H. R. F. Keating Essay - Critical Essays


Apart from native words that are frequent and unavoidable in describing his milieu, Inspector Ghote’s Indian English differs from standard English in the use of progressive verb forms where simple present or past tenses would normally be used. “Yes, sir, I am very well knowing,” and “Yes, Sheriff Sahib, I am very well understanding,” Ghote typically says. The investigator also often omits articles (“a,” “the”), and in general there is an old-fashioned formality and stiffness about Ghote’s English. Similarly, American and other foreign characters in H. R. F. Keating’s books speak quaintly.

Keating walks a narrow line in his depiction of Ghote’s professional naïveté and his depiction of Indian conditions in general. He often strikes a humorous note but without malice. It is difficult to depict conditions of ignorance and corruption without being contemptuous or patronizing, but Keating manages it. The inclusion of the Swedish criminologist in the first volume was a masterstroke, as he is portrayed as being more naïve than Ghote in many ways, and this helps to remove racial overtones from the satire.

In the first novel of the series, Ghote faces the odds he must battle again and again in different circumstances throughout the series. Rich and powerful men can do as they wish, and they ride roughshod over those who are less fortunate. The bureaucrats in the police department kowtow to the rich and powerful, and they expect their subordinates to do so as well. These chiefs issue confused and arbitrary orders that are all but impossible to carry out. The small man who tries to do his best must live in constant fear of reprisals if he dares to stand up against them and risks demotion or dismissal if he is not successful at impossible tasks he is assigned. Although Ghote is often quaking with fear, he maintains his integrity.

Keating is skillful at describing the rich and powerful and exposing their weaknesses and vanities. The minister of police in The Perfect Murder rules his little empire with an iron hand but is an arrant philanderer behind the scenes. Although Lala Varde was the person who reported the crime, he is very uncooperative toward Ghote, treating him in a most disdainful and contemptuous manner, refusing to answer any questions and putting obstacles in his path when he attempts to question other members of the household. Varde frequently threatens to have Ghote demoted for insolence. The maharajah in The Murder of the Maharajah has two wives and a number of concubines, cheats at chess, and plays cruel practical jokes on his subjects and guests. The swami in Go West, Inspector Ghote (1981) is almost too horrendously credible as the guru who presides over a cult. The sheriff in The Sheriff of Bombay (1984), although a popular figure and a cricketer of note, frequents the brothels in a run-down section of the city. “His Excellency” Surinder Mehta in The Body in the Billiard Room (1987), who sets great store by the methods of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, tries to tell Ghote how to conduct his investigation and is unable to bear the ignominy of being beaten at golf by him.

Keating does not spare his compatriots. The resident adviser in The Murder of the Maharajah is as irrational and inconsiderate in his commands to his underlings as are Ghote’s superiors. The rock singer, Johnny Bull, in Inspector Ghote Hunts the Peacock (1968), manifests his own type of arrogance and unconscionable behavior.

Often Ghote suffers embarrassments and indignities in the course of his inquiries. In The Perfect Murder, for example, while in pursuit of a suspect, he is hit over the head by the proprietor of a stall containing scent bottles, and he knocks over the stall. In Inspector Ghote’s Good Crusade (1966), he trips and falls on his face while running after a small boy. On none of his cases does he suffer more indignities than he does in Inspector Ghote Hunts the Peacock, which takes place in London. He is manhandled by a moronic thug and saved by a smug constable, who sends him home on a bus; he is snubbed by a Scotland Yard inspector when he thinks that he is giving him valuable information; he is harassed by children, soaked to the skin, and urinated on by a dog while keeping watch on suspicious premises; and he comes down with a cold just when he must read a speech to an assemblage of international dignitaries.

As the series continues, Ghote’s personal life comes into the foreground. In a burst of misplaced generosity he squanders five hundred rupees he had been saving to buy his wife a refrigerator in Inspector Ghote’s Good Crusade. When he goes to London in Inspector Ghote Hunts the Peacock, relatives of his Bengali wife besiege him to help them locate a missing girl. In Bats Fly Up for Inspector Ghote (1974), he becomes extremely jealous of a well-to-do neighbor whom his wife is constantly praising. In The Sheriff of Bombay, his wife, Protima, is upset when she finds reading material that their son Ved, now thirteen, has hidden away. In Under a Monsoon Cloud (1986), he faces a moral dilemma when it appears that he must either perjure himself or tell the truth and face dismissal from the force.

Ghote’s exploits are not limited to Bombay. InInspector Ghote Hunts the Peacock, he is sent to England to substitute for a high-ranking official at an international...

(The entire section is 2258 words.)