The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown


By Vaseem Khan

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In the second instalment of a charming mystery series, a Mumbai-based investigator and his elephant partner are on the hunt for the Queen of England's stolen Crown Jewels.

For centuries, the Koh-i-Noor diamond has set man against man and king against king.

Now part of the British Crown Jewels, the priceless gem is a prize that many have killed to possess.

So when the Crown Jewels go on display in Mumbai, security is everyone's principal concern. And yet, on the very day Inspector Chopra visits the exhibition, the diamond is stolen from under his nose.

The heist was daring and seemingly impossible. The hunt is on for the culprits. But it soon becomes clear that only one man — and his elephant — can possibly crack this case. . .

Featuring the most charming crime-solving duo ever to grace the pages of a book, the Baby Ganesh Detective Agency series is a must-read for fans of Alexander McCall Smith.


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'Arise, Sir Chopra.'

As the gleaming blade touched gently down upon his shoulder, Inspector Ashwin Chopra (Retd) found himself overcome by a jumble of conflicting emotions. Pride, undoubtedly, at this supreme moment in his life. But with pride came a boundless sense of humility. That he, the son of a schoolmaster from a poor village in the state of Maharashtra, India, could be thus honoured seemed altogether improbable.

After all, what had he really achieved?

He was an honest man who had worn the uniform of the Brihanmumbai Police with an unblemished record for over thirty years – before a traitorous heart had forced him into early retirement – and in the India of today that was something to be proud of indeed.

And yet was integrity enough of a virtue to warrant such an accolade?

Surely there were more deserving candidates…

What about his old friend Assistant Commissioner of Police Ajit Shinde, who even now was fighting Naxalite bandits in far-off Gadchiroli and had already lost the tip of his right ear to a sniper's bullet? Or Inspector Gopi Moolchand, who had lost a great deal more when he had selflessly dived into Vihar Lake on the outskirts of Mumbai to rescue a stricken drunk and been attacked by not one but three opportunistic crocodiles?

Chopra was overcome by a sudden sense of pathos, as if this singular occasion marked a peak in his life from which there could now only be a perilous and unwelcome descent.

He stumbled to his feet from the knighting stool and cast around at the circle of gathered luminaries in search of Poppy.

He saw that his wife, radiant in a powder-pink silk sari, was engaged in conversation with a haughty-looking white woman, a peer of the realm whose name Chopra could not recall. Standing in the lee of the old dowager was his old sub-inspector, Rangwalla, fingering the collar of his ill-fitting suit… and next to Rangwalla was Ganesha, the baby elephant that Chopra's mysterious Uncle Bansi had sent to him seven months previously with the intriguing missive stating 'this is no ordinary elephant'…

He frowned. How did Ganesha get here? Or, for that matter, Rangwalla? And did they really allow elephants inside Buckingham Palace?

Chopra turned back to the supreme monarch.

For the first time, he realised that she bore an uncanny resemblance to his mother-in-law, the widow Poornima Devi, right down to the black eye-patch and expression of intense dislike that Poppy's mother had reserved for him ever since she had first set eyes on him all those years ago.

The Queen's mouth opened into a yawning black hole… Dee-dah dee-dah dee-dah!

Chopra swam back to consciousness with the insistent ringing of the alarm threatening to shatter his eardrums.

He lifted his head dazedly from a carpeted floor and looked around in thorough disorientation. Confused images bobbed before him: a shattered glass display case; the recumbent bodies of numerous well-dressed men and women; bright lights reflecting off dazzling jewellery…

Before he could register anything else there was a flurry of movement as a horde of men in black military fatigues poured into the room.

He was hauled unceremoniously to his feet by brusque hands and then frogmarched out of the red-carpeted chamber, down two flights of marbled stairs and out through a fortified doorway into late-afternoon sunlight.

Someone pushed a glass of water into his hands; someone else wafted smelling salts under his nose, jerking him back to alertness. A stern-looking woman shone a penlight into his eyes, then asked him how he was feeling.

Chopra blinked rapidly. He was groggy, his memory slow to return.

He was sitting on a manicured lawn in front of the Prince of Wales Museum in Fort. He recalled, with a sudden rush, that he was there to visit the Grand Exhibition of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. This thought instantly brought with it another: Poppy!

His wife had been with him in the jewel room. He looked around wildly for her.

He saw her standing on the grass just yards away, haranguing a matronly woman in a black uniform.

Chopra scrabbled to his feet and jogged over to his wife, who turned to fling herself at him when she spotted him approaching. 'Are you OK?' she asked, concern in her eyes.

'Yes,' he replied, raising his voice to be heard above the museum's alarm, which continued to ring out over the lawn. 'You?'

'I am fine,' she said. 'But they won't tell me what's going on.'

Chopra looked around.

Around them, black-uniformed guards were running in orderly fashion to blockade the entrances and exits to the museum. Other guards were quickly and efficiently rounding up all those present in the grounds.

On the lawn beside Chopra, his fellow visitors from the room in which he had awoken were being tended to.

And suddenly, with the clarity of a shaft of sunlight spearing a darkened room, Chopra understood what was happening. He recalled what he had seen when he had come to: the broken display case, the recumbent bodies. He believed he had a very good idea of what was going on.

Someone had attempted to steal the Crown Jewels.

Thirty minutes later Chopra and his fellow visitors were marched to the museum's swanky Visitors' Centre and told to wait in a back room. Armed guards were placed at the door to a wail of protests. They were informed, in no uncertain terms, that no one was permitted to leave. Someone would be along to question them soon.

There was nothing to do but wait.

It was another three hours before Chopra was taken to a small, brightly lit room to be interrogated by a man named Deodar Jha, who introduced himself as the commander of Mumbai's Force One Unit. The elite unit was a special anti-terrorist squad set up amidst a blaze of publicity following the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Since then the commandos had spent their days sitting in their Goregaon HQ idly polishing the M4 assault rifles they were wielding so impressively today.

Chopra knew that the Force One Unit had been employed to safeguard the Crown Jewels during the exhibition at the Prince of Wales Museum.

It seemed that they had failed.

Jha was a big, round-faced man with an aggressive moustache. He had an arrogant demeanour and the manner of a bully. Chopra, veteran of countless such interviews that he had himself conducted, responded to the commander's questions precisely and accurately. He knew that the faster Jha got his answers, the faster they could all leave. Behind Jha's sweating anger he sensed a growing desperation. Perhaps it was already hitting home that whatever had transpired at the museum would surely cost him his career.

There was a mystery here that would take more than the brute force methods of Force One to solve, Chopra suspected.

'Let's go over this again,' growled Jha. 'One more time: tell me precisely what happened.'

What had happened? Chopra tried to concentrate on everything that had occurred that day. As he did so he felt the automatic whirr of memory taking him back, back to the beginning…

'We're going to be late.'

Inspector Chopra (Retd) glanced at his wife, Archana – known to all as Poppy – from behind the wheel of his Tata van as she fidgeted in the passenger seat.

Chopra loved his wife dearly, but at this precise instant he was struggling to recall why.

It had been upon Poppy's insistence that they were here now, on their way to the Prince of Wales Museum. Chopra had known that traffic at this hour would be horrendous, but Poppy had been hounding him for days, ever since the exhibition had arrived in Mumbai two weeks earlier, a full ten days before Her Majesty, the Queen made her historic visit to the city.

It was the first time that the Queen had ever visited Mumbai, the first time in two decades that she had set foot on Indian soil. The newspapers had been full of little else.

Poppy, like most in the city, had quickly succumbed to the 'royal malaria', as it had been dubbed. Chopra, however, had remained aloof.

As a closet Anglophile he was secretly delighted that the Queen had chosen to visit Mumbai. But Chopra was a sober and rational man. From his father – the late Shree Premkumar Chopra – he had inherited both an admiration for the British and the progress they had brought to the subcontinent, and a healthy perspective on all that the Raj had taken from Indians. He did not see the need to gush just because Her Majesty had come calling.

Naturally, Poppy did not agree.

All her friends had already been to see the exhibit, she had complained. They talked of nothing else.

Chopra's eventual surrender was inevitable. He had rarely refused his wife anything in the twenty-four years of their marriage. Poppy was a force of nature, flighty, romantic and a devil when aroused. It was far easier to acquiesce to her occasional whims than to act the curmudgeon. And besides, he knew that in the perennial war between the sexes it behoved a husband to surrender the occasional battle.

The trick was picking the right battles to lose.

He glanced again at his wife.

A slavish follower of fashion, Poppy had styled her long, dark hair into a beehive, which seemed to be all the rage following the release of a new Bollywood movie set in the sixties. Her cheeks glowed with rouge and her slender figure was encased in a bottle-green silk sari with gold-flecked trim.

Chopra himself was dressed in his best – and only – suit, a dark affair that his wife complained made him look like an undertaker. But he had not seen the need to purchase a new suit for a simple visit to the museum. The suit had served him well for the past fifteen years; it would serve him well for a few more.

As a concession he had made an effort with the remainder of his appearance. His thick black hair – greying at the temples – was neatly combed and his brisk moustache was immaculate. His deep brown eyes sat above a Roman nose. Nothing could be done about the frown lines, however, that had recently taken up residence on his walnut-brown forehead.

Supressing a sigh, Chopra looked back out at the Horniman Circle in south Mumbai where a hapless constable was attempting to herd the gridlocked panorama of cars, trucks, motorbikes, bicycles, rickshaws, handcarts, pedestrians and stray animals.

If there is a hell, he thought, then it cannot be worse than this.

The queue at the ticket window stretched around the stylish new stainless-steel-plated Visitors' Centre. For once the usually riotous mob was being held in check by the presence of the severe-looking Force One commandos patrolling the grounds. A line of them stretched all the way around the museum, adding an air of intrigue to the picturesque formal gardens in which the building sat.

As the queue inched forward, Chopra took the opportunity to once again admire the recently renamed museum. It was now called the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya after the warrior-king Shivaji, founder of the Maratha Empire.

But to Chopra it would always be the Prince of Wales Museum.

As he looked up at its three-storeyed façade clad in kurla stone and topped by a Mughal dome, he felt a gladness knocking on his heart. This feeling overcame him each time he thought of the treasure trove of ancient relics housed inside those walls going back as far as the Indus Valley civilisation, which scholars now claimed might be the oldest of them all.

He had been coming here for nearly three decades, ever since he had first arrived in the megalopolis as a freshly minted constable from his native village in the Maharashtrian interior, a bright-eyed seventeen-year-old with Bombay dreams in his eyes. Since then he had learned a great many lessons, the most painful of which was that all that glittered was not necessarily gold.

The relentless pace of change in the big city often dismayed him. The constant striving for the future, as if the past were a yoke that had to be cast off and trampled into the dust of history. He had found the museum a refuge from this headlong rush into the unknown, a balm for the affliction of nostalgia from which he suffered.

Chopra considered himself a historian, a guardian of the legacy of ancient India, one of a dwindling number. He knew that his country was now intoxicated by progress and the prospect of becoming a superpower. But for Chopra there was still much to be gleaned from the traditions of a culture that had persisted for more than seven thousand years. Modernity was not everything. Technology was not the answer to all problems.

They purchased their tickets and then waited patiently as they were taken inside the Visitors' Centre and thoroughly searched by the Force One guards. Security had been a major concern for the exhibition and Chopra succumbed to the search with due resignation. He had come prepared, without any of the items on the widely advertised prohibited list. Others had not been so sensible.

Chopra watched as the tall, broad-shouldered Sikh man ahead was asked to remove his ceremonial kirpan, the curved dagger that many devout Sikhs carried on their person. The man argued at first but eventually gave up the weapon. Another man insisted on taking in his gutka pouch. He was unceremoniously divested of the offending article.

At least the guards are being thorough, Chopra thought with approval.

All the visitors were asked to deposit their phones and cameras, as these were not permitted inside the exhibition.

Search completed, they were next herded towards the museum's main entrance where they queued up to pass through a metal scanner. Ahead of Chopra a woman refused to give up her gold wedding necklace. The guards inspected it and allowed her to keep it. The big Sikh man set off the scanner with the thick steel bracelet on his wrist, another core article of his faith. This time – when it seemed that he might explode – he was permitted to keep the religious artefact. A portly, aging man argued to be allowed to take in his asthma inhaler. The guards examined the object, turning it this way and that in their calloused hands, then exchanged mystified glances.

Eventually, they shrugged and handed it back.

Finally, they all stepped through the entrance and into the museum's Central Gallery.

Chopra was intrigued to note that the usual exhibits had been replaced by a collection of objects from the days of the Raj. Ordinarily, the Gallery housed pieces from all eras of India's past – a jewelled dagger from the court of Shah Jahan; a terracotta lion from the empire of Asoka the Great; a clay seal from the Harappan civilisation inscribed by that enigmatic and as yet undeciphered Indus Valley script.

Chopra's eyes came to rest on the tacky waxwork models of the British royal family that now took pride of place in the gallery. A plump, middle-aged man with sunglasses parked in his heavily oiled hair had his arm slung cosily around 'the Queen's' waist whilst his wife beamed at him. Chopra glowered.

He would have liked to linger over the Raj exhibits but Poppy was already urging him onwards and upwards.

They followed the herd as everyone jostled their way up the marble staircase, past Miniature Paintings and Himalayan Arts, to the second floor where the Sir Ratan Tata Gallery had been commandeered for the Crown Jewels exhibit. Four more Force One guards were stationed outside the newly installed reinforced steel doors that now fronted the gallery. The guards straightened to attention as the visitors arrived, their fingers involuntarily flickering to the triggers of their assault rifles.

Chopra knew that the draconian security measures now on display had been inevitable as soon as it was announced that – for the first time in their history – the Crown Jewels would leave their native shores and travel abroad with the Queen. He remembered the fuss in the UK earlier in the year when the press had got wind of the plan. An ancient law had had to be amended just to permit the jewels to be moved.

In truth, very few pieces had been given the all-clear to go abroad. The Indian government had had to give exceptional reassurances, with the Indian Prime Minister himself offering his personal guarantee that no effort would be spared to safeguard the priceless treasures whilst they were on Indian soil.

It was still unclear exactly why Her Majesty had agreed to the Indian government's request for the jewels to be exhibited on the subcontinent. The Queen herself had remained tight-lipped on the matter. Chopra, for his part, had always held the monarch in high regard and considered her adherence to traditions emblematic of a bygone age, a time when discretion and good manners were paramount.

Only twenty visitors were permitted inside the Tata Gallery at any one time.

Chopra's group waited impatiently as the previous bunch filed out, buzzing with excitement.

Eventually, they all shuffled into the air-conditioned sanctum of the gallery where they were immediately greeted by two tall, broadly built white gentlemen wielding ceremonial halberds and wearing the ruffed, red and black uniform of the Tower of London guardians. Chopra had read that they were called Beefeaters, a term that had caused some consternation in India, where the bulk of the population considered the cow to be an avatar of God.

The guards stepped aside to reveal a portly Indian in an ill-fitting Nehru jacket, Nehru cap and round-framed spectacles. To Chopra he looked like a plumper version of the freedom fighter Subhash Chandra Bose.

The man welcomed the newcomers with a beaming white smile and spread his arms as if he meant to sweep them all up in an enormous embrace. 'Welcome to the Crown Jewels exhibition!'

Chopra squinted at the tour guide's nametag: ATUL KOCHAR.

Kochar was an enthusiastic man. He might have been an actor in his spare time, Chopra reflected, such was the animation with which he narrated the tour of the exhibits.

Chopra listened with only half an ear. Like most of the others in the red-carpeted room, his attention was instantly drawn to the Crown Jewels securely ensconced behind various glass display cases stationed around the gallery.

He plucked his reading spectacles from his pocket and pushed them self-consciously onto his nose. From his other pocket he removed his copy of the Ultimate Guidebook to the Crown Jewels, which Poppy had insisted they purchase from the Visitors' Centre for an extortionate sum.

As Kochar continued to speak, Chopra peered at the nearest display cases then leafed through the guidebook for the corresponding entries. In spite of the fact that few of the treasures had made it to India, there were, nevertheless, some breathtaking artefacts on display and the guidebook sought to provide the glamorous back story that lay behind each one.

'But how much is it all worth?'

Chopra looked up to see the plump man who had stuck his arm around the waxwork Queen accosting the tour guide with a belligerent expression.

Kochar gave a somewhat strained smile. 'No value can be placed on the Crown Jewels, sir. They are the very definition of priceless.'

'Nonsense,' barked the man bombastically. 'My family are Marwari. We are in the jewel business. There is always a price. Come now, don't be coy. Let us have it, sir.'

A chorus of agreement washed over Kochar.

As he looked on, Chopra felt a twinge of sadness. Was this all these people saw? A dragon's hoard of treasure to be weighed in dollars and rupees? What about the weight of history that lay behind each of these magnificent creations? Or the skill that had been employed to manufacture them?

'Stop your yapping, man. Did you come here to appreciate the jewels or buy them?'

Chopra turned to see the tall Sikh man from the queue glaring at the Marwari. The Sikh was a big, muscular gentleman with a fine beard, fierce, bushy eyebrows and a stupendous yellow turban. The retort that had sprung to the Marwari's lips died a quiet death. His face coloured but he said nothing.

The Sikh pointed to an eight-foot-high sandstone carving of the goddess Kali, which had presumably been left inside the gallery due to the fact that its rear was affixed to the wall. 'You are probably the sort of fool who does not appreciate even our own history.'

Chopra felt an instant affinity with the irate Sikh.

'Yes,' agreed a pretty young woman in a bright blue sari and red spectacles. 'We should all learn to appreciate our own heritage. Only then can we truly appreciate someone else's.'

The crowd swiftly saw which way the wind was blowing and galloped towards the moral high ground. There was a sudden chorus of agreement with the big Sikh. 'Indian culture is the best, no doubt about it!' 'You can keep your Crown Jewels, sir. The Mughals threw away more magnificent treasures when giving alms to the poor!' A circle widened around the Marwari, who blushed furiously.

Kochar spared the hapless man further embarrassment by smoothly drawing everyone's attention to the centrepiece of the exhibit – the Crown of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, in which was set the Koh-i-Noor diamond.

The presence of the Koh-i-Noor on Indian soil had caused quite a stir.

Ever since the legendary diamond had been 'presented' to Queen Victoria more than one hundred and fifty years earlier it had been the subject of controversy. Many in India felt that the Koh-i-Noor had been stolen by the British, and that it was high time those great colonial thieves were forced to rectify the matter. The news channels had been awash with talk of demonstrations and civic protest, particularly from the India First lobby. In an attempt to ward off potential embarrassment for the government, Mumbai's Commissioner of Police had ordered a clampdown on protests during the royal visit, an act which itself had courted controversy as it was deemed inherently unconstitutional.

Kochar gave a brisk rendition of what he called 'the dark and bloody history of the Koh-i-Noor', beamed at his rapt audience, and then abruptly announced that they had a further fifteen minutes to view the Crown Jewels before they would be requested to make way for the next party.

The crowd dispersed around the room.

Chopra bent down to take a closer look at the diamond.

'Careful, sir. Don't get too close or the sensors will go off. They are very sensitive.'

He looked up to see Kochar smiling wearily at him. He realised that another man, late-middle-aged, with greying hair and a noticeable paunch, was staring down at the crown from the opposite side of the display case. The man's brow was furrowed in consternation and Chopra could make out that he was sweating heavily even though the room was air-conditioned.

The man seemed to notice his scrutiny and looked up with a guilty start.

Chopra's own brow furrowed.

It seemed to him that he had seen this gentleman before, but before he could place him the man turned and shuffled quickly away towards one of the exhibits lining the walls of the gallery.

Chopra looked back at the crown, resplendent on its velvet cushion. His eyes were automatically drawn, once again, to the Koh-i-Noor. The display lighting had been set up so that it accentuated the legendary diamond's beauty. Truly, he thought, it deserves its name: Koh-i-Noor – 'mountain of light'.

And suddenly there was a feeling inside him, like a whispering in his blood. Here was a living tie to the ancient India that he so cherished. He wondered what it would feel like to hold that enormous jewel in his fist, just as the greatest monarchs of the subcontinent had once done. Would he sense the ghost of Babur hovering on his shoulder? Would he know Shah Jahan's misery as he looked longingly at the prize taken from him by his own flesh and blood? The Koh-i-Noor, which, for centuries, had set man against man, king against king, legion against legion…

A loud bang jerked him from his reverie.

Instinctively, he turned and looked for the source of the noise. He heard another bang, then another. Alarm tore through him as he saw a dense cloud of smoke swiftly expanding around the room, engulfing everything in a choking miasma of white. The world began to spin around him, the room sliding away into a gentle, sighing darkness. Another noise now, just on the edge of hearing, a thin high-pitched whine that he couldn't identify.

As he slumped to the floor and into unconsciousness, the last image that came to Inspector Chopra (Retd) was of the Koh-i-Noor diamond, spinning in the heart of a white cloud, rays of light shooting from it in all directions, incinerating everything in their path…

Chopra completed his account and focused on Jha.

The Force One commander had stood up and was now pacing the small, airless room. Jha had purposely left the air-conditioner off – an old and well-worn interrogative tactic – and the room was as hot as a sauna. Sweat poured down the commander's haggard face, drenching his moustache, but he made no move to wipe it away. He had more pressing concerns.

Jha whirled on Chopra and began peppering him once again with questions: what purpose did you have in coming here today? What time did you arrive? Who else did you know in the jewel room?


  • "Smoothly combines an affable lead, a seemingly impossible crime, and an endearing and highly unusual sidekick-a baby elephant named Ganesha.... Fans of Alexander McCall Smith will find a lot to like."—p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 14.0px Calibri; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000}span.s1 {font-kerning: none}Publishers Weekly on The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown
  • "Every bit as captivating as its predecessor. Fans of Tarquin Hall's Vish Puri will rejoice, but so should all mystery lovers."—Booklist on The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown
  • "An entertaining feel-good read in the tradition of Alexander McCall Smith.... Utterly charming." —Guardian on The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra
  • "The deep love for Mumbai and its people - warts and all - that Inspector Chopra shares with his creator infuses the novel from the beginning. The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra is certainly a delightful and uplifting crime caper, but it also comes with an edifying dose of serious social comment, with many of Chopra's preoccupations mirroring those of his creator."—The Bookseller on The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra
  • "An enchanting start to a new series."—Woman & Home on The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra
  • "A winning debut...Khan's affection for Mumbai and its residents adds to the novel's charm."—Publishers Weekly on The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra
  • "Debut Mumbai-based 'cosy' - complete with baby elephant - keeps things heart-warming while tackling corruption at the highest levels and violent crime at the lowest. Endearing and gripping, it sets up Inspector Chopra - and the elephant - for a long series."—Sunday Times on The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra
  • "Thought-provoking mystery... promising debut."—Booklist on The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra
  • "Charming."—Marie Claire on The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra
  • "A fantastic and heartwarming read... I can't wait to see what happens next!"—First for Women on The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra

On Sale
Aug 9, 2016
Page Count
368 pages

Vaseem Khan

About the Author

Vaseem Khan first saw an elephant lumbering down the middle of the road in 1997 when he arrived in India to work as a consultant. It was the most unusual thing he’d ever encountered and served as the inspiration behind his series of crime novels.

He returned to the UK in 2006 and now works at University College London for the Department of Security and Crime Science where he is astonished daily by the way modern science is being employed to tackle crime.

Learn more about this author