Category Archives: Crime Fiction

Murder in Mahim by Jerry Pinto

murder-in-mahim-by-jerry-pinto Title: Murder in Mahim
Author: Jerry Pinto
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
ISBN: 978-9385755293
Genre: Literary Fiction, Indian fiction, Crime fiction
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Before I begin this review let me tell you that this book is very different from ‘Em and the Big Hoom’ by the same author. If you are going to pick up ‘Murder in Mahim’ thinking it will be like his earlier novel, then don’t. It is different and refreshingly so. I would also like to add that it moves beyond just being a murder mystery (in the loose sense of the word) and goes to explore other themes, which I thought was very-well managed and achieved.

Being a Bombay (Yes, to me it will always be that) boy, I could identify to most of what is there in the book, in fact, even all of it – from the glitzy and glamorous to the dark underbelly, nothing was new and everything was a reminiscence of a time gone-by. This is precisely what I love about Jerry Pinto’s books – the description, the eye for detail, the nuances of not only the characters, but also the city (which also happened in Em and the Big Hoom in large doses) and that to me is some superlative craft.

I didn’t think much of the story in this one, but the only reason I kept turning the pages is because I cared for some characters and the language which is par excellence. Jerry Pinto’s writing embroils you in it, it makes you think, and before you know it you are also a part of its world.

So what is the plot of this book? A young man is found dead in the toilet of Matunga road station, with his stomach ripped open. Peter D’Souza, a retired journalist becomes a part of this investigation with his friend Inspector Jende and that’s when the story begins. It is also a book about unspoken love, about Peter’s fear that his son might be involved in the killings (yes, there are more than one) and it is about the city that never sleeps – the one that comforts and the one that can also be mercilessly cruel.

This is all I have to say about the plot. Now to the writing – I was taken in like I have mentioned earlier, by the raw energy of the city pulsating throughout the book. The nuances are meticulously and most certainly effortlessly thrown in – from the Barista at Shivaji Park, to the beaches, to the stench of urine and sweat at railway station platforms, and Marine Drive included. Mumbai (I have to call it that now) has come alive in this book.

Jerry’s writing is peppered with humour, sorrow and lots of ironic moments in the book which make you guffaw a lot. There is this straight-forwardness to his prose and yet the characters are more complex than ever. From Peter’s wife Millie who plays a minor role and yet shines with her complexities to Leslie (my personal favourite character) and the various shades there are to him, each character is crafted with a lot of deftness and logic. At one point, I felt as though I was in Bombay of my college years – there is no timeline as such in the book which works very well to its advantage. ‘Murder in Mahim’ is relevant, topical, fast-paced, and a book that will grab you by your throat.

City of Death by Abheek Barua

City of Death by Abheek Barua Title: City of Death
Author: Abheek Barua
Publisher: Juggernaut Books
ISBN: 9788193237212
Genre: Crime, Thriller
Pages: 263
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

So this was the first book by Juggernaut Books that I read and I must say that I was hooked to it from Page 1. Of course mainly because it is a thriller but what a thriller at that! Set in Kolkata, certainly helps its case a lot more.

The book I am talking about (you know it by now anyway) is “City of Death” by Abheek Barua. Why did I think it was that great? Well, for starters I loved the female protagonist Sohini Sen – a middle-aged, most cynical detective and might I rightly add – unforgettable as you finish the book. She is the kind of character you must have actually come across and yet so unassuming that you might not even remember till it strikes you later.

The plot: A young woman from an affluent background has been brutally murdered. Sohini gets to know of this from the chief minister’s office. She has to drop everything and get on the case. In the midst of all this, there are political parties and powers at the top who want to either not let this get solved or are just too busy with their own agendas.

I won’t go further into the plot but as I said before, I loved the character of Sohini. There is something very real about her and not to forget the star of the book: Kolkata. Barua with his writing takes you in the by-lanes of Kolkata like a magician – always showing, never telling – sometimes telling, never showing. As a reader, I was gripped from the start and honestly I was kinda disappointed when the book ended.

“City of Death” is a perfect book for that lazy rainy afternoon when you have all the time in the world to devour a book – back to back.

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith Title: The Cuckoo’s Calling
Author: Robert Galbraith
Series: Cormoran Strike – Book 1
Publisher: Mullholland Books
ISBN: 978-0316206853
Genre: Suspense, Detective, Crime
Pages: 464
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

With great trepidation, I picked up “The Cuckoo’s Calling” by Robert Gailbraith. There was already so much written and said about it almost two years ago, that I did not even know if I wanted to read it or not. I am glad that I picked it up. Please do not even compare it to the Harry Potter series. You just cannot. May be that is why J.K. Rowling had to change her identity and write this series and once the identity was out, well then the critics had their field day- both good and bad.

“The Cuckoo’s Calling” is the first in the Cormoran Strike (the name of the detective) series and while the third one is just out, there are more lined up. I don’t know how many though. All I can tell you is that the book is something else for sure and I cannot wait to read the second and the third installments.

What is the first book about?

Of course, at the heart of the book is the Private Detective Cormoran Strike – the ex-army guy with his own complicated personal life and skeletons in the closet, his business which is drying up, and of course he had to have a messy break-up with his fiancée.
So everything is downhill till Robin a temp arrives from the Temp Agency and ends up becoming a permanent secretary/assistant of sorts and then a case lands up on his doorstep which he just cannot refuse. It is a high-profile case – that of a supermodel – falling to death from her third-floor Mayfair apartment and her brother suspects foul play and hires Cormoran to investigate further. This in short is the gist. It is like any other hard-boiled detective novel you might say. So what makes it any different?

I guess it is the writing for sure but it is also the noir element that runs through the book, given it is set in London and also given how the characters are all people with shades of grey as it should be in a book like this. I instantly took a shine to Cormoran and the wry humour that prevailed throughout. The working class of London is also very well depicted, without leaning to any social or political context. The lives of people – both the detectives and the suspects are so detailed that it is a joy to read the book and know more about them.

“The Cuckoo’s Calling” is the kind of book that cannot be read in one sitting. It needs to be cherished and savoured and not read in one go. At least I wasn’t able to. Cormoran Strike is a detective that will grow on you as he did on me and I cannot wait to read The Silkworm.

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The Cuckoo’s Calling (English)

Book Review: Ten by Andrej Longo

Ten by Andrej Longo Title: Ten
Author: Andrej Longo
Translator: Howard Curtis
Publisher: Harvill Secker, Random House UK
ISBN: 978-1846556173
Genre: Crime, Short Stories
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Now to talk about a very unusual book which I finished reading a couple of days ago. It was full of impact, full of horror, and anticipation and at the same time, struck the right chords. It is also quite hard hitting in most bits and pieces. After all, “Ten” by Andrej Longo is a mix of the Ten Commandments and the Mafia. The action takes place in Naples, where the ten stories are centered.

Each story is based on one commandment and of course the Mafia is a part of each of them, which is the basis of this book. The stories are interlinked which again is what happens in most books of this nature. Naples is central to every story, which only helps the reader in understanding the landscape of the place and its nuances and culture. The stories are about regular people who are just caught in their lives and want better – for which they will go to any lengths.

The stories are different and yet at the core of it – the savagery of humans and the humanity as well shines through. So on one hand, there is a son who has to make a tough choice when he comes to terms with his mother’s illness to a teenager who wants to grow to become an adult a little too soon and gets caught on the wrong side to an abused girl who finds comfort in a stuffed toy. Each story is different and linked and at the same time makes you wonder about the fragility of human life.

What I loved about the stories is that the stories do not lose their essence from translation. Howard Curtis has done it again with this one. I remember reading “Lovers” by Daniel Arsand and “The Threads of the Heart” by Carole Martinez with same enthusiasm as I lapped this one, and of course those two were also translated by him. Andrej Longo as it is clear from the translation writes brutally and almost makes you jump from your seat in anticipation of what is going to happen next. The element of thrill and literary fiction is difficult to find at times, but he does it effortlessly. At times all I wanted was the stories to be a little longer; however each story hit the right spot. I would definitely recommend this to readers who want to read a short and yet full-of-life collection of stories.

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Book Review: I Will Have Vengeance: The Winter of Commissario Riccciardi by Maurizio de Giovanni

I Will Have Vengeance Title: I Will Have Vengeance: The Winter of Commissario Ricciardi
Author: Maurizio de Giovanni
Translator: Anne Milano Appel
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609450946
Genre: Noir, Crime
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Crime fiction is not everyone’s cup of tea – to read or to write. It is more so difficult when you are writing crime fiction novels based in a time different than yours, you have to but after all keep in mind how the readers are going to react to those times and situations. At the same time, a writer needs to be more so intelligent when it comes to the plot and the overall series (because when anyone writes a crime novel, according to me it more or less turns to be a series). These and a lot of other elements make for a great crime novel, when synchronized and almost singing to each other.

“I Will Have Vengeance: The Winter of Commissario Ricciardi” is one such book, written with keen observation and some humour (in some places if not all) by Maurizio de Giovanni. At the core of the novel, as the title suggests is its protagonist, Commissario Ricciardi. The action takes place in Naples. It is 1931 and winter. The cold winds are biting and Ricciardi knows that something is going to happen. Sure enough, a murder takes place; that of one of the greatest tenors the world has ever known – Maestro Vezzi and that too in his dressing room at Naples famous San Carlo Theatre. The enigmatic and quite cold Ricciardi is called in for an investigation, with his loyal colleague Maione. The two make for a fantastic detective duo I have read about in a long time. The murder and its solving make for excellent reading, and that too because of a secret held by Ricciardi.

Maurizio de Giovanni wrote a short story at first and introduced Ricciardi in it. From there on it won a writing competition, and then paved way for other three books in the series. What struck me the most and stayed with me about the book was the setting. Naples in 1930s was something I had never thought I would read of and that too in crime fiction, however I did and I loved it. Ricciardi is a man with a lot of baggage attached and at the same time, the characterization is humane and subtle. There are hilarious moments throughout the book and the writing is sharp and unsettling as well.

At one point the story did lose some pace, but I ignored that aspect, as it lunged right ahead and got me back into the story. This has been the first crime fiction for me of the year and I could not have been happier about the choice. Europa Editions has introduced the “World Noir” series and this is the first installment. I am sure the other titles will be as riveting as this one. At the same time, I cannot wait to read the other three titles published in the Ricciardi series (hoping they will be translated in English). This translation of the first novel by Anne Milano Appel is almost bang-on with description and the sense of place of a crime novel. The great thing that worked for me as well was that I read it during winter (the apt season), so the “relate” factor was high. A brilliant read nonetheless.