Pub date: 2012
Ugrasen is a successful businessman and a domineering patriarch living at Sainik farms with his large extended family. When he drops dead, rather suddenly, it looks like it was death by natural cause. By his 14-year-old niece Anjali believes there is more to it than a sudden heart attack.
She engages the services of a private detective Ganapathy Iyer (GP), who takes on the case with the help of his friend Vinayak Verma and the support of ACP Bijon Dasgupta. What follows is essentially a closed house murder mystery where the protagonist tries to establish motive, means, opportunity and alibis.
Ugrasen is a successful man and demands that his children meet his ideals of success. He is also domineering and rather stubborn, believing that he knows what is best for his adult children and is constantly pressuring them to do as he demands. This sets up the mystery rather nicely since he has ruffled quite a few feathers and caused his family to be frustrated with his high-handedness. Despite this, he is a sympathetic character, so when he does get murdered we care enough about him to want to know who could have killed him.
With a large family and all the politics that comes with it, there are quite a few red herrings – almost everyone in the house had a motive to carry a grudge, so GP has to eliminate them on the basis of other criteria.
We of course have to have the police as part of this investigation, and the bumbling ACP, under pressure to wrap up the case provides a good balance for the calm and steady GP. The ACP does go off on the most obvious clues, while GP knows to look under the surface.
While most the detective fiction set in India has relied rather heavily on interviews and a great deal of luck as a means of elimination of suspects, (like A Nice Quiet Holiday or Monochrome Madonna) Sainik Farms has a combination of forensic work and interviews, which makes it a little more realistic and closer to what we’ve come to expect (from fiction not real life) from watching shows like CSI.
The detective GP and his friend and partner Vinayak Verma get down to actually talking to the people in the house and collecting clues – fingerprints, letters, documents and anything else that could tell them what happened. GP is a ‘typical’ South Indian (you can see my South Indianess bristle at this concept) with a Tamil film hero mustache and a love for the Tirukkural. He is smart and intuitive and a modern day detective, depending on fingerprinting, and other forensic measures to help him along the way.
Vinayak Verma is not a typical Watson, so he also contributes to the collections of clues. But I can’t really tell these two characters apart in what they contribute to the solving of the case. As it stands these two characters are almost interchangeable in my mind and that is not a good position for the protagonist.
All told, this was an easy fun mystery, good for a lazy afternoon or on holiday.
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