Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.
I was so looking forward to reading and reviewing this book. I have read one of Mr. Sanghi’s books (click here for the link to my review of The Krishna Key) but to my shame (well, I imagine it is to my shame…) I have read nothing of Mr. Patterson, but the hype around the book made me confident that there would be a non-stop amazing storyline and drama galore.
But it was not to be.
This book read and felt like the collaboration it is. Trying to please two readerships at once can’t be easy, and it shows. There is lots of fairly straight to the point gritty stuff about Mumbai for we Indian residents, and then fairly prosey bits about the British colonial era and the Thugee cult and the criminal tribes – all for the firang readers, I image, but the 2 styles sit ill together.
I can’t really imagine the average Mumbaiker waving a Rs50 note as an incentive to a cabbie to get him to the Asiatic Society quickly so he can look up a reference book about Durga Puja…wouldn’t they just google it on their smart phone?
I imagine the short sentences and the even shorter chapters are designed to build up a feeling of urgency, as the staff of Private India try to catch a serial killer who is on the loose in Mumbai. But all the choppiness, and teensy chapters, and switching of narrator’s voice, just made me feel there was too much superficial drama without much substance.
We have a pretty standard cast of Indian characters as imagined for a foreign readership, I presume – intrepid private detectives, corrupt cops, gangsters, god men, celebrity hairdressers, betel-chewing prostitutes, yoga teachers, Bollywood star – pretty much everyone a foreigner might well imagine should people the crowded streets of Mumbai.
Very few normal folk, though. You know, the normal people who would google something rather than dash through the streets to a colonial era library, waving a spare Rs50…
And for all that Mumbai is the backdrop to this whodunnit, the city doesn’t somehow feel all that real. Although the killings take place in the lead up to Navratri (a major Hindu festival), somehow the noise and the crowds, and yet again the sheer noise, and the bustle and 24-hour crowdedness of Bombay never take centre stage. Rather we dash around from one locale to the other, without really getting to grips with Bombay. I think the city could have been a fabulous character in her own right, rather than the stereotypical backdrop.
The opening chapters are exciting. Ditto the concluding chapters. But there’s a great big saggy-bordering-on-repetitive-section in the middle of the book that deserves to be pepped up.
Conclusion? “Private India” is a fun read, nothing more.
And for me there was an undeniable sense of disappointment that the hype and the collaborative writing have not risen to the occasion. This book could have been super, but it falls short.
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