When a book is part of a series, there is an inadvertent comparison to the book that precedes it. There is a basic expectation that the book will be at least as good as if not better than that preceding book. I was absolutely impressed by the first book titled ‘The Winds of Hastinapur’ in this series authored by Sharath Komarraju. It was because that it wasn’t a retelling of the Mahabharata, but a part of it from the point of view of two women in the epic. That was the USP of the book, and this second book continues that as well.
“Do not judge a book by its cover.”
But when it comes to books, we mostly do. It’s the cover and blurb that catch the eye first, and make us select the book. That the cover design isn’t appealing would be the first thing I would say when it comes to the book, The Winds of Hastinapur by Sharath Komarraju. Given that I found the cover design of his first book to be really well thought of, this one fell a lot. It didn’t have the magic that I expected from the genre. Continue reading “Book Review: The Winds of Hastinapur, by Sharath Komarraju”
Impressions off the back cover:
The book promises a family (murder) story, with a duo of investigators trying to piece together the murder puzzle to complete a picture of what happened. The plot, being family-oriented, would be having secrets, and may be difficult to solve if the family members are supportive of each other (which would make the story more spicy). Yet it is a family member who asks further investigation by the duo, so all may not be well. The story would make interesting reading, that’s for sure.
My thoughts on the book:
Sometimes, an author’s second book raises expectations, especially when the genre stays the same. But I prefer reading without any such limitation of expectation, unless its part of a series, in which case I’d look for continuity. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again… murder mysteries are something I find very interesting… maybe because of the curiosity to find out who was the killer.
Unlike his first novel, Sharath Komarraju catches the reader’s attention with the title of his second book, rather than the cover. “Banquet on the Dead”… questions immediately come, “Who is dead?” “Who are feasting on the victim?” “Why?” “Why was the person killed?” “Who is finding out all of the answers?”… most questions a mystery should raise. The cover design, I still can’t quite understand, the queen card, but the misty appearance around the card and the victim being a woman, somewhat makes the cover seem sensible, even though it doesn’t jump at you.
I’m going to focus on three parts of the story, as I did when I reviewed his first book. The victim, the detectives and the motive. These three, to me, make or break any mystery. The fourth, of somewhat muted importance, are the suspects.
The victim, Kauveramma, is a distinguished lady, one of the richest, if not the richest in the village. She stays at Kaveri Bhavan, named after her, the biggest house in the village. She’s considered as a dominating figure, to her family as well as to the town’s people. She is known to have a fear of water, and yet, the setting of her death is a well. Her reputation in the family is mixed, some like her, and others don’t, which is quite obvious as the story proceeds. I think, overall, Sharath manages to sketch her character well as the matriarch who gets some respect and some hatred from her family. Somewhat reminds me of Agatha Christie’s character Mrs. Boynton in Appointment with Death, but not a complete tyrant perhaps.
The inspector in-charge is Valmiki Nagarajan, who at first doesn’t suspect anything, but on insistence from the victim’s grandson Dr. Koteshwar Rao, decides to look into it further, with the help of Hamid Pasha. Pasha was once a crook, and having been on opposite sides with Nagarajan, now has a warm relationship with him. He’s as charming as Nagarajan is direct, as observant as Nagarajan is dismissive, and as talkative as Nagarajan is silent. One could say he’s nearly the complete opposite of Nagarajan. If yin and yang are the interdependent forces that balance the world, then Pasha and Nagarajan are the yin and yang that balance the “detectives” part of this story. I’m more impressed with the character sketching of Pasha, who is the more relaxed and calm of the two even though he is as equally determined to solve the mystery as the inspector is; this is evident from the scene where he chases a small clue all the way to Hyderabad. He is indeed as the back-cover describes him: a charming rogue with that flair for shayaris and an admirable curiousity. At times, I feel Sharath has been influenced by Sherlock Holmes in this sketching.
The suspects are family, and he takes the effort to bring in every bit of masala in detailing, the family gossips, the “compromises” to keep each other safe, the character detailing like how some are incompetent, and others are learned… the eagerness of one person pointing to the other as the criminal, and all the little things that matter. This part, that is of muted importance to me, has been done very well, and I think that it does bring an overall effect to the story since it revolves around them, as much as it does around Pasha and Nagarajan.
The motive of the criminal to do the deed… I’ve gone through the ending, and the plotting a few times, but I can’t quite place one thing as the motive, especially since at the end, it is shown that it wasn’t just one criminal. To the most part, I can attribute as a desire for wealth, since the victim was rich, but still I find that too obvious, and I’m left partly in doubt. Again, this is my personal view only, so maybe the story is open and shut completely and I’m not able to see it as such.
Having read a lot of murder mysteries, I think I could say with much certainty as to the identity of the “killer” much before the ending. And I was proved right, which I didn’t want. It sort of dulled the story for me, slightly. Also, I find that one part of the story has been hurried through, and it brings out an error that stands out. Something that could have been avoided. Even the approach to that one part felt out of place in an otherwise flowing narration.
A classic “whodunnit” mystery, with the character of the victim, the suspects and the detectives sketched quite beautifully, and even the execution of the murder to be in somewhat unexpected manner. One part jars the reader if he/she is paying attention to what he’s reading, rather than being just enthralled by the plot till that point, and the motive, though obvious to the most part is still not iron-clad. Masala sprinkled throughout the plot helps keep the reader’s attention hooked, but I find the identity of the killer can be seen much before if we connect the dots. Keeping with the back-cover, expectation is mostly met, and the ending gives a possible indication that this duo of detectives would be back with another case in the not-so-distant future. For that case, I wait eagerly.
Title: Banquet on the Dead
Author: Sharath Komarraju
Genre: Murder Mystery
Price: Rs. 250
Book ISBN: 9789381626986
(’12, Dec 03)
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)