If there are seasons for crime fiction, then the current one is hotter than Vindaloo.
To begin at the beginning, several promising debut crime novels have appeared, such as Piggies on the Railway by Smita Jain, which is the first in a tongue-in-cheek chick-lit crime series about Mumbai detective Kasthuri Kumar. In this book, she is hired to solve a mystery in the Bollywood film industry, a world that smells alternatively of Chanel 5 and evil muck. Another funny debut title is Manisha Lakhe’s farcical The Betelnut Killers about how an NRI shopkeeper in Oregon tries to import a contract killer from Mumbai to take care of the competition, which results in a big-big mess.
A very intriguing debut mystery novel is The Gamechangers. I’m assuming this is a debut for until we know who is behind the cool pen name, this—technically speaking—is the first book by Mr or Ms Fake IPL Player. The plot is based on last year’s cricketing scandal, at the centre of which was a mysterious blogger who may or may not have been an IPL insider. Personally, I do have a cricket bat by the door in case dacoits try to break in but I’m not a fan of the game per se. Yet I found this fast-paced, gossipy thriller almost unputdownable. The plot revolves around how the tournament is jeopardized by “insider information” provided by the secret blogger and detective Parminder Mahipal Singh, better known as PMS, races against time to expose the deep throat.
But debutants are debutants, and kings are kings. From the king of Hindi pulp crime fiction, Surender Mohan Pathak, comes Daylight Robbery, with an attractive cover by the legendary Shelle Studio, translated into crisp, hard-boiled English by Sudarshan Purohit. In Hindi, Pathak’s approximately 300 books have sold many-many millions of copies (or so I’ve heard), and for over three decades the Vimal series has taken Hindi readers on a virtual Bharat Darshan a la noir from Amritsar to Delhi, Jaipur to Agra and even as far south as Mumbai and Chennai. Now the rest of us are invited on-board and I am super thrilled to be able to reveal that the series will continue with several more translations; next in line is Fortune’s Ransom, which, from what I’ve been told, is going to be a much fatter novel with a complex thriller plot.
To top it all off, we get Sherlock Holmes visiting India in Holmes of the Raj, a book that used to be hard to find in bookshops but has now been reissued by Random House. It’s a tribute to Arthur Conan Doyle, who alluded to Sherlock’s adventures in the subcontinent but never wrote about them. Vithal Rajan’s entertaining reconstruction of those Indian cases brings Holmes and Doctor Watson to Puducherry, Hyderabad, Nainital, Kolkata and elsewhere. They meet pretty much the who’s who of colonial days—from Madame Blavatsky and Rudyard Kipling to Swami Vivekananda, Motilal Nehru and Rabindranath Tagore. Which makes this book one of the obvious must-haves of this year.
The king: Pathak’s Daylight Robbery will be available in English. Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Taken together, all this means that Indian crime genre fiction may have truly arrived this season, and while none of these books quite measure up to Vikram Chandra’s 2006 masterpiece Sacred Games—absolutely undisputedly the greatest Indian crime novel of all time—they do provide many entertaining moments. So this monsoon, when load-shedding means no current in the comp or juice in the modem, those of you devoted to mysteries can skip Agatha Christie. Halfway through you’ll anyway suddenly remember who killed Roger Ackroyd. Instead get a stack of fresh Indian pulp crime and simply enjoy the power cuts.
Meanwhile, I’ve got myself a reading list from Rahul De, who betters on the list I published in my 27 March column about three unlikely top mystery novels. His are My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk (Nobel Prize winner), The Uncomfortable Dead by Subcomandante Marcos (political analyst), and Murder at the Margin by Marshall Jevons (a combined pseudonym for an economist team). So while De will, as promised by my good self, get to read Once upon a Time in Scandinavistan and you guys read all those other books I’ve just described, I’ll check out this interesting-looking top list.
Zac O’Yeah is a Bangalore-based crime fiction writer.
Write to Zac at email@example.com