Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Doing Indian detective thrillers proud


No Flying From Fate
By Saurabh Katyal
Gyaana Books, Rs 295

The dharma of the detective-thriller writer cannot be encapsulated easily because there is great variety and skill involved in handling this very popular genre. And some of the writers, the foreign ones I mean, are profoundly knowledgeable and talented. Yet one can try and spell out certain basics: firstly, the book should be a page-turner.
That means you don't know till the end whodunit. Secondly, the more the murders, the merrier. Thirdly there should be a plurality of suspects - nab more suspects than corpses - and the suspicion should be rational, based on a logical chain of events. Lastly, the denouement should be perfect, the logic leading to the murderer razor sharp, almost Euclidean.
Then come two elements of the detective writer's dharma, which are normally violated. Don't spray your narratives with red herrings. These are to mix the metaphor, deliberate potholes dug by the writer, so that the eager beaver reader puts his foot in and sprains his ankle. The second element comes to play when the writer or the detective comes out with new facts at the end, facts unknown to the reader till then. This is a lousy trick and can be very irritating.
How come Indian detective fiction is so bloody poor? I don't think our writers have the brains for it - poor bums. We haven't even produced a decent desi Inspector Ghote, leave alone a Holmes or a Dagleish. So how does one evaluate Saurabh Katyal and his detective, Vishal Bajaj? He has done an excellent job.
His detective is the hard drinking type. Each time he is in trouble or has a black eye or a bleeding nose, an extra swig comes to his aid. And there ain't a woman who doesn't fall for him within a page or two of meeting him. Even his old flame Aditi, married now into the affluent Kapoor family, seems to feel her old fires flaring up for the handsome Vishal once she meets him again after three years. It is she who inveigles him into unravelling the murder of her brother-in-law Anil - the fellow has got stabbed in a hammock at the Kapoor farmhouse.
Some of the characters come off well - Shalini, Rajesh, Abhijit and even Leo. A journalist gets murdered. One can't talk at length of the plot of a detective novel, for one may reveal too much. The clinching clue comes from - guess what - a wife swapping party. Now a writer can't be more adventurous than that, can he? The dialogue at the party goes something like this:
"She spoke with excitement. 'I knew it. You bulls?'
I considered all the permutations of the word bull that came to mind. Bull-shitters? Chicago Bulls? The animal known for its virility?
I looked at Pranay and smiled at her. 'As bull as they come.'
She leaned forward, put her hand on my knee, and said in a seductive voice, 'Hmm, I thought so. Never wrong with my men."
Now you can't get any more exciting than that, can you.
A little dose of subtlety will not do Katyal any harm in his next novel. The sidekick need not be so dumb. Forget Dr. Watson. The cop could also be a little more clued up. Let there be a competition among sharp minds - detective, cop, investigating journalist - and let the best man or woman win. Lastly, let there be at least one female who doesn't fall for our virile detective.
A word about the production. It is excellent. Gyaana Books, launched by the young and a bit too adventurous Divya Dubey, has made a good start.


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