BOOK Bangalore has its own series detective in Inspector Gowda. In Anita Nair’s Cut Like Wound, the sights and sounds of the city form the backdrop for a cold-blooded serial killer. Author Anita Nair tells MINI ANTHIKAD-CHHIBBER how the police procedural came to be

Anita Nair doesn’t read crime fiction. “I have a habit of reading the last page of the book first and that is not the best way to approach a whodunit!” Though Anita doesn’t voraciously consume crime fiction, her Cut Like Wound (Harper Collins, Rs. 299) has all the perquisites of the genre. There is the series detective in Inspector Gowda, his assistant, Santosh, makes for a suitable Watson, a cross dressing serial killer who kills with a tourniquet covered in ground glass, a shady corporator, the seedy bars, the drugs, sex, and of course, the city, all follow the time-hallowed tenets of a hard-boiled noir.

“Genre fiction generally follows a template,” says Anita. “A thriller will have a crime which has to be solved and a romance will have two people who meet and fall in love. So one willy-nilly follows the rules.”

“I have always written literary fiction,” Anita comments. “I wrote this book purely on a whim. I had an image of a cross dresser putting on make up and one of a middle-aged cop. The challenge was putting them together. A thriller seemed to be the perfect space for the two to come together.”

While Anita is aware of how strict genre readers are about the rules, she says, “Half way through the book, I told a friend that I was writing a thriller and she told me to read some novels to get a sense of the genre. I was already half way through the book and there was no way I was going back to change things.”

About the criticism against thrillers, Anita comments, “Crime fiction is accessible — you could read in the shallow sense just for the story or see the human condition elaborated and investigated. Being accessible, it is considered not worthwhile. I think there is a sense of self congratulation about that. If something is difficult, it is immediately supposed to be good and vice versa.”

Going out of her comfort zone meant extensive research. “I spoke to policemen of different ranks because each has a different way of looking at things. The police were quite amused that a woman could write a crime novel. I have come to realise no question is too silly. I asked policemen to show me a report, and made a sketch. I had the book whetted by Former Director General of Kerala Police, P. K. Hormis Tharakan.”

The detailed research resulted in Gowda becoming a recurring character. “I didn’t start off thinking I would be creating a series detective. But after the amount of research I put in, I thought I could use it in other books. Given the nature of crime fiction, with the focus on the plot, you need a series character to develop over books.”

All the characters in the book, Anita says, “are composites of people I know. Gowda is a composite of cops I met and hope to meet!”

On choosing to set the novel in Bangalore, Anita said: “Once I decided the book is going to be about a transvestite, I knew I would have to set in a big city. Bangalore and Chennai were my two choices. I decided against Chennai because I had left the city 22 years ago and there was the danger of nostalgia. I live here and the Shivajinagar and Cantonment area is familiar to me. Also the cop’s name, Gowda, came to my mind and I knew the novel would have to be set here.”

The rather unusual title was born from a conversation. “The working title was The Still Factory. My brother is a doctor. When he learnt that I was writing a crime novel, he gave me his forensic text book. I was describing a wound and his professor said it is a cut like wound (CLW). It is police jargon, like MO. I liked the sound of it and decided it should be the title.”

Even freezing on the weapon was a process. “I liked the idea of manja thread, but I was told it would break. So I used the same principle of ground glass but on tougher string. I tried different materials and finally decided on the string plumbers use to measure depth. I tried it successfully on a pumpkin. I roped in my driver who was quite surprised with my experiments!”

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