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Vish Puri is the best detective in all India... and most probably the world!
Read about his extraordinary cases, meet his undercover team and explore Delhi and its culinary delights!
'Vish Puri is wonderfully engaging... A funny entertaining novel... The characters - including members of Puri's complicated family - are splendid, and it's a joy to read'
- THE TIMES
Vish Puri returns in
'The Case of the Love Commandos'
'What's the funda?'
'Enter through the backside only!'
'How often do you take sex?'
'Just he's doing timepass.'
'Dear sir, with reference to your above please see my below.'
Just a few examples of the kind of language you're likely to hear people using in Delhi. I think my favourite, though, is the application of the words 'by' and 'chance', which becomes 'bychance'. It pops up all the time in the middle of Hindi sentences: 'Aap kay pass bychance pen hai?'
In hot and dusty Delhi, where call centers and malls are changing the ancient fabric of Indian life, Puri's main work comes from screening prospective marriage partners, a job once the preserve of aunties and family priests. But when an honest public litigator is accused of murdering his maidservant, it takes all of Puri's resources to investigate. With his team of undercover operatives - Tubelight, Flush, and Facecream - Puri combines modern techniques with principles of detection established in India more than two thousand years ago, and reveals modern India in all its seething complexity.
'A first novel set in Delhi that offers penetrating insights into the new India.'
– NEW YORK TIMES
'Great fun - a seething slice of the sub-continent.'
– THE TIMES
'India's Most Private Investigator uses stealth, cunning and above all discretion to turn the tables on a killer...lively and quick-paced series debut.'
– KIRKUS REVIEWS (Starred Review)
'India, captured in all its pungent, vivid glory, fascinates almost as much as the crime itself.'
– ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY
'Entertaining...Hall combines an insider's insight with the eclectic eye of a good foreign correspondent.... The very opposite of the "exoticism" of which this kind of fiction is often accused. Instead of escaping into "another world", western readers are encouraged to see an unflattering reflection of their own values and desires.'
– FINANCIAL TIMES
'The stories from "the files of India's most private investigator" make hilarious reading and also paint a vivid picture of life in a modern Indian city. It's all great fun.'
– THE WASHINGTON TIMES
'Hall's mystery...is as whimsical and colorful as its cover suggests... This novel could easily have been just a playful pastiche of the traditional British mystery, but through its comic tone and ironic point of view, the novel becomes a take on justice in post-colonial India.'
– MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE
'Tarquin Hall is a distinguished journalist and has no problem marshalling details to create a sense of what everyday life is like in Delhi: the smell of chat and kachoris seems to waft from the page, as indeed does the stench of political corruption.'
– DAILY TELEGRAPH
'The debut of what promises to be an outstanding series... The novel is dense with atmosphere, creating a delightful mix of the exotic and familiar... An excellent, delightfully humorous mystery with an unforgettable cast of characters, The Case of the Missing Servant immediately joins the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency as representing the best in international cozies.'
– BOOKLIST (Starred Review)
'In his fiction debut, British journalist Hall – who lives in London and New Delhi – captures his second country with grace and humor... An entertaining start to a promising series.'
– LIBRARY JOURNAL (Starred Review)
'In addition to having created a marvelous literary personage in Puri...Hall has a fine grasp of the nuances of north Indian life and lingo, as well as an in-depth knowledge of a wide range of subjects...I look forward eagerly to the next Vish Puri book.'
– INDIA TODAY
In one of the ten best mysteries of the year (Seattle Times), private investigator Vish Puri becomes embroiled in a high-stakes mystery involving one of India’s most controversial commodities: love. When Ram and Tulsi fall in love, the young woman’s parents are dead set against the union. She’s from a high-caste family; he’s from the lowest strata of Indian society. Young Tulsi’s father locks her up and promises to hunt down the “loverboy dog.” Fortunately, India’s Love Commandos, a real-life group of volunteers dedicated to helping mixed-caste couples, come to the rescue. But just after they liberate Tulsi, Ram is mysteriously snatched from his hiding place. The task of finding him falls to India’s “Most Private Investigator.” Unfortunately, Vish Puri is not having a good month. He’s failed to recover a cache of stolen jewels. His wallet has been stolen, and he’s having to rely on his infuriating Mummy-ji to get it back. And to top it all, his archrival, investigator Hari Kumar, is also trying to locate Ram. To reunite the star-crossed lovers and reclaim his rightful place as India’s unchallenged “Most Private Investigator,” Puri and his team of operatives must infiltrate Ram’s village and navigate the caste politics shaped by millennia-old prejudices.
'Puri’s love of food – and Hall’s descriptions of the dishes he enjoys – is one of the delights of this series… As in any Puri novel, a great deal of humour about Puri’s family life is mixed with skilful plotting and realistic descriptions of contemporary’s India’s overflowing street life.'
– BOOKLIST STARRED REVIEW
'Great fun - a seething slice of the sub-continent.'
– THE TIMES
'Thought provoking and charming… This series has dealt with progressively more serious topics, but Hall…hasn’t lost his light touch.'
– PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY STARRED REVIEW
'Once again, India’s Most Private Investigator solves his case with panache.'
– KIRKUS REVIEWS
'There’s a real feel of India – the heat, the stark contrasts between the rich and the poor, the politics and particularly for the way that the poor are exploited at every turn. You have a sense of being in the middle of it all and I struggle to think of any popular fiction which does this quite so well.'
'A wry whodunnit.'
'Hall…has a gift for conveying the rich stew of competing cultures in contemporary India with a wonderful economy of image… [He] presents a complex hero in a complex country with a great deal of history, humor, and panache.'
– BOOKLIST (Starred Review)
'Outstanding…Well-drawn colorful characters bolster a whodunit sure to appeal to those who enjoy a dash of humor with their crime.'
– PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (Starred Review)
'Tarquin Hall is a British journalist who lives in Delhi and he has an outsider’s ability to spot the incongruities and telling detail that a local might take for granted. I read his latest mystery, The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken, and enjoyed it so much I immediately read the first two books of the series… [T]he driving force of all the stories are the charmingly believable characters… His team of misfit assistants come into focus with each book, their varied backgrounds letting us see what life is like in India for people of various castes and economic backgrounds… Gently amusing and with a real feel for Delhi, this is a charming series. Each new novel has raised the stakes subtly and Hall has grown more confident with each outing. It’s quite possible that what has begun as a fun series will become a genuinely great one.'
– HUFFINGTON POST
'In Punjabi detective Vish Puri Hall has created a cross between Hercule Poirot and Rumpole of the Bailey and planted him firmly in a faux Spanish villa in middle-class Delhi… Hall does an excellent job of conveying the bustle and glitz of modern Delhi and providing readers with a gently humorous take on life in contemporary India. If “Masterpiece Mystery!” is not currently scouting locations in Delhi, I’d have to say that they are missing a major opportunity.'
– CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR
'It’s very difficult to resist a book about a deadly butter chicken… Tarquin Hall is as much historian as humorist and he evokes the India where he lives and which he obviously loves, presenting it as a vivid world of color and savory fragrances.'
– THE WASHINGTON TIMES
'This lovely series is a great example of crime fiction functioning as a foreign holiday for the armchair traveller. Hall’s readers become happily immersed in the glorious rhythms and neologisms of “Dilli” language, while the cuisine is so well described you can almost smell it.'
– MORNING STAR
'All the characters, even the very minor ones, are drawn with such loving detail. The author reminds me very much of P G Wodehouse in his ability to poke gentle fun at people’s foibles in such a way that we can recognise ourselves in them and end up laughing at ourselves as well as with the characters. This is the third outing of Vish Puri; a wonderful find. Very funny.'
'The story is fast-paced and Tarquin clears knows his butter chickens and kebabs as he gives us a taste of the sights, sounds and smells of Delhi… The novel is a potpourri of Delhi culture… Vish Puri proves entertaining indeed. This is a prefect read, especially accompanied by some pakoras and chai!'
– TIMES OF INDIA
Vish Puri is as fond of butter chicken as the next Punjabi. So when it's served at the Delhi Durbar hotel at an India Premier League cricket match dinner, he's the first to tuck in. Faheem Khan, father of Pakistani star cricketer Kamran Khan, can't resist either. But the creamy dish proves his undoing. After a few mouthfuls, he collapses on the floor, dead.
Clearly this isn't a case of Delhi Belly.
But which one of the Bollywood stars, politicians, bureaucrats, industrialists or their wives has poisoned Khan is a mystery. And with the capital's police chief proving as incompetent as ever, it falls to India's Most Private Investigator to discover the truth.
Puri is soon able to link Khan to a bald bookie dubbed 'Full Moon' and all the clues point to the involvement of a gambling syndicate which controls cricket's illegal billion dollar betting industry.
The answers seem to lie in Surat, diamond cutting and polishing capital of the world, and across the border in Pakistan, the one country where Puri has sworn never to set foot.
Or do they? A certain grey-haired lady with a unique insight into the murder believes that the portly detective is barking up 'a wrong tree.'
Is Mummy-ji right? Is there more to the murder than meets the eye? And why, to make life even more complicated, has someone tried to steal the world's longest moustache – literally from right under the nose of its owner?
Early one morning, on the lawn of a grand boulevard in central Delhi, the Hindu goddess Kali appears and plunges a sword into the chest of a prominent Indian scientist, who dies in a fit of giggles. Vish Puri, India's Most Private Investigator, master of disguise and lover of all things fried and spicy, doesn't believe the murder is a supernatural occurrence and sets out to prove who really killed Dr. Suresh Jha. To get at the truth, he and his team of undercover operatives—Facecream, Tubelight, and Flush—travel from the slum where India's hereditary magicians must be persuaded to reveal their secrets to the holy city of Haridwar on the Ganges. Stopping only to indulge his ample Punjabi appetite, Puri uncovers a network of spirituality, science, and sin unique in the annals of crime and soon finds that solving the case will require all of his earthly faculties.
"Hall writes amusing mysteries...[his]affectionate humor is embedded with barbs."
– NEW YORK TIMES
"Vish Puri...[is] a wonderfully engaging PI... [A] funny, entertaining novel... The characters – including members of Puri's complicated family – are splendid, and it's a joy to read."
– THE TIMES
"Delightful...Hall splendidly evokes the color and bustle of Delhi streets and the tang of contemporary India."
– SEATTLE TIMES
"Hall has an unerring ear for the vagaries of Indian English, the Indian penchant for punning acronyms, peculiarly Indian problems...and an obvious affection for India, warts and all."
– PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (STARRED REVIEW)
"As tasty as Puri's favorite aloo parantha."
"With humor and grace, Hall provides appealing characters, a strong sense of place, a complex plot, and mouth-watering Indian cuisine."
– LIBRARY JOURNAL EXPRESS
"So brilliantly does Tarquin Hall capture the sights, smells, sounds and foibles of modern India, not to mention the nuances of English-Indian speech, that it is hard to believe he is not himself Indian... Wonderfully comic."
– DAILY MAIL
"Puri takes the reader into a very Indian, very Delhi web of spirituality, sin, slums and power broking, but all treated with a veneer of wit and intelligent absurdity."
– INDIA TODAY (Favourite Subcontinental Books 2010)
"Unlike those of Alexander McCall Smith, the books in this series (this is the second) are genuine detective stories, but they are every bit as warm and entertaining and should appeal to much the same readership."
– DENVER POST
"Unlike other detective novels that deal with serious cases of murder and mayhem, the Vish Puri mysteries keep you in splits till the end."
– ASIAN AGE
"A ripe comedy of Indian manners, brimming with well-observed detail."
– MAIL ON SUNDAY
"I still can't believe the author isn't of Indian origin."
- OYE! TIMES
Facecream is Vish Puri's most versatile and enigmatic operative. A steely and comely Nepali woman, she ran away from home as a teenager to join the Maoist insurgency. What led to her disillusionment with the movement and her subsequent flight from her homeland remains something of a mystery, even to Puri.
All he knows of her years in India before she came to work for Most Private Investigators, is that she was once married and worked as a bargirl in Bombay. With an innate ability to blend into any situation – from servant girl to spoiled society siren – Facecream often plays a valuable role in Puri's unique approach to investigative work. Indeed, the detective often finds himself wondering whether he really knows the young woman he employs... and sometimes whether she knows herself.
Born into a clan of thieves, blind in one eye and disguised as an auto rickshaw driver, Tubelight is Vish Puri's chief operative. His nickname is derived from the fact that he takes a while to 'flicker on in the morning'. However, Baldev Pawar as he's known outside professional circles, knows every brothel, illegal cricket-gambling den and cockerel-fighting venue in the city—not to mention most of its best forgers, fencers, smugglers, safe crackers and purveyors of everything from used Johnnie Walker bottles to wedding-night porn. He also maintains a team of snoops and informers – his 'boys' – who assist in keeping track of errant husbands, prospective grooms, murder suspects and the odd laughing club member. Chief amongst them are Shashi and Zia who were last seen in Book 2 on a stakeout disguised as ditch-digging-wallahs. A recent addition to the team is Sonal, better known as 'Chanel No. 5', a native of Surat, diamond cutting and polishing capital of the world.
So named because his was the first house in the village to have a 'western-style' toilet, Flush is a young computer and electronics geek who can hack networks and build his own bugs, many of which look like real insects. He generally works behind the scenes, or rather in the back of a rusty Bajaj three wheeler, one of tens of thousands that ply the streets of India's capital. His greatest claim to fame is having secreted a bug inside the Pakistani ambassador's dentures. But what he'd like most in life is a girlfriend. Preferably one featured on the annual Kingfisher swimsuit calendar.
Pakoras are created by taking one or two ingredients such as onion, eggplant, spinach or chilli and dipping them in a batter of gram flour and then deep frying them. Puri prefers the chilli variety and has been known to eat plenty of them on stakeouts with lashings of tangy green chutney.
This is one of Puri's all time favourites – a tangy dish of marinated chicken and a makhani sauce created by mixing cream, butter, tomato puree with various spices, including cumin, cloves, cinnamon, coriander, pepper and fenugreek leaves. The dish was created at the old Moti Mahal Delux restaurant in Delhi.
A Chicken Frankie is basically a wrap with a filling of tender morsels of chicken sautéed in ginger, garlic, coriander powder, tumeric and red chilli. It's often served with chopped onion, fresh coriander leaves, chilli vinegar and green chutney or chaat masala. Puri sometimes adds some amchoor powder as well.
One of South Asia's deadliest desserts, gulab jamuns are deep fried balls made from a dough consisting mostly of milk solids. They're served in a sugar syrup flavoured with cardamom seeds. Often served at weddings, functions and during festivals, they're guaranteed to help you put on the pounds!
Previously known as 'Refugees Colony', this is where Puri grew up and his elder brother, Bhuppi, and Mummy still live. It's also home to his childhood friend, Rinku, a right goonda, with whom the detective has a difficult but lasting relationship. A crowded, frenetic part of Delhi, the Punjabi traders, transporters and businessmen living here have done extremely well for themselves and, in terms of real estate, it's the most expensive in west Delhi. The place has undergone rapid commercial growth since the 1990s and every kind of western brand has a presence here. The parking, though, is a complete nightmare!
The Red Fort, or Lal Qil'ah, was Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan's palace. It was completed in 1648. Located today in 'Old Delhi' or the 'Walled City', it once sat on the west bank of the Yamuna River, which fed the moat. Now a UNESCO Heritage Site and currently undergoing renovations, the architecture and art work on the walls inside are a unique synthesis of India, Central Asians and Persian styles. A must see!
Chatterjee & Sons is a fictional costume supply company situated down one of the alleys off Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi. In the books, Mr. Chatterjee supplies Puri with all his disguises. The premises are filled to the rafters with hundreds of costumes and paraphernalia. Hindu deities are stored on the ground floor: Hanuman monkey suits, strap-on Durga arms, and Ganapati elephant trunks hung in rows. The third floor is home to the traditional garb of hundreds of different Indian communities: from Assamese to Zoroastrian. And the fourth floor is the place to go for props, including mendicant and beggar accoutrement: swallow-able swords, snake charmer's baskets (complete with wind-up mechanical cobras), and attachable deformed limbs. Crucially for Puri, Mr. Chatterjee also provides a variety of Indian noses, wigs, beards and moustaches, including 'Sikh Whisker', Rajasthani Handlebar' and 'Bengali Babu'.
Home of India's hereditary magicians and street entertainers, it's a slum in west Delhi: “…a sooty ghetto of ramshackle brick houses smothered in cow dung patties. Plastic sheeting, chunks of concrete and twisted scrap metal were draped over roofs. Canvas tents were pitched amidst heaps of garbage where filthy, half-clad children defecated and played.” Puri reaches the place by taking Delhi's new Metro system, a surreal experience when you get on in south Delhi with its well swept colonies and pop up in the middle of what some would term the 'real' India.
The 'King's Way' is a broad avenue running 2.4 miles between India Gate and the Presidential Palace, formerly the British Viceroy's residence (after 1931). It is the centrepiece of New Delhi. On a clear day, the view from either end is breathtaking and (apart from on Republic Day when India's military hardware is wheeled out) the lawns on both sides provide a nice place for a walk or picnic. This is where Dr. Suresh Jha is killed by the goddess Kali in Book 2 during an early morning laughter club meeting. Nearby is India Gate, well worth a visit in the evening when thousands of visitors from across the country gather to eat tangy bhel puri and golgappas.
Now the most expensive commercial real estate in India, Khan Market is home to little boutiques selling haute Indian fashion, as well as some of the surviving older businesses like (surely) the narrowest hardware store in the world. You'll see Punjabi princesses struggling in their high heels on the uneven paving stones; students eating kathi rolls under nests of dangling electrical wires; and a key cutter wallah with his medieval tongs and chisels, who conducts his trade on the step of a butchers' shop. Most Private Investigators is situated above Bahri Sons bookshop, a Delhi institution with knowledgeable staff who'll get you any title you want in double quick time.
Puri's watering hole and the place where he often meets prospective clients. Membership of 'The Gym' is reserved for the old Delhi elite – i.e. those who matter post-1947. The waiting list is officially 30 years. Puri, as the son of a lowly policeman, wouldn't have stood a chance at getting in had it not been for his wife, Rumpi, whose father is retired army. The club itself harks back to the days of the British, complete with ballroom, snooker room and terrible food. Stay here if you've got reciprocal membership from another club.
The most beautiful public gardens in Delhi, this is where Puri meets his client Brigadier Kapoor in Book 1. Covering roughly 90 acres, it's dotted with Muslim tombs, the oldest dating back to 1444 and the Sayyid Dynasty. The gardens themselves were established in 1936 by the British, who 'relocated' the villagers living here. Visit in the morning and you'll see many of Delhi's elite brisk-walking around the jogging track. In the evening, at dusk, the volume of birdsong along the pathway leading from the main entrance on Lodhi Road is unforgettable.
The Lotus Temple is a Bahai house of worship. It was completed in 1986 and is open to people of all faiths.
This is new New Delhi, all built in the past 15 years: glass office complexes, towering apartment blocks and vast shopping malls. Welcome to the new India! Puri lives here, the mock Spanish villa he built in the middle of mustard fields in the early 90s just before the economic boom began, now surrounded by gated communities, constructions sites and shanty towns. One place worth visiting is... two more lines to come...
Vish Puri's mother, known to all as 'Mummy-ji', is a retired head teacher with a keen interest in the affairs of others. A capable detective in her own right, she often becomes embroiled in minor cases, like catching the miscreants who rob her kitty party friends. But when the father of a star Pakistani cricketer is poisoned in 'The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken', she realises that she alone has unique insight into the case. Eventually, her digging leads to the disclosure of a part of her life that has remained hidden from even her 'near or dear' for 60 years.
Vish Puri's company, founded in 1981, is India's number one private investigation agency. From their HQ above Bahri Sons bookshop in Khan Market, South Delhi, Puri and his team of operatives handle all manner of problems plaguing modern Indian society - from exposing the secret affairs and devious lies of prospective brides and grooms...to the alleged murder of a lowly maidservant. Puri has recently solved a most unusual dilemma: namely, who would want to steal the world's longest moustache off the face of its owner while he was sleeping... as well as exposing a tenant who was illegally cooking meat in a vegetarian-only apartment block!
Puri has a collection of a dozen tweed Sandown flat caps, most of them supplied by Bates of Piccadilly in London, England. His other chosen attire is a Safari suit, a style once popular in India amongst bureaucrats and corporate employees, but now regarded as somewhat passé.
Puri owns a white Ambassador. Manufactured since 1948 by Hindustan Motors and based on the Morris Oxford III, it was, until roughly a decade ago, the most popular car in India...not that there was much choice! The Ambassador remains the preferred mode of conveyance for the country's leadership and a symbol of authority, hence Puri's preference for one.
Puri is the son of a deceased Delhi police officer, framed for corruption. His wife, Rumpi, is the daughter of a retired Brigadier in the Indian army. They have three daughters. Puri's matriarch, known to all as Mummy-ji, aspires to be a full-time detective herself, often taking on cases despite her sons' disapproval. 'Women are not detectives and detectives are certainly not Mummies,' as Puri points out.
Chanakya, Puri's guru, was born around 300 BC, and co-founded the Mauryan Empire. A pioneer of political and economic science, he also established the world's first state-run secret service. In his great treatise, the Arthashastra, Chanakya expounded on the art of espionage and investigation, recommending procedures and even disguises for undercover work:
'Brothel keepers, storytellers, acrobats, cooks, shampooers, reciters of puranas, cowherds, monks, elephant handlers, thieves, snake catchers and even gods, to name just a few,' he wrote. For agents planning to infiltrate a city, Chanakya suggested adopting the cover of a trader; those working on the frontiers should pose as herdsmen. When a secret agent needed to infiltrate a private household, he urged the use of 'hunchbacks, dwarfs, eunuchs, women skilled in various arts, and dumb persons.'
As a keen observer of society, Puri is an ardent contributor to the letters pages of the Times of India:
In this environment, in which males and females are thrust together without proper family supervision or moral code, peer group pressure is at the highest level. Even young females are going in for pre-marital affairs, extra-marital affairs -- even extra, extra-marital affairs. So much infidelity is there that many marriages are getting over. A fellow is no longer happy serving society. Dharma, duty, has been ejected out of the window. Now the average male wants five-star living: Omega watch, Italian hotel food, Dubai holiday, luxury apartment, a fancy girl on the side. All of a sudden, young Indians are adopting the habits of goras.'
FILE: Vish Puri Vital Information
Title: Chief Operating Officer Most Private Investigators Ltd.
Profession: Private Investigator (former Military Intelligence)
Birthplace: Punjabi Bagh, Delhi
Pet Name: 'Chubby'
Accomplishments: Winner Six National Awards
Credo: 'Danger is my ally.'
Puri is a capsicum junkie: he likes to eat raw chillies with a little salt, sometimes for breakfast. To ensure that he has a ready supply, the detective has several species growing on the roof of his house. Often he goes up there to think over a case and wipe the dust and pollution from the leaves. He has proven most successful at growing Naga Jolokias, generally regarded as the hottest in the world.
Vish Puri's weapon of choice is a .32 IOF revolver produced in India by the Ordnance Factories Organisation in Kolkata. It's a six-shot, break action, self-extracting weapon based on a Webley design and uses the Smith & Wesson Long cartridge. India's 1959 Arms Act gives Indian citizens the right to bear arms and Puri has been known to carry his piece when danger is near.
Modern words like 'airport' crop up a lot too – but the pronunciation can take a little getting used to. Thus if you want to be understood by a taxi driver you'll need to tell him to take you to the 'airportaa', the noun being considered masculine in Hindi and therefore requiring the hard 'aa' at the end.
Keep in mind also that a female teacher is a 'teacheress'. Family and friends are often referred to as 'near or dear'. The town, city or village where you were born is your 'native place'. And if someone is described as being 'totally tulli' then don't be surprised if they've got a whiff of IMFL on their breath. That's Indian Made Foreign Liquor (i.e. hard liquor like whisky, rum and gin) to you.
I make use of a lot of Indian English phrases and words in the books because I find them charming. English is a mongrel language and the English themselves have had no qualms about looting tens of thousands of words from other languages (and often changed the meanings) so why shouldn't others do the same?
Sometimes, though, it's hard to keep a straight face. Once, for example, the deputy manager of a five-star Delhi hotel where my wife and I were staying came up to our room to check whether we'd had a comfortable stay. Pointing to the bed, he asked: 'Your wife, she is satisfied?' I think he meant with the quality of the mattress, but as I suppressed a laugh I could only reply: 'I don't know! You'll have to ask her.'
For glossary to the books, please click here.