Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Book Review: 'Happily Murdered' by Rasleen Syal

Source: www.amazon.in

Revenge might be a dish best served cold but it only tastes mouth-watering if a dash of jealousy or protectiveness and a sprinkle of animosity and rivalry are added to it. This is a delicacy served by many across the world but few manage to nail the quality and turn it into a gourmet dish with a serving of murder on the side.  We have devoured it with a hunger known only to us avid Mystery readers, feeling satiated only when served by the likes of Agatha Christie, Mary Higgins Clark or P.D James. So when a young Indian Author decided to make a foray into this Genre and make an attempt at rubbing shoulders with the who’s who of this world, it made me sit up, smack my lips in anticipation and eagerly take a headlong dive into what I hoped would be India’s epicurean response to the world of mystery writing. And no, I wasn't disappointed. Not really.

‘Happily Murdered’ is debutante Author Rasleen Syal’s first offering in a virtually untouched genre by Indian Authors. This is the first aspect that makes this book different. Set in the serene and picturesque foothills of the Himalayas is the fictitious town Ratnagiri in Uttaranchal. Gulab Sarin, the newly wed daughter-in-law of the affluent Mehta family is found dead dressed in her bridal finery on her wedding night. Despite obvious clues left around that point to one particular individual, the jealousy, strife, animosity, rivalry, manipulative behaviour and the history to the victim’s relationship with her new husband add different angles to the investigation that make the Police believe this to be an inside job.

The matter complicates with the different shades of grey that each and every family member bring to the table, be it the ruthlessly business minded father in law, the crafty mother in law, traitorous brother in law, love struck ex-fiancees or the infidel and debt ridden husband. Everyone seems to have a tale to tell and a story to hide. The abstruseness of the matter and the urge to save the family name from any disgrace gives birth to nine sleuths, each wanting to protect their loved one even if it means sending an innocent to the Guillotine. What would mean a regular day in every household is full of intrusion, frantic room searches, framing and blame games in the Mehta Palace. A family full of malice and deception and a death in the middle of the night, the Mehtas and their relatives, the Dullas form the ingredients of a beautiful recipe for murder.

A lot of things help simmer the dish, adding the necessary spice spite in the right amounts. The flavour that stands out the most is the narration style, what could add the punch to the final product if not having Gulab narrate the past that ties each character to each other in more ways than one? That for me was the second aspect that made this book different. If that wasn't enough, the third and most important aspect that made this book tick for me was the language Rasleen uses to weave words together into meanings that make the reader thing more than once about the conclusions he has conjured in his mind while leafing through the pages. In a world, where sprinkling generous doses of Hindi and using colloquial lingo has become the order of the day, Rasleen Syal makes an entry much like a cool breeze on a hot summery day.

While the dish was getting prepared, it does seem to have gone through a few minor misadventures along the way. A few conflicting tenses during the narration and some factual discrepancies (e.g. cigarette smoke on a flight or Vikram’s age and how long his parents have been married) make you re-read a few paragraphs but they do not necessarily impede the pace at which the story moves. What also stands out every now and then are minor typographical errors and the occasional omission of a word, making one feel the copy editing team could have done with one last eyeballing exercise. None of these however stop the dish from being cooked to serve as the dish is always served-cold.

When you sample the dish, the flavours hit your taste buds and make you want to relish it more, one page at a time. As you enjoy every bite, there are times when you sense what the end will be like from the flavours Rasleen tries to imbibe through the narration style she adopts. But despite the inkling you get, when you reach the end of the meal, you don’t mind scraping the leftovers from the plate and licking it clean but once you are done and you look back you realize a few ingredients might have been missed out which could have helped the Author perfect the dish.

For a mystery that needs to be solved within a fortnight and the urgency the police show initially, they are surprisingly missing from most of the story. Apart from a reactive action to information provided, there is no sign of them pursuing their investigation. One of the amateur sleuth’s finally hits dirt by piecing the puzzle together however how he joins the pieces and arrives at the final conclusion is not explained entirely. What also becomes noticeable is the absence of perspective and involvement into the self-made investigations of some of the family members, instead the focus being on a select few. The first few pages disclose the characters involved, often leaving you confused on the relationships between them and making you feel a family tree would have come handy but that feeling does tend to disappear as you progress through and the characters become more familiar.


Despite these slight flavours that you tend to wonder about, Rasleen presents “Happily Murdered” as a delicious dish, one that you enjoy and savour. Her idol’s influence is also evident from the finale she ensembles which has a typical Agatha Christie-ish feel to it. Given this is her debut book, Rasleen impresses and makes you wonder if she will invent newer recipes which will define India’s own version of crime based fiction in the coming years.

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46 comments:

  1. Now, as someone who hardly reads reviews (and detests them to some extend), I wonder why I promptly read your reviews. Surely there must be something :P
    Another great unbiased review :)

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    1. Thanks Sid and I know you hate reading reviews so if you liked mine, its a huge compliment for me :)

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  2. wow..what a well-thought out review, Seeta. You certainly have a way with book reviews. Your clarity in thought about how the book unfolds or should have unfolded is remarkable. I'm bookmarking this post to my to-read list.

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    1. I try to pen down what my reaction to the book is.. this one for example is a wonderful debut by Rasleen, I have seen very few Indian Authors come close to her as far as tying loose ends are concerned.. a few might have been left open ended but that is my view, there might be others who dont agree.. and so the process goes on ..
      Thanks for the lovely words Uma, made my day :)

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  3. very nice review! I would love to taste this 'delicious dish'!

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    1. Do try it out and let me know :)

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  4. Nice balanced review, piquing just enough interest to read the book itself without giving away too much of the plot. Putting it on my to read list right away.

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    1. Thanks Jairam :) Since it was a thriller I really did not want to divulge much, at the same time I wanted to bring out what worked and what did not for me.

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  5. :) nice one mam. I say so becasue reading it made me think i should get this book ..

    Bikram's

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    1. Do get it, for a debut, Rasleen has done a good job. :)
      P.S- Mam? really? Noooooo ;)

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    2. ohh.. So do i need to say full "Madam".. is "mam" too short :) or should be saying "MaaM" pronounced like Mom.. that we say to all senior lady officers at work :)

      he he he he

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    3. omg now you called me a senior lady??? :O

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    4. NOooooooooooooooooo Officer.. Senior officer who is a LADy a female ..

      I got some senior lady officers who are much younger the Fat old ME :)

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  6. Thank you for your feedback, Seeta. Glad that you liked the book. Hope the recipe is perfect in my next try.

    Rasleen

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    1. You are welcome Rasleen. Like I said even if there were a few things that I found needing a second look, they did not glare out enough to impede your story. And I am very sure that the next one will be a gourmet dish :)

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  7. Very well reviewed. Adding to my to-be-bought-and-read list. :-)

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    1. Let me know how you find it :)

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  8. You know sometimes you watch these movie trailers that makes you want to go watch the movie ? this review did that to me. Now, I can't wait to read this book. Thanks for the review and hope more Indian authors dive into this genre, maybe then we will have more sensible Bollywood thrillers based on these books.

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    1. Well, it made you comment on my blog after this long.. so it must have been good ;)

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  9. Interesting review! I do love thrillers. Any particular reason why you used the food analogy or just a way to liven up the review? Yes, this one will go on my reading list :). See the workarounds I do to comment on your blog ;-).

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    1. I was wondering why you were responding from your food blog ID :P
      Glad you liked it, the food analogy was from the quote "Revenge is a dish best served cold" :)

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  10. Very nicely worded review Seeta. I enjoyed the review as much as I will surely enjoy the book. Its a welcome to see good authors making their mark in hitherto unexplored genres.

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    1. She was definitely better than the ones we have seen off late.. As she writes more, I am sure she will do better

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  11. I enjoyed your review.. and since I'm a huge fan of murder and mystery I will order this one!! :)
    Thank you for the review Seeta

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    1. Do read it.. it is no Agatha Christie and you might guess the end as well (we can discuss it later :))but she has def. done a decent job

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  12. Loved the analogy with food. Liked the review very much.

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  13. That was a very beautifully written review Seeta. I do not read much of crime fiction, but the way you have portrayed this book makes me want to try it out. Marking it to read !

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    1. Thanks Aarthy, I hope you enjoy the read!

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  14. Suresh, let me put it this way, this book is better than a lot of others that have recently descended into the Indian market...

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  15. Sounds interesting..:) Nicely reviewed :)

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  16. Looks like my kinda book. With your review, I think I will buy it when I am back to reading.

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  17. Sounds like a good read. I would have probably taken up this book for review if but I had some time on my hands. But then the corporate world shalt extract its pound of flesh.

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    1. It was a good read, don't expect an Agatha Christie but much better than what we have had to put up with in recent times...
      Thanks for referring me for this review Karthik :)

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  18. A thorough, well-expressed review... I am impressed!

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  19. Now , a murder mystery and as you're saying that it is a "delectable dish"...I don't have to look for any other reason to go for it.... the plot seems quite intriguing with a lot of characters... nice review ... :-)

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    1. It is a decent read Mani, I think you will like it :)

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  20. Before I read the book, I enjoyed the review... loved the fact about author's refrain from colloquial lingo and the intriguing title...Liked the cover as well ... Nice review :)

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  21. Reading your reviews has always been enjoyable

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  22. You sounded as if it were a dish, :) very interestingly done.
    First I have to find some time then this book. :)

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  23. Can you suggest me more mystery fiction by indian writers....

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  24. Just Ordered this book.. I haven't read your review in full as it would kill the suspense
    But your reviews seems to be irresistible....
    looking for reviews from you on the books i have read...
    Good Job..

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