Archive for March, 2012

The slums of Mumbai have had their fair share of publicity – good and bad – in the last few years. Not counting their presence in every day news in the city, there’s been an Oscar-winning movie, quite a few books and regular documentaries. However, I don’t think any narrative gets so up-close-and-personal as this book by Katherine Boo. Her descriptions of Annawadi and the triumphs & tribulations of its residents as they go about their daily lives are clear & detailed. Most important, in my view, is the fact that her writing & choice of words is very non-judgemental. The reader is left to draw his or her own inference on whether a situation is good or bad, an action is right or wrong.

The author presents an objective snapshot – over a period of a few years – of a few residents & the lives they lead. The book is organised around the story of a Muslim family that lives from that most sordid of professions – garbage-sorting. When their one-legged neighbour immolates herself after a round of arguments with them, their lives come apart. The early chapters introduce the main protagonists, giving the background and building up the story towards the central event which is the death by burning of the one-legged woman and taking it to a close as the justice system gives its verdict.

What I liked about the book is how the author has presented each character in depth & detail. Life in the slums is unlike anything that many of us can ever imagine. It is obvious that Katherine Boo has done her research well and not just because she is a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist. She has involved herself with the people she writes about and this comes out not only in the central theme, but also in all the small incidents peppered throughout the narrative.

Being a Mumbai person, slums are an inescapable reality in the city. For the last 5-6 years, I lived less than a mile as the crow flies from the locality described in this book, but also a million miles away from the conditions described. This book hits hard, bringing us down to earth and exposes how the tentacles of corruption in India spare no one.

Finally, this book is a wonderful observation of human behaviour, human nature and what makes us all what we are, whatever our station in life.



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This book brings together the top crime short stories submitted to a competition run in 1981 as part of the Third Crime Writers’ International Conference, held at Stockholm. The top 3 award winners are the first three stories in this collection, which also includes another 15 judged to be the best of the 400+ entries apparently received. The collection, edited by Desmond Bagley, includes stories by a number of well-known names and some not-so-famous ones too. Short stories in any genre are difficult enough, but especially so in crime where the crime, the plot & the subsequent unravelling have all got to be compressed into the 7500 words’ limit. I found this collection extremely enjoyable. Amongst the ones that I enjoyed in the set is a story with a different take on the classic Romeo-and-Juliet tale, how a juvenile arsonist is outwitted, a Tony Hillerman tale set in the Indian reservations and a couple of murder stories with refreshingly unexpected endings. Good stuff.


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This novel can be described in a single word – crisp. Not a line that shouldn’t be there, not a word out of place.

Tricks is set over a single night – Halloween Night – as different crimes get the attention of the men & women of the 87th squad. A magician has mysteriously disappeared after his last vanishing act, parts of a human body are being discovered in various parts of the precinct, a trap has been set for a serial killer with a sense of humour who’s targeting prostitutes in a pattern and a gang of children seem to be on a murder & looting spree at liquor stores. Its going to be a busy night for the squad.

Tricks is a fast-paced well-crafted thriller that will retain your attention till the last page.

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I love this genre and even though Ngaio Marsh is generally considered one of the Queens of Crime, I have to (embarrassingly) admit that this is my first book by her. Perhaps its because she doesn’t seem to be very popular in India, atleast to the extent that Agatha Christie & even Dorothy Sayers are. Perhaps its also that she hasn’t written very many novels and has only the one detective creation – the likeable Roderick “Rory” Alleyn, the supposedly Handsome Sleuth.

Being a New Zealander, many of her works are set in that lovely country, including this one. When his artist wife Troy gets an invite to paint a portrait of the famous opera singer Isabella Sommita, Alleyn is also encouraged by his boss to accompany her to observe the singer & her companions. Little does he realise that he will soon be involved in a murder case, as the idyllic calm of their private island retreat in New Zealand is shattered by the murder of the Sommita, even as a local storm cuts them off from all access to the mainland. Alleyn has a tricky murder to resolve, a kind of closed-room case. Marsh builds up the case nicely, her writing is literature quality, the English is unapologetically British and the characters – most of them atleast – seem to have refined backgrounds. But murder is murder and Alleyn sets about unravelling each thread in this well-paced novel.

If this is the kind of stuff she has written, I am hooked.


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