I am sent quite a number of books by Indian authors to review, and like everything in life I guess, some are good, some are bad and some are downright indifferent.
And some are, quite frankly, so badly written that I battle to read them. It is a mistake to think that just because most educated Indians speak fabulous English, that this automatically translates into fabulously well-written prose.
I won’t mention names, but a quick perusal through some reviews on this blog will give you an idea what I am talking about.
And so it was with great delight that I read Salil Desai’s “Killing Ashish Karve”, a murder whodunnit that is flawlessly well-written and is a completely gripping story with twists and turns right until the dying moments of the book.
Now, of course, the trouble with reviewing a murder mystery is that you can (for obvious reasons) hardly discuss the plot in any detail, so suffice it to say that one Ashish Karve is found dead in his car in Pune, and the police now have a mammoth task on their hands, trying to fathom out what happened. The dead man’s family close ranks, in their own fractious, splintered way, and the police face an uphill battle, to get contemptuous and patronising middle class citizens to co-operate with them. The desire to hush things up is a leitmotiv running though this novel, making the whodunnit aspect of the story even more intriguing.
I was gripped from the first, clever chapter.
The writer has a wry turn of phrase and is clearly a keen observer of people. I have rarely read an Indian author who made me smile as much as Mr. Desai did.
We first encounter Senior Inspector Saralkar at his grouchiest :
This is a man who has little patience for “unadulterated spiritual tripe,” as he grumpily describes his Secrets of Living course, and who is itching to be back doing proper police work.
Some of this police work admittedly involves winding up his long-suffering subordinate officer, Inspector Motkar, who is being driven to distraction by his son’s academic laziness and – as he later realises – his own softly softly approach to parenting.
Saralkar can be ironic:
And at times a tad too philosophical for Motkar:
Mr. Desai has an unerring eye for people, their mannerisms and their verbal (and behavioural) tics:
We meet a cast of urban characters who are all keenly observed, united only in their desire to keep the police out of every aspect of their lives. As we are led deeper into the heart of this mystery, we encounter violence, prejudice and anger…but I really shouldn’t delve any deeper, for fear of spoiling the plot of this great read for you.
I have only one or two teensy caveats.
1) Why was the original title “The Body in the Backseat” not retained?
2) I think Mr. Desai could dispense with some exclamation marks. His writing is strong enough not to need them :
3) I would have described Indubai as a “care giver” not a caretaker. But that may just be an indian English thing. And it is a totally unimportant detail.
Thoroughly enjoyed the book.
And if you feel like buying “Killing Ashish Karve” now, after reading this, it couldn’t be easier. Just click on the link below: