If there is one genre that I love to read, it is a murder mystery. To know the crime, and then read along, trying to solve the crime with each turning page, it’s quite fun. I’ve grown up reading Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes, not to forget the delightful Perry Mason. When author Rasleen Syal asked me if I would read and review her debut novel, I happily accepted it. The title intrigued me, and then the cover, a very simple yet captivating one, convinced me that it was going to be a good read.
When you are suspected of a crime, the natural reaction is to try and prove yourself innocent. Or if you are aware of the other suspects, try to prove one of them guilty. That’s the basic premise of the book Happily Murdered, where the crime happens in a place where no one from the outside can enter without permission, and police being absolutely certain that the murderer is a part of the family. Who has the most to gain by Gulab Sarin’s death? Why was she poisoned on the very next night of her wedding?
Detectives: Each character has something to hide, or something to benefit from the crime, so each of them turn detective in the novel, so suffice to say, this aspect of a crime fiction is different compared to the usual novels and each character is interesting. One particular character that manages to bring a smile is the character of Biji, who reminds me so much of the dominative female character I’ve come across in quite a few Indian family serials. Though the police are mentioned at the start of the novel, and in the case-file, they are surprisingly missing from the rest of the book until the end.
Victim & Motive: Gulab Sarin, a girl unappreciated by her family and befriended by her “future” husband Sid when she was a kindergartner, accepted and loved by his family and in love with him to the extent that she’s willing to forgive his faults. In a Poirot-esque ending, there is a conjecture as to why she was the perfect victim, and what the motive was for the crime. It was interesting and unexpected, though I still wished the revenge motive was executed some other way. You could say Gulab’s character deserved better than death.
Pace: With the book becoming partly a family drama along with the crime fiction, the pace of the novel isn’t as quick as you’d expect it to be. A businessman father-in-law, who distrusts his son; the beauty-conscious mother-in-law who changes her look as often as she drinks; the husband whose character is very shady and makes you wonder why a character like Gulab would marry him in the first place; her best friend who is also her brother-in-law… the book has a mix of characters that make for a tricky, yet fun reading. However, Gulab’s voice/ghost returning between with recollections and flashbacks, and each member hunting for clues keeps the pages turning. I also liked the presentation of the case file, which gives an insight into each character at the start. I returned to that a few times to check if I understood the characters correctly. The end, where one of the characters pieces together the jigsaw is the best part perhaps; like I said, it is Poirot-esque, and shows the influence Agatha Christie has had in Rasleen’s writing style. But it is not clear how the final twist is arrived at, even though it makes sense.
In general: Rasleen’s narrating style, with simple English and absolutely no regional lingo thrown in, keeps the reader engaged from first to last, but the editing could be much better. There are typographical errors here and there, and sometimes a word is missing or pluralized. These stand out more prominently when the plot makes you turn the pages back to check if you have understood it correctly.
Verdict: As it is, the book has a plot that is different. With some clarity on how the “detective” pieces together the case in the end, and another scan through for correcting those editing mistakes, it would have become even better. However, this remains a delicious debut from a talented author.
Title: Happily Murdered
Author: Rasleen Syal
Genre: Crime Fiction
Publisher: Srishti Publishers & Distributors
Price: Rs. 195
(7th September 2014)