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Fiction of Crime and Passion


Shatam Ray

MANSURI, MACABRE
By Sudhir Thapliyal
Tranquebar, New Delhi, 2010, pp. 240, 250.00

THE BODY IN THE BACKSEAT
By Salil Desai
Gyaana Books, New Delhi, 2011, pp. 254, 250.00

MURDER IN SAN FELICE
By Chandralekha Mehta
Zubaan Books, New Delhi, 2011, pp. 172, 295.00

VOLUME XXXV NUMBER 10 OCTOBER 2011

An English-language weekly did a feature recently on Indians writing in the fiction genre. Giving the profiles of the respective authors, the magazine attributed the rise of Indians writing in English to the commercial success of Chetan Bhagat. Though not all authors will acknowledge their creative instincts to Mr. Bhagat's writings, it is true that he will have a bigger following than an Amitav Ghosh or Vikram Seth. However, with most things in life, one should be more careful in choosing one's messiahs, otherwise hapless, unemployed reviewers like me will have to be resigned to reviewing such books. Sudhir Thapliyal’s Mansuri, Macabre, set in Mansuri (a fictional recreation of the popular hill station Mussorie) as the name suggests, is a fictional re-telling of ‘real’ events that the author has pried from his own research. This is a story of two sisters who are victims of several gambits and manipulations that, according to the author, are the underbelly of the world of devotion and spirituality. Two unsuspecting sisters from Mansuri are struck by grief and loss of love at the peak of their youth. They persevere and survive their tragedies unaware of the horrors that await them. They are noticed by a travelling sadhu and his shady assistant who have many dark secrets to hide. So far, so good (well actually not if you have to actually read the book to even arrive at this point). The description of Mussorie is, in fact, quite honest and brings alive a city that stands in contrast to the overcrowded city that we are familiar with. The problem lies in the narrative of the book. There is nothing in the book that holds you in suspense. The chilling allusions to the murder in the earlier part of the book actually turn out to be somewhat less dramatic. A matter of opinion, you would say. Not quite. There are many narrators in the book, which is wonderful if you are Orhan Pamuk, but here the author speaks in the same tone and with the same value framework for all narrators. The language of the book is somewhat dated and frankly, comes across as being rehearsed. What is worse is that the author's clever insights are just bizarre and confusing. Sample this: 'An…enterprising rat had chewed out a neat hole (in an umbrella) where it really mattered.’ Pray tell, which part of the umbrella ...


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