I continue dipping my toes in crime thrillers written by Indian authors. I had read about the Lalli series a while ago and sounded like an interesting addition to my list. Rather than start from the first in the series, I decided to go with the latest.
An ex-cop Lalita (Lalli) is the Mumbai policeman’s Last Resort. Lalli is who they turn to to solve the toughest cases. In this latest installment, Lalli comes on the scene a little later. Her niece, Sita is the one who stumbles on the murder (almost literally). Sita gets a call from an old schoolmate, Sitara asking for her help. Sita rushes over to help and is not all that shocked to find a large dead man on the floor of the kitchen. She finds Sitara getting down from the attic, feeling rather confused and unable to remember what happened. She also has no idea who the dead man is.
The other characters are Savio (Lalli’s partner), Vinay (Sitara’s husband), Inspector Shukla (stereotypical cop – judgmental and quick to jump to the wrong conclusions, but ultimately a good guy).
In this murder mystery, nothing is as it seems. Even the Photoshopped Monochrome Madonna that is a focal point at Sitara and Vinay’s house seems to be trying to tell us something else. The relationship between Sitara and her husband Vinay is hard to understand with both of them painting very different pictures of their life together.
The premise was interesting, especially with the piece of art becoming such an important player in the mystery.
Lalli is an interesting character – well-respected, brilliant and like all the great detectives notices the smallest details and draws conclusions from them. She realises that the painting of the Madonna in Sitara’s house has a big role to play in the solving of the case.
Swaminathan’s writing is brilliant, capable of making even the mundane sound interesting, but the plot needed a lot more meat and needed to be tighter. The mystery takes off well enough and the quirky character of Sitara adds to the puzzle. As the story goes on however, there are places where it meanders along a little too slowly.
There are also some plot points that just did not sit well with me:
Sita has to help her parents take care of their business when her mother hurts herself. And through this whole chapter, we don’t see the mystery unraveling in any way. Spending a month helping your parents take care of their rose business, though commendable in the larger scheme of things, has no place in a murder mystery unless it serves to advance the plot. Through that whole chapter, all I could think was, “The trail grows cold!”
Savio tries to befriend the main suspect over this month and more in the hopes that he will confess or let something slip. This was also something I couldn’t get my head around. A detective needs to go out and get the evidence needed to shock the suspect into a confession, not sit around, play housekeeper/psychologist and hope he finds something useful.
This and some of the clues Lalli used to draw her conclusions seemed a little too laboured to me.
With all the holes I’ve poked it this book, it sounds like I didn’t like it at all, doesn’t it? But that’s not quite true. For if it were, I’d hardly have put the first two books in the series on my to-read list.
Swaminathan’s style is witty, and the narrator makes a good detective’s side-kick. I hope that next time around, there is a lot more meat on the bones.
Okay read. Read it to keep up with Indian crime fiction.
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