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Posts Tagged ‘Crime fiction’

Patrick Fort is an intelligent boy with a one-dimensional view to life because of Asperger’s Syndrome. He has a clear quest to understand what happens when someone dies. In this excellently paced murder mystery, Belinda Bauer weaves the story of a man in a coma who is murdered with Patrick’s quest to understand death. Where the two threads meet, Patrick realises that his quest has morphed into knowing why someone died rather than how.

The author has captured the behavioural nuances of Asperger’s Syndrome in a a very positive light. At times the murder mystery seems to almost take a backseat, with the focus more on the behavioural trait rather than on solving the puzzle on hand. Indeed, until about the last third of the book when the action starts to pick up pace, we do not even know that a murder has been committed. We come across this realisation only through Patrick’s viewpoint, which is a reflection of the excellent character control that the author has across this book.

I also liked the fact that the author has  given the murdered person a voice unlike traditional murder mysteries. The murdered man has a view almost upto the point of his murder, which was a little unnerving to me because one doesn’t expect people with a voice to then go & get murdered. That was the only jarring note for me in an otherwise excellent novel.

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This is a superlative crime novel that also very sensitively presents the prejudice faced by blacks in the deeply conservative southern states of America as recently as the mid 1900s. In today’s globalised and constantly politically-corrected world, it is hard to imagine the deep racism that was commonplace and widespread in supposedly “cultured” regions of the world. Reality is stated to be often worse than fiction, but reality is also a hard pill to swallow whereas couching the same message in the form of an interesting novel has the double benefit of keeping the reader engrossed while still effectively conveying the impact of the discrimination.

In the Heat of the Night deals with just such treatment faced by Virgil Tibbs, a black man who finds himself booked on a murder charge while waiting to catch a train in the small town of Wells. The cops need someone to pin a recent murder on and he’s the only person out and about in the middle of the night, even if he was only quietly waiting in the “colored” waiting room of the railway station. His skin colour is sufficient conviction for the local cops to pin the murder on him. This idea quickly turns on its head when they realise that he is not only a cop on his way home to California, but that he is also a highly respected homicide investigator. The local cops grudgingly allow him to investigate the murder, a task that Virgil takes up fully aware that he could be the fall guy in case he fails to nab the killer. His job is all the more difficult given the extent of open discrimination he has to put up with, even from the cops themselves. But in the end his quiet efficiency and effective use of tact & diplomacy brings about a change in the attitudes of the people he deals with.

Its easy to forget that what we have here is also a very well framed crime story, one that would be just as captivating even if the chief protagonist were a regular guy. By mixing in the elements of racism & having a lead detective who has to perform with one hand tied behind his back, the author has managed to present a story that goes far beyond what we expect from a regular crime thriller. For those who have felt the sting of racism in any form, this book will evoke some strong memories, but for those that have been lucky enough to have evaded it, In The Heat of the Night can provide a thoughtful insight into a hopefully dying trend while also quenching their thirst for a first-rate mystery.

A must-read book.

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the case of the deadly butter chickenVish Puri’s third outing deals with the ugly side of that most gentlemanly of sports – cricket. Vish’s nephew is playing in the new cricket league in India and Vish & his family – mummyji included – are at a high-profile after-dinner match, when the father of one of the players falls over dead. Vish gets involved in this case, much to the chagrin of the official police, who are keen to solve it themselves. Before long, Vish realises the extent of the gambling mafia that has begun to control the game, the high stakes involved and the kind of powerful people who seem to have a finger in the pie. To get to the bottom of the puzzle, Vish has to head out to that most dreaded of all places – Pakistan, the land of the enemy – where a thread begins to unravel that has the potential to not only solve the mystery but also bring out some skeletons tumbling from the Puri family’s history. At the same time, not to be undaunted, his mummyji is on a quest all her own to solve a mystery that’s been haunting her for over half a century.

We have all the familiar characters from the Most Private Investigators’ stable – the seductive Facecream, the resourceful Tubelight, Handbrake the driver and Flush the geek. The canvas of this story stretches across the Indian sub-continent – in India and across the border in Pakistan.

This is the third novel in the series by Tarquin Hall and its every bit as enjoyable as the preceding two. The story line is strong, yet Tarquin manages to keep the writing light, peppering the story with witty anecdotes & side-incidents that make reading this crime novel a very easy weekend read.

We look forward to the next book in the series.

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the all bengali crime detectivesFor a first time crime writer, Suparna Chatterjee gives us a very enjoyable read. Though the book is meant to be read as a crime thriller, let me tell you its only masquerading as one. True, there is a crime that has to be investigated and solved. But the book is more about the daily life of the protagonists – four retired Bengali gentlemen who meet most mornings in a small park in their paara to discuss & indulge in light debates. The author has captured the environment, the ambience and the situation very nicely and expresses it in a manner that makes it very easy to visualise the morning meetings of our ABCD friends. The detection portion happens by chance – a crime happens under the very noses of our friends – and as they discuss & debate it over the new few mornings, their natural inclination to solve the mystery energises them to go beyond mere debate & attempt to solve the problem. Intertwined with the main story are parallel threads, including a (not surprisingly!) buildup to the Durga Puja. The four heroes of our story are well-captured and very believable. The story is well-written, proceeds at a steady pace and while being a little heavy with Bengali terms, is nevertheless a good read.

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get shorty

Chili Palmer is a Miami loan shark who is considering a change of job when one of his “clients” goes missing. For more than the usual reason, Chili follows his trail to LA and promptly gets tangled up with a film producer past his prime & his horror-film starlet. Very soon he is bitten by the movie bug and realises that he has the best script of them all – his own life story. Add in a diverse cast of characters – the current top gun actor, a local trigger-happy drug dealer who wants to launder his money by investing it in films, Chili’s -client who’s living the life of his dreams if only temporarily and a mobster from Miami out to settle old scores with Chili – and we have a complex set of plots & subplots, all of which get neatly resolved at the end. That’s also when we get to know the real meaning behind the title.

The writing is excellent, crisp and without a single word out of place. The dialogues are street-smart and bring the characters to life. This is a crime caper at heart, but there is an everpresent undercurrent of humour and satire.

A thoroughly enjoyable book, from the first word to the last. 

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Inspector Ghote of the Bombay CID has landed what seems to be a straightforward assignment. All he has to do was to go to Calcutta and escort a notorious confidence man back to Bombay to stand trial. But if there’s an easy way to do it and a roundabout way to do it, trust our friend to take the long route. Here it takes the form of a 2-day train journey from Bombay to Calcutta across the Indian sub-continent which Ghote hopes to enjoy to the full. However, his well laid out plans are thwarted by his companions – a glib talker, two hippies and their guru, and an Indian Railways official. Halfway through his onward journey he also gets a telegram that puts an unexpected spoke in his plans. As the train carries him and his companions closer to Calcutta, Ghote realises that perhaps the antidote to his troubles could be amongst his travelling companions themselves. And no sooner has he reached Calcutta than he must start on the return journey over the same route, and one that has its own perils.

Keating has marvellously sketched out this story over two train journeys. Inspector Ghote may come across as a bungling clueless character initially but his doggedness and a late-awakening sense finally get him his man.

A nice story set in the never-a-dull-moment Indian Railways environment. No great mystery here but like the steady pace of the great train that cuts across the subcontinent, so too are we kept entertained by this story to a steady soothing rhythm.

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Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn is on the hunt for a murderer who has used a house-party theme around murder to stage a real one. A few select guests have been invited to the country estate of Sir Hubert Handesley to take part in one of his unique themed parties. This weekend the theme was murder, except it ends with a very real corpse and a very real dagger pierced through its heart. Alleyn is called in to investigate and gets on with it in his usual disarming manner. But this is not a straightforward investigation – very quickly Alleyn finds himself investigating not just this murder but its possible links to a shadowy group of people and another recent murder in London. A cocktail of characters including a mysterious Russian doctor, the butler who goes missing and a lovely lady with something to hide make the right ingredients for this fast-paced & richly cast tale. The denouement at the end, in characteristic Alleyn style, is convincing and not easy to guess. A good mystery.

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