Murder Mystery Books

Beauty and the beast: Review of Udayan Mukherjee’s ‘Death in the Himalayas’

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A nice Scooby-Doo romp if you can close your ears to the lectures

We never tire of murder mysteries because they give us precisely what we want. As humans, we’re obsessed with death, so they give us murder, and we’re thrilled by the adventure of figuring it out, so they give us mystery. Throw in the power of conventional drama tropes — the titillating contrast of an intrigue in an idyllic locale, a whodunnit with a protagonist who is like a Parsi Keanu Reaves, a real-world right-wing vs. left-wing parable — and Udayan Mukherjee bakes us a book that could easily be a Netflix series.

Why is Neville Wadia, the new fictional detective on the block, named after a famous industrialist? A former investigator, haunted by his traumatised conscience, has retired to a quiet life in the Kumaon hills. But you just can’t keep a top cop out of the action, not when he has such potential for catharsis and an impeccable knack for the third-degree. The book definitely makes you think deeper about which side of the political divide you are on. Even if it eventually picks a villain that is both timeless and convenient.

It takes first-hand experience to truly understand the socio-economic dynamics of an ecosystem. Mukherjee has clearly lived among the hills and cherished its calm and its people; his book may be a page-turner, but certain pages make you linger. But even as you enjoy the endgame stretching across the scenic route from Birtola to Satbunga to Nainital and back, you’re desperately wishing for a clearer sky, because the plot straddles that nervous balance between overcomplexity and sentimentality.

That this is a work of fiction by a journalist is unmistakable. The narrative is a pot-pourri of various social issues that have preoccupied the Indian media these last few years — violence against civil rights activists, the growing unassailability of political power, corporate mafiadom, sexual abuse.

Mukherjee might not have got away with it if the story didn’t make for a nice Scooby-Doo romp, where the gang finally busts the unexpected villain after a string of dud leads. And that’s a job well done for a crime writer.

mihir.b@thehindu.co.in

Death in the Himalayas; Udayan Mukherjee, Pan Macmillan India, ₹499

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 5:00:29 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/beauty-and-the-beast-review-of-udayan-mukherjees-death-in-the-himalayas/article30295240.ece

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