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Updated: August 3, 2013 17:13 IST

Murder on the beach

Anoop Bharadwaj
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Sea of Innocence; Kishwar Desai, Simon & Schuster, Rs.350.
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Sea of Innocence; Kishwar Desai, Simon & Schuster, Rs.350.

A racy thriller that also addresses the plight of women in India.

Crime today is getting more diabolical than ever, especially the ones perpetrated against women. The agony of the brutal gang rape and subsequent death of the paramedical student in New Delhi still haunts our collective conscience, while the country continues to reel under sexual assaults every day.

Kishwar Desai thus makes it a point to reference last December’s savagery in her latest crime thriller, Sea of Innocence.

The book is the third in Desai’s Simran Singh series, after Witness the Night and Origins of Love, both of which were widely acclaimed for storytelling that packaged such incendiary issues as female foeticide, surrogacy and adoption as credible thrillers.

Sea of Innocence follows Simran, a feisty social worker and crime investigator, to the sands of North Goa, where the ostensibly innocuous beaches mask drug traffic and the scant value for the carriers’ lives.

Simran’s peaceful holiday with her daughter turns sinister when she receives disturbing video messages from her friend Amarjit of the Delhi police.

The blurred recording of a young British teenager, Liza Kay, being groped during an orgy, even as she’s unaware of being forced upon and the subsequent video of her gang rape and possible murder on the beach leaves Simran shaken, more so because the incident has not made the news.

Amarjit needs her to probe deeper, but every ‘lead’ is more confusing than helpful. Using all her tact, she gets talking to people, only to realise she’s going in circles. Liza’s sister Marian is desperately searching of her as well. That almost everyone on the beach including the masseurs, shack owners and attendants, and casino hands in Panaji maintain a code of silence doesn’t help either.

Simran sure has her task cut out, not least in taking the likely witnesses into confidence as she deals with a steady provision of surprises at every turn. She’s investigating a case where nothing is what it seems.

Sea of Innocence, despite a racy plot, offers enough food for thought about the state of atrocities against women in this part of the world. Desai expectedly reminds us about the sensational Scarlett Keeling rape and murder. Simran, as an investigator, has her heart in the right place, and gives abundant benefit of doubt to seemingly dubious characters.

There are several instances where our lady appears to have missed a cue that a reader doesn’t fail to catch, but that’s natural evolution of instincts, maternal at the core and rattled by extreme heinousness.

Narrated in first person, Sea of Innocence is a commentary on political muscle and greed on the placid shores of a holiday destination, that is both expository and critical.

Moral depravity and corruption is a clear and present danger that can ensnare anyone today, and the book makes the reader envisage the present threat to women through a lucid and free flowing narrative.

The plot is fairly credible, the twists are there in good measure, the setting is as real as can get, the characters are very believable, and there’s a hint of romance, which is not unwelcome in a book that is redolently sombrous.

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