Nose Uncle is a detective story about an eccentric archaeologist who is an amateur detective. And he has an unusual “detecting” method. He uses his nose to sniff out criminals with a little help from his niece and nephew.
Nisha and Ram’s parents are in England on business and the siblings are sent to live with their father’s elder brother, Nose Uncle on his farm. The idea of spending a holiday in a sleepy, rural village near the sea in the south of India does not appeal to them at all. After great reluctance and much complaining, they reach Nose Uncle’s farm.
The siblings’ initial reluctance soon gives way to wonder as they explore the mango groves and ancient ruins of a Roman port, which Nose Uncle sets out to excavate. Nothing wrong with that except that they are interrupted by a Prof. Andre Rigolet, who claims to be from the Free University of Central Quebec, and his assistant, the glamorous Ms LaCroix. Helping them is the local government official Chandrasekhar (Uncle calls him Lentil Brain in private).
Lentil Brain drives Nose Uncle off the dig and takes over. Nose Uncle, however, senses something sinister. The children and their uncle spot some strange goings-on at the dig during the night. Why is a truck dumping soil from elsewhere in the dig? Why is Rigolet being so mysterious? Nose Uncle also discovers that there is no university by the name that Rigolet professes to come from.
Nose Uncle: By Jaspar Utley, Puffin, 198 pages, Rs200.
Things hot up as Nose Uncle draws the bad men away to an ancient fort some miles away on the pretext of digging up new ruins. Rigolet is shot at as he appeals to Uncle for help because he thinks his site is haunted. Soon after, Nose Uncle, Nisha and Ram discover the Canadian archaeologist knocked out in his caravan. Nose Uncle is arrested as the prime suspect and Nisha and Ram are kidnapped by bandits led by a mysterious woman.
Nose Uncle teams up with the police and his good friends, the hijras (eunuchs), who use his farmland as temporary residence when they are in this part of the country. And they fight the enemy with some pretty unconventional weapons (read the book to find out what) as the chase leads them to Auroville in Puducherry.
It is good to see Jasper Utley back in the thick of things. His free-flowing style and use of local colour makes Nose Uncle a breezy read. This book would seem to be the first in a series of Nose Uncle stories. And one hopes that the author, who is a former director of the British Council, Chennai (he visits the city every year), continues to come up with more adventures featuring the trio.
The writer is the editor of Heek, a children’s magazine.
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