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Under the Radar


Rimi B. Chatterjee

THE MONOCHROME MADONNA
By Kalpana Swaminathan
Penguin India, New Delhi, 2010, pp. 246, Rs.299.00

THE STORY THAT MUST NOT BE TOLD
By Kaveri Nambisan
Penguin India, New Delhi, 2010, pp.272, Rs.499.00

NO WAY HOME
By Amarjit Sidhu
Penguin India, New Delhi, 2010, pp.252, Rs.299.00

CHILDREN OF A BETTER GOD
By Susmita Bagchi
Penguin India, New Delhi, 2010, pp.238, Rs.250.00

VOLUME XXXV NUMBER 5 May 2011

Postmodernity does strange things to genre fiction. Indish writing (thats my preferred term for Indian English writing) has by and large steered away from the genres, preferring to stick with realist literary fiction with or without a bit of magic sprinkled on top. The crossover or genre book that becomes a runaway classic is every publishers dream title, and what weve seen in recent times is literary writers becoming more and more interested in genres, remaking and recasting them. Not a moment too soon, either, because the mass market that used to support genre fiction has almost entirely been eaten up today by television, online entertainment and other promo pastimes. The genre can only survive today as a mode of lit fic, and this is no more true than in the case of detective fiction. Thankfully for us, the readers, because nothing beats a really good whodunit. When the delights of detective fiction as a genre are crafted by a master hand, the result is very satisfying indeed. And of course, literary writers who work in genre love to bend it like the football star of your choice. Genre is thus revitalized, and the otherwise rather stuffy protocols of literary fiction get to lighten up and kick out a bit.   This is a rather mixed bag of books, with two assured senior writers paired up with two newcomers. To deal with the biggies first: oddly enough theyre both doctors, and this does seem to have an effect on their writing, but in a very different way in each case. The whodunit in this book basket is Kalpana Swaminathans The Monochrome Madonnathe third in the series of Lalli mysteries. I hadnt encountered Lalli previously, and this book was a stimulating and very enjoyable introduction to the series. Lalli is a detective; she is also middleaged and female and lives with a man called Savio, a tough cop who talks to his box of homebaked coconut cookies as if he were Winnie the Pooh. The story is told by Lallis niece Sita, which allows a certain cachet of mystery to hang around Lalli herself: Lalli is always a step ahead of the narrator in unravelling the mystery, and therefore always ahead of the reader. I dont think anyone has come up with a name for this technique in detective fiction, but the Watson Dodge is probably a good one. Would Sherlock Holmes ...


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