Pub date: 2009
Source: Personal copy
A Nice Quiet Holiday is the book that I decided to start with for the South Asian Author challenge that I’ve signed up for. I had already ordered and received this book when the author got in touch with me about reviewing his second book. Of course I had to read the debut novel before starting on the second one.
Anant, a young law clerk is invited to Bhairavgarh by his employer, the maverick New Delhi criminal court judge Justice Harish Shinde. They look forward to a peaceful stay at the home of Shikhar Pant, the Judge’s friend, and some time away from busy city life and work. But soon after they arrive, the little hill town is transformed into a hotbed of hostility. The cause is a controversial report on AIDS authored by Mittals, fellow guests at the house of Shikhar Pant. Even the members of the house are divided on this issue and some heated arguments ensue. But this controversy is almost overshadowed by the murder of Pant’s cousin – a famous writer and supporter of the Mittals. The police, of course, jump to conclusions and chase the wrong leads. It’s up to the Judge to track down the murderer and crack the case. Anant finds himself legal counsel for the Mittals and an assistant sleuth to the Judge.
A Nice Quiet Holiday is an Indian parlour-room mystery. A la Agatha Christie mysteries, the guests of the house and a circle of family, friends, neighbours and servants are the players in the drama and many of them are naturally also suspects.
Anant, the young law clerk plays Watson to Judge Shinde’s Homes. The eccentric Judge uses a combination of shrewd observation, psychology and subtle questioning to solve the murder.
The characters include the Mittals, who work with NGOs, Dr. Nath, a homeopathic doctor and his beautiful daughter Mallika, civil servant Pravin Anand and his troubled son Avinash, the old servant Mehar Singh and a few others. Many red herrings and a wrong arrest later, the Judge cracks the case (by breaking the law himself).
While the jacket copy calls this book a “literary thriller,” I’d place in in genre fiction. It’s a quick, interesting murder mystery with the usual cast of characters. The murder, the motivation and the unraveling of the mystery all make this a fun read. But literary it is not.
I won’t discuss the story too much so that I don’t spoil the mystery. Sudarshan’s plot and story are pretty good, but where I would have liked to see more depth is in the characterization. The Judge’s eccentricity was a good vehicle to use to get to the bottom of the mystery. His speeches and rather unconventional way of looking at things liven up discussions, but I didn’t find myself agreeing with all that he said.
The romantic element is in the sub-plot of Anant’s attraction for Mallika. To some extent, his obsession with this beautiful and unattainable girl help clear up some of the points regarding the murder. But her character in the story and way she reacts to life and love are more to do with a young man’s confusion about the fair sex and less to do with moving the story forward.
While reading certain books, unfortunately the irritations with the production overwhelm my impression of the book itself. In this case, a lot of little irritants piled up which I place at the feet of the publisher, not the author. It needed better copy editing and use of a more accepted style guide, and consistency in stylistic issues. Tighter editing was needed to cut out extra adjectives and certain other pitfalls of Indian English writing. I would have also liked to see a more natural style and easier language to fit the story and its treatment.
In spite of these drawbacks, I have to say this was an interesting read (especially for a debut novel). A good fit for those looking for Indian stories in an Indian setting, and for anyone who wants to follow and encourage Indian authors. I am curious to read Sudarshan’s second novel and see how he has grown as a writer and what new stories he has to tell us.
*See my Rating policy