I find murder mysteries to be very interesting. To me, they’re real page turners, keeping the mind intrigued by each event that twists the crime in some way, points out one suspect yet not openly revealing the identity of the killer before the last chapter. On first thought, the Perry Mason novels of Erle Stanley Gardener come to mind. The title itself could grab your attention.
Sharath Komarraju’s debut novel, “Murder in Amaravati” doesn’t grab your attention with the title, but the cover design, with the lock and the face of Kali, in red, that certainly does. As much as red is the color of love, it is also the color of blood; and it was indicative.
Sharath Komarraju is an aspiring author. Currently working in the I.T. field as a software tester, this is his first novel, borne out of writing two hours each day after the eight hours of work at his office. His enthusiasm to write is noticeable when he mentions he hopes to flip that time-balance in the reverse someday.
A good murder mystery, to me, hinges around three crucial parts; viz. the victim, whose actions and character when he/she was alive might be the reason for the crime, the detective whose character needs both wit and intellect to piece the clues and evidence together to find the perpetrator from a group of suspects, and the motive of the perpetrator to do the crime.
In this novel, the victim is well chosen. Her character, as told by other characters in the novel, make the question “Who did it?” more difficult to answer. Padmavati is the “village hostess”, who offers her services to any man without discrimination, earning her an evil character. When the investigation has just commenced, her profession is thought to have given her more enemies than usual, and her tragic demise accepted without question as suicide. As the novel proceeds, that quote which tells to keep your enemies closer seems to get a new meaning, as every suspect in the small populous of Amaravati village seemed to play a big part in her life.
The character of the detective shows the wit Sharath Komarraju has. Head-constable Venkat Reddy quite reflects some of the reluctance of Indian police sometimes read about in papers. Called out to Amaravati in the early hours of the morning, the night shift head-constable starts out pondering if he had not attended the call of the Sarpanch, perhaps the morning shift officer might have got the case instead. He is proud, shown multiple times by the way he gets irritated when addressed with a lower designation. Yet he is also pursuant, continuing to press with the case even when he knows that a verdict of suicide would be embraced without question by the villagers. His character is intelligent, with a tendency to trust easily, which he does do when he permits one of the “suspects” to aid his quest for justice.
The suspects, who had an involvement with Padmavati in some respect, are pursued n detail, by both the author in his writing, and Venkat Reddy in his investigation. These characters are also well woven. The first character introduced to us is Krishna Shastry, or Shastry-gaaru, the priest of the Kali temple. A well-respected man, he’s shown to be commanding respect, but not giving to others. He’s also a strong believer in God, and one who Venkat Reddy befriends and trusts with the investigation. The sarpanch (village-head) is Seetaramaiah, who commands respect from most of the others except Shastry. Satyam is the postmaster and once good friend to Seetaramaiah, whose affair with Padmavati happens in a moment of indecision. Shekar is a handicapped man, who moved to Amaravati from Vizag with his wife to pursue a peaceful life. Other characters like Indira, the paralyzed, near-dead daughter of the sarpanch, her caretaker Mariamma and Kishore her brother, Sanga the local drunkard and Satyam’s wife Lakshmi are given lesser prominence almost throughout the story.
The motive for the murder in the end is happiness, or maybe a rebuttal of choices. Either ways, both the murder and the perpetrator, even the planning of the murder are given a most unexpected twist by the author.
Sharath’s simple language helps the novel to move along in its plot, keeping the attention of the reader to a certain extent. The village of Amaravati is easily imaginable to the readers, as its details given in the story bring it to life in the mind’s eye. Two of the three crucial parts are adhered to, only the motive seems less certain than might have needed to be. The story twists to the past of the characters at times, sometimes unnecessarily, in order to generate motive in that character.
Simple language, interesting plot, unexpected ending… all make for an exciting book, but the long recollections of the characters, and an unclear motive sort of brings down the excitement a little.
Book title: Murder in Amaravati
Book author: Sharath Komarraju
Book genre: Murder Mystery
Book price: Rs. 250
(May 21st, 2012)