An engaging mystery set against the backdrop of a college.
It is not often that one comes across a celluloid pot-boiler in print. Debutante author Usha Narayanan’s novel Madras Manglers is an engaging murder mystery set against the backdrop of a college. Unsuspecting college girls, on-campus louts, a handsome investigating officer and a psychopath on the run form the prime ingredients of this potpourri.
The girls at SS Padmaja College in Chennai are frazzled by a group of goons known as Asuras. Much like their name, this gang is demoniacal in every way possible — terrorising girls to do their bidding, leering at them in public and even hacking into their computers. A group of five best friends — Kat, Lolita, Minx, Moti and Deepika — are trying to fend off the Asuras’ unwanted attention and simultaneously battling their own personal problems.
And then begins a spate of gruesome murders of young girls. A chance discovery of a decomposed female body in the Adyar River sparks a trail of similar murders. The common factors (strangulation with a silk scarf, silver anklets on victims’ feet, a missing toe, etc.) point to a dangerous psychopath. As the terror spreads, ace criminologist Vir Pradyumna is flown down from the U.S. to help the police investigation. Amid power struggles between the local police departments and politicians, Vir starts his investigations by befriending the girl gang.
From there, the story flows out in myriad directions making the plot interesting and convoluted simultaneously. Moti tries to wrestle her independent life back from a ‘goon of a fiancée’; Minx and Kat try to keep their nagging mothers at bay to avoid inane marriage proposals; Lolita tries to keep up a facade of arrogance and confidence to hide her shady background. Kat and Vir develop a love-hate bond. As interesting as they are, these sub-plots also dilute the main plot.
Some aspects like the underwater laboratory or the over-the-top descriptions of the villainous goons lend a touch of fantasy. However, to be fair, the visual images are riveting. The author’s advertorial background becomes evident in these touches. The way the murderer has been woven into the plot is so unobtrusive that one doesn’t join the dots till the end. The twist takes the reader totally by surprise and would have been more effective had it not been entangled with a chaotic cricket-match backdrop. Nevertheless, the nail-biting suspense makes up for all the tiny glitches. Usha Narayanan has done a great job of handling a genre as tricky as a suspense thriller. We would definitely like to read more of her works soon.
The Madras Mangler; Usha Narayanan, Jufic Books, Rs.195.