Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is a novel about a group of children trying to solve the disappearances that have been happening around the slum they live in. Jai is nine and watches too many real life police TV shows, so when a boy from his class goes missing, he has to recruit his friends Pari and Faiz to be his sidekicks for the investigation. They weave around various places they aren’t allowed to go—the bazaar, the railway station—looking for answers,  but as more and more children keep disappearing, the question remains: is it a djinn to blame, or is there a dangerous person out there?

The book is carefully structured around the disappearances and is well-paced to allow the events to unfold whilst capturing a sense of Jai’s life. It is notable that the book skirts the line between crime and more general fiction, with crime tropes being more part of Jai’s imagination than feeling particularly important in the novel, which is more preoccupied with character and with painting a vivid setting. This works well, as the elements work in conjunction with each other to have a narrative that moves forward, increasing tension as disappearances occur, but also looks to depict the characters’ lives rather than focus on the particular mystery at its heart. The life of these characters is portrayed in a very immersive way, using the senses and lots of detail such as the TV shows they watch and the food they eat.

The child main characters give an extra dimension to the novel, allowing Indian child disappearances to be explored through the eyes of a child who isn’t entirely aware of the potential danger and implications. This fact makes the novel feel quite distinctive and original, particularly the quirk of having a nine-year-old protagonist who is obsessed with the idea of being a detective, but who is also impacted by the very real crime occurring.

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is a distinctive novel that blends a crime story with an immersive narrative of children living in an Indian slum. It feels like a cross between A People’s History of Heaven and The Book Thief, with a focus on child disappearances and how they are treated by the police.