Murder, They Wrote

Move over romance, comedy and drama! Emerging authors in the country are delving into the dark, dangerous world of murders and mysteries, says Shrabasti Mallik

When we talk about crime fiction in Indian literature, Satyajit Ray’s name tops the list. This is closely followed by Saradindu Bandopadhyay. Ever since they created detectives such as Feluda and Byomkesh Bakshi, there has been no parallel.

But of late, there has been a rise in the number of crime novelists in the country. Everyone who wishes to exploit their creative bent of mind is trying their hand at the genre. Take Abheek Barua, for instance. He is the chief economist of HDFC Bank, yet his debut novel, City Of Death, published in July this year, is a crime fiction. It gives us a new detective, police officer Sohini Sen, one of the few female characters in this genre. Such is the crime rush in the Indian literary world that almost all leading publishing hous-es in the country now have a long list of crime authors. The popularity of this genre is so high that some publishing houses have even started separate imprints for crime – Penguin’s Blue Salt was launched in 2013 and HarperCollins’ Harper Black in 2015. Here are a few of India’s popular crime writers and their detectives…

The Law of the Land

Of the few new-age sleuths, some are police officers by profession, therefore, having easy access to information and records. Being with the police department also means that they are pressed for time, because with every passing second the evidence becomes weaker and gives time to suspects to come up with solid alibis. Hence, these novels are quite racy and filled with investigative and forensic jargon.

Salil Desai’s detective, Saralkar, is a senior inspector. He upholds the law, catches the culprit and brings justice to the victim’s family. He first appeared in 2011 in The Body In the Back Seat, which was later published as Killing Ashish Karve.

Anita Nair’s detective, Borei Gowda, is also an inspector but has his own way of working. He is loud and brash; cursing is second nature to him; he thinks nothing of barking orders, and has myriad thoughts running through his mind all the time. Written in English, Nair’s noir novel, Cut Like Wound, introduced him to the world in 2012.

Sourabh Mukherjee, on the other hand, made his entry into the crime fiction genre with detective Agni Mitra, an ACP from Kolkata, in In The Shadows of Death in December 2015.

The Master of Macabre

For Surender Mohan Pathak, one sleuth is not enough. He is the reigning king of crime thrillers in Hindi and has, over the past few decades, created not one but more than four detectives. His books are full of murder mysteries, often feature real places, and his characters are as varied as can be. Sunil Kumar Chakravarty, his most famous character, is an investigative journalist by profession and appears in more than 120 books. Some of his other popular characters are Sudhir Kumar Kohli, who has many aliases within the Mumbai underworld and is wanted in seven states; Jeet Singh, a locksmith who doubles as an accessory for burglaries; Mukesh Mathur; Vivek Agashe; Vikash Gupta; and Pramod.

The Classics

Saradindu Bandopadhyay should be credited with giving Bengali – and Indian – literature its first detective in the form of Byomkesh Bakshi as early as 1932. Unlike what one would imagine a crime detective to be, Bakshi is more concerned with finding out the truth than worrying about law. A reason why he prefers to be called “satyanweshi”, or the seeker of truth.

Bakshi appeared 33 years before Satyajit Ray’s private eye Pradosh Chandra Mitter – or Feluda, as he is lovingly called – solved his first case. The young, suave, physically fit and intellectually gifted detective is one of the most loved literary characters in Bengali literature. He relies on his acute sense of judgement in analysing his surroundings before he delves into the minutiae of a case and solves it. Although he carries the .32 Colt revolver, Ray rarely has him use it. The only thing that set these two apart from the new-age detectives is that they worked in an age with no Internet connection, no fancy gadgets and no smartphones.

We do not know how many more Indian novelists will delve into writing crime fiction, but we hope to create the next Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Rebus or perhaps a Miss Marple soon.

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