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There’s a new detective on the block

Karan Thapar

Do you remember Udayan Mukherjee? Actually, it would be astonishing if you don’t. Not so long ago he was the pride of the business channel, CNBC, and, arguably, India’s foremost business affairs anchor. His understanding of the stock market was unsurpassed and, I’m told, if you had followed his tips you could have made a small fortune. However, in recent years, he’s metamorphosed into something quite different. Hence the question with which I began.

Today Udayan is a novelist and he promises to become a rather good one. The transformation began last year with his first book, a novel. Called Dark Circles, it is an intriguing story of love, betrayal, deception and the deepest most searing pain. His new novel, which is his second, is very different. It’s a detective story and, in fact, the start of a series. Now, I trust you’ll agree this is quite a journey for a journalist and perhaps, in particular, a stock
market anchor.

At this point I need to be rather careful. Obviously I can’t tell you too much about the book because it would give the story away. There’s no fun reading a recommendation of a detective thriller only to discover the thrill has been let out of the bag. But what I can tell you is that A Death in the Himalayas is set in Udayan’s much-loved Kumaon, where he seems to have sought sanctuary after turning his back on television and Dalal Street.

It’s only someone who loves the hills who can bring them to life as he does. It’s an odd comment to make about a detective story – which succeeds quite magnificently as one – to say that a lot of its strength lies in its descriptions. Consider this: “She could see the faint silhouette of the Himalayan peaks – crude dark protrusions which the sun would kiss to splendour in under an hour.” I intend to plagiarise that haunting
phrase one day!

Now, if you are an aficionado of detective fiction, you’ll know that whenever the murderer is revealed it always seems like magic. By that, I mean it takes you completely by surprise. That’s true of Hercule Poirot as much as Miss Marple and I won’t bother with the rest because, frankly, they’re of a lesser order.

Well, it’s also true of Nevile Wadia, Udayan’s detective. He’s a retired police officer with a very winning manner and a chatty, if not also enchanting, wife. You can’t help but like him. However, there’s a trick. Though he’s been a crack policeman, you never think he’s going to reveal the murderer and uncover his secret story.

Yet, when Nevile Wadia does precisely that you suddenly realise there were obvious clues embedded in the tale you’ve just read which you did not heed or may not have even fully registered. Yet, they were there. Now, I suspect that’s precisely what Udayan intended. If they had been planted more obviously he would have given the game away. But it’s not easy to do it unobtrusively and beguile one into believing the finger is pointing in another direction.

I would say that’s a very different talent to the one Udayan epitomised in his days of television anchoring. Then he would deliberately, meticulously and with considerable research lead you – by the neck if he could – to the outcome he intended you to accept. It was only the ignorant or the deliberately stupid who did not cotton on. Now, au contraire, even the wisest of us need to be fooled. And Udayan does so niftily. That, if I might say so myself, is quite a recommendation for a detective story, particularly a first.

So, if you have a quiet weekend looming on the horizon or, even, just a single evening when you have nothing else to do, I recommend you snugly nestle into your sofa and reach for Udayan’s book. As the autumn evenings grow longer and darker, it could be a source of comforting distraction.

                (HT Media)

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