Case histories

A reporter takes us along as she probes one of the most chilling murder mysteries in recent Indian history

April 08, 2017 04:50 pm | Updated 04:50 pm IST

Front Page Murders
Puja Changoiwala
Hachette India

Front Page Murders Puja Changoiwala Hachette India ₹350

Going against norms and judging Front Page Murders by its cover, there seems to be a Sherlockian tribute in the way ‘Murders’ is scrawled across on it—much like the way Holmes finds the word ‘Rache’ (German for revenge) written in blood on a wall in his very first case in A Study in Scarlet .

Perhaps there’s an oblique hat-tip in the style of narration too. The author, Puja Changoiwala, has meticulously transformed her detailed notes from her reporter’s notebook into diary-like entries, taking us along each step of her investigation into one of the most chilling murder cases in recent Indian history.

Set in Mumbai, Front Page Murders is a journalist’s account of the infamous serial killings attributed to Vijay Palande in 2012. Changoiwala recounts the travails faced by members of her profession and the police while solving the gruesome murder of an elderly gentleman in a posh residential colony. But, as you might guess, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The build-up is slow and plot twists are planted carefully at the end of each chapter, mostly coming from the perspective of a print newsroom.

Several chapters have speed-breakers, topics that are tangential to the main story but offer great behind-the-scenes on law and order: custodial torture techniques, police-informer relationships and how they backfire, brief profiles of several legendary Indian serial killers and the underworld-Bollywood nexus that proves that Maximum City can dole out maximum misery if one isn’t circumspect enough.

As for the main story, the detailing is incredible but isn’t chiselled to perfection. Like a typical whodunit, there are a multitude of characters—there’s Palande (with two aliases) everyone is searching for along with the body of his victim, Karan Kakkad; there are two associates, a lover, a German wife, film celebrities, gangsters in Thailand, aspiring actors and their families (who come with their own backstories) and of course, policemen. You can’t help ask whether a good chunk actually deserved their extended cameos.

This overstuffing perhaps is the book’s undoing. We don’t get the gripping story that we deserve. It is as if the author wanted to put us all through the same frustrations she went through as a journalist while piecing reports together.

Front Page Murders ; Puja Changoiwala, Hachette India, ₹350.

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