When his classmate goes missing, nine-year-old Jai, who lives with his family in the basti (slum) on the outskirts of an unnamed Indian city, decides to search for him and the fearless Djinn Patrol is formed. Then another child goes missing, and another. Jai is an utterly convincing voice, a lively, cheerful, cheeky boy yet through his eyes Anappara skilfully reveals the harsh reality beneath; the police corruption and stark inequality in a country where 180 children are said to go missing each day. An outstanding debut—Vintage's lead for 2020—and not to be missed.
Book-industry hype can be difficult to fathom. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is a perfectly adequate novel, competently crafted but nothing special. One can’t help but wonder if other factors — commercial rather than literary — are at play.
It could, at a stretch, make for a serviceable television drama — a well-meaning but slightly mawkish affair with luridly shot bazaar scenes, evocative smog-ridden vistas and plucky young scamps being adorable in inauspicious circumstances. Alternatively, a truly awful cynic might note that the novel is being jointly published with Penguin Random House India, and that India has 125 million English speakers, some of whom like to read fiction.
There’s also a resemblance to The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time as nine-year-old Jai decides to investigate the disappearance of another child from his shantytown...
Anappara doesn’t pull her punches as events build to a desperately tense final act and a conclusion that, while distressing, is fully earned.