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‘She Stoops To Kill: Stories of Crime and Passion’ edited by Preeti Gill: Murder, she wrote

A singer who dies onstage in the middle of a concert; a brutal beheading in a temple; a woman obsessed with regaining her husband’s love — all these twisted stories and more inhabit the pages of She Stoops to Kill. The collection of eight short stories, all by women, has a common theme: murder.

The tale that comes the closest to being a good old-fashioned crime story in the grand tradition of Christie and Sayers is ‘A Murder in the Wedding Season’ by Bulbul Sharma. It builds the perfect atmospheric tension in the serene yet claustrophobic hills of Shimla through its descriptions of early morning fog and the hustle and bustle of an Indian wedding.

The most compelling character in the collection, however, is the mysterious ‘Sister’, from Venita Coelho’s eponymous story. Both powerful and vulnerable, Sister cuts an impressive figure in a story filled equally with humour and tragedy.

On the other hand, Mitra Phukan’s ‘Poison in the Paan’ is instructive in showing how even women authors fall into the trap of writing women as objects. As a female reader, I was uncomfortably aware of the story’s repeated focus on women’s bodies. All the women — the detective, the victim, the perpetrator — in this hard-boiled noir narrative end up being objectified in this way.

Gender-based violence forms the basis of ‘Ginny Kalra, I Loved You’, by Pratyaksha and ‘Beloved of Flowers’, by Uddipana Goswami. Although they describe two utterly different ways of life, the former being steeped in the dreams of contemporary middle-class urban India and the latter in the unique traditions of a recent rural past, the women in the stories share the burden of living in a patriarchal society. So too in a peculiar way does one of the protagonists of Paro Anand’s ‘And Then He Said’, in which the desire to be free manifests itself in murderous desperation. All three stories, however, could have done with some more time and space to unfurl.

The most unusual tales are ‘Serial Killer’ by Manjula Padmanabhan in which one knows exactly who the killer is from the very beginning and ‘The Nurse’ by Janice Pariat in which one is not quite sure who the murderer is even at the end. But the greatest achievement of the collection is its diversity, each story infused with a distinct cultural flavour.

She Stoops to Kill is a quick, fun read, best accompanied by a steaming cup of strong, milky chai, rain and thunder.

The writer is a journalist, poet, blogger and translator from Kolkata.

She Stoops To Kill: Stories of Crime and Passion; Edited by Preeti Gill, Speaking Tiger, ₹350

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Printable version | Jun 16, 2021 11:58:39 PM |

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