like elephants.

Do you like elephants? Do you like quasi-cozy mysteries? Do you like people making terrible life decisions that end up having no consequences? This is totally the book for you.

I like the first one, obviously, and am sometimes down with the second, so for the most part this was a pretty fun book. We meet the titular Inspector Chopra on his last day with the Mumbai police, from which he is forced to retire after a heart attack. He is all set to at least try to enjoy retirement, but a woman and her dead son — and the police force’s reticence to look into the latter — catch his attention and he decides to pretend to be an inspector for just a bit longer. Like, literally pretend to be an officer. Totally not kosher. (Is there a Hindu version of kosher?)

Meanwhile, Chopra’s uncle has left him a baby elephant, as one does, and while Chopra is hunting down leads and information and potential killers he also is trying to figure out what elephants eat and why this one is so sad and where he can send it because the homeowner’s association lady is totally shitting a brick over the elephant in the apartment complex.

Also meanwhile, Chopra’s wife is not terribly pleased with the fact that she’s seeing her husband even less after his retirement, and she’s sure he’s up to no good with some hot young ladies, and Chopra is definitely keeping a secret buuuuut it’s probably not hot young ladies. Or is it?

So, it’s pretty cute. I love the elephant, of course, and his propensity for chocolate bars, and how Chopra is totally down with taking the elephant around town with him as he investigates because that’s totally not conspicuous at all. And the mystery itself is pretty decent, with the requisite number of twists and turns to keep things interesting.

But as you may have guessed, I really dislike thing number three above, and there’s a lot of that in this book. Chopra doesn’t want to go to the actual employed cops for help with his case because they’re disinterested and also because he doesn’t want to ruin his reputation by going crazy upon retirement, which, fine. And then when things start getting legitimately dangerous, Chopra is like, I should totally get help but I’m just not gonna. Which, not fine. But don’t worry, reader, Chopra’s innate luck and his new elephant friend are apparently all he needs to escape regular danger and also certain death. Ugh.

Escaping death is important, though, as this is apparently the first in a whole series of adorable elephant mysteries, which I kind of still almost want to read because elephants, guys. Who doesn’t want a crime-fighting, butt-kicking elephant sidekick? I know I do. Perhaps things will calm down for Chopra in these future installments? I can only hope!

Recommendation: For readers with easily suspended disbelief and also elephant lovers because adorable!

Rating: 6/10

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The Tusk That Did the Damage, by Tania James

The Tusk That Did the DamageI was sold on this book as soon as I found out that some of the chapters were from an elephant’s point of view. An elephant! How delightful!

Oh, did I say delightful? Let’s try fairly depressing. But in the best of ways.

This book tells three different stories, just barely intertwined. There’s the story of the elephant, whose mother is killed by poachers and who ends up in some rich guy’s rental elephant collection. We find out pretty early on that he gains the nickname “the Gravedigger”, and why, but the how is a mystery until near the end. There’s also the story of a young Indian boy named Manu, whose cousin gets killed by the Gravedigger. We get his story both before and after this terrible event, along with the story of his poacher brother. Then there’s the story of Emma, part of a two-person American film crew doing a little documentary on a veterinarian who helps reunite lost elephant calves with their mothers, which is apparently very difficult, and who also helps the Forest Department track down poachers.

There’s a lot going on here, is what I’m saying. The narratives are interestingly paced, so that you’re never quite sure where each is placed in time relative to the others. You know that some things are going to happen, but not necessarily to whom or when or why. It’s a nice changeup from my usual beloved multi-narrator stories, I have to admit, because it allows me, at least, to be more invested in the individual stories rather than the connections between them.

But taken together, the stories become an even better book. I learned a lot about poaching that I didn’t know I didn’t know, like how completely and utterly awful it is (thanks, elephant’s point of view!) but also how lucrative it is and how it can make perfect sense to become a poacher. Really, at its core, this is a book about people (and elephants) doing what they feel is the best thing to do for themselves, although it doesn’t always work out for the people (and elephants) around them.

Even though there’s a lot going on story-wise, this is still one of those books that makes you want to sit back and let the words just wash over you. James does a great job of setting the scenes and creating an atmosphere that walks the line between reality and myth. Even when one part of my brain was like, look, we don’t have time for this parable you’re telling, there’s an elephant in trouble!, another part was like, shut up, we’ll get there eventually and also this is interesting. I will definitely be seeking out more of her work in the future.

Recommendation: For fans of elephants and multi-perspective stories.

Rating: 8/10