Category Archives: Crime Fiction

Hush A Bye Baby by Deepanjana Pal

Hush A Bye Baby Title: Hush A Bye Baby
Author: Deepanjana Pal
Publisher: Juggernaut
ISBN: 978-9386228574
Genre: Suspense and Thriller
Pages: 264
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Why am I reading this book?

Do you ask yourself this as you turn the page of a book you do not seem to enjoy? I know I have asked this question and dropped the book even without knowing the answer. Off-late it has happened a lot more, so I have become quite judicious about my choices. Do I want to read this at all? And if I do, why?

I am not a fan of the thriller genre. I enjoy it now and then but not a fan of the genre, so to say. “Hush A Bye Baby” by Deepanjana Pal on the other hand made me stay up all night, demanding to be read and for that I missed a Riverdale episode (I never miss a Riverdale episode. It is so bad that I love it!). Let me also add here that the experience was rewarding.

Now, within the first ten pages you know whodunit. So that’s that about this book. But why did she do what she did? For that you have to read the book, cover to cover.

The setting: Bombay (or Mumbai as you might choose to call it).

Plot, in brief (because if I say more about it, will you even read the book?): Dr. Nandita Rai is a well-known gynecologist. She consults celebrities and is on media every other week speaking of women’s issues. She is your not-so-typical South Mumbai feminist (a post on South Mumbai feminist is due later sometime). She is the poster girl for every expecting mother, till the police raid her clinic, when she is accused of sex selective abortions. And this is where the why comes into the picture. Enter: Sub-Inspector Reshma Gabuji who is relentless when it comes to this case and will go all out to uncover the truth.

This is the plot really. Of course, there is more but for review purposes, this shall suffice. Deepanjana’s take on Bombay is superb. I just wish there was more of Bombay. Nandita’s character checks all the right boxes, but my personal favourite was Reshma all the way. Both Nandita and Reshma are witty (that obviously comes from Deepanjana being that way and if you don’t know how witty she is, then you must watch her videos on YouTube), independent and gregarious women.

I loved how Deepanjana leaves so many clues and paces them well in the first-half of the book, keeping in pace with all the thrills. What didn’t work for me was the end, though it did make sense, just that I felt it was too rushed. At the same time, what worked brilliantly (amongst so many other things) was the fact that finally someone in India wrote about sex-selective abortions and women’s rights – all rolled in to a pot-boiler, page-turner thriller. It drives the point home without being too pedantic. There are other secrets as well that come out from the closet, but like I said, for that you have to read the book.

“Hush A Bye Baby” is all that you will expect from a thriller and it will deliver that and more. A perfect flight-read or a summer afternoon read when you think you have nothing to do, but you can read. So read this book already.

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Force of Nature by Jane Harper

Force of Nature by Jane Harper Title: Force of Nature
Author: Jane Harper
Publisher: Flatiron Books, Macmillan USA
ISBN: 978-1250191663
Genre: Thriller and Suspense, Crime
Pages: 326
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3 Stars

I have not read “The Dry” yet. Please do not make a face at that statement. Please do not be prepared to kill me either, or for that matter be a snob about having read the debut of Jane Harper. Having said this (and thank God it is now out of the way), I thoroughly enjoyed, “Force of Nature”, her second book in the Aaron Falk (Federal Agent) series. So, calm down, because I will but obviously read, “The Dry” this month itself. Now back to this one!

I am not the kind to read suspense or thriller novels, but this one sure did catch my attention with its synopsis and I knew I had to devour this and devour I did. At the same time, while I thought it was well-written, I also found it to be quite slow and dragging in most places. So, this is what happens with suspense novels: You want to know what happened so badly, that perhaps it seems that the book is slow, or it may be really is very slow. “Force of Nature” for me belonged to the latter category.

Jane Harper builds the atmosphere superbly but somewhere down the line, I thought that the characters needed some more build-up. The plot is intriguing: Five women reluctantly head out on a forest hike and only four come out on the other side. What happened on the trail? What went wrong? To add to that, these five women are colleagues and know each other and also have some grudges to bear. The hike is arranged by the company (which is family-owned) for five men and five women and in all of this, the action plays out against Australia’s bushland.

Harper is a master of description. There is way too much of it, which only means that she successfully transports you Australia and its landscape. From the trees to the local falls to the animals and birds, you end up going on the hike yourself. In all of this, is the entry of Federal Police Agent, Aaron Falk (made his first appearance in The Dry) who has a vested interest in the whereabouts of the missing woman, Alice Russell, who also happened to be a whistleblower in his latest case involving the company she is working for.

“Force of Nature” starts off fantastically and ends on a high as well, but somewhere along the middle, I really did feel it could’ve ended sooner. At the same time, there is a lot going on in the book – all the interpersonal relationships that are glimpsed into but not spoon-fed (which is again very intelligent), leave you wanting more. I will for sure pick up “The Dry” sometime soon.

Under the Midnight Sun by Keigo Higashino. Translated from the Japanese by Alexander O. Smith with Joseph Reeder.

Under the Midnight Sun by Keigo HigashinoTitle: Under the Midnight Sun
Author: Keigo Higashino
Translated from the Japanese by Alexander O. Smith with Joseph Reeder
Publisher: Minotaur Books
ISBN: 978-1250105790
Genre: Literary Thriller
Pages: 560
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Literary thrillers are hard to come by. Let me rephrase this: Good literary thrillers are hard to come by and thank God for Keigo Higashino. I was a fan the minute I finished reading “The Devotion of Suspect X” and then when I read “Salvation of a Saint” I knew I would continue reading whatever he would dish, no matter how good or bad. I think it has got to do with the atmosphere that is built in his novels, and that is so important for a good thriller. The right kind of setting – the fog if necessary, the ambience of the hotel maybe or just describing a regular street. He is a master at that, bordering noir, if there could be Japanese noir (given most of their literature is dark anyway) and almost surpasses himself in it.

“Under the Midnight Sun” is a big book at 560 pages. But at no point do you feel overwhelmed or intimidated reading it, because of its size. The story is so gripping that you want to turn the pages no matter how late it is at night or for that matter early morning. In Osaka, in 1973, the body of a murdered man is found in an abandoned building. Detective Sasagaki is unable to find the murderer. In all of this, the lives of two teenagers – Ryo and Yukiho get embroiled which will leave the reader shocking and gasping for breath as the end of the book nears.

Higashino in this one is mainly concentrating on the aftermath of a crime. Twenty years have passed and it is 1993 and how the teenagers then are impacted by the crime that took place. Why must they get impacted you ask? Well because one of them is the child of the one who got killed and the other the child of the killer. The psychological impact then – as they strive to find the truth behind the killing and how Sasagaki gets involved again is spine-chilling.

Higashino doesn’t mince words while writing. Everything is crystal clear and the way it is supposed to be. The plot while threadbare, as you go along keeps getting layers added to it, which doesn’t really let it remain threadbare for long. The characters are etched to accuracy and no one has received more or less print time. “Under the Midnight Sun” is a feast for any lover of pulp 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.