Murder, he wrote

Cover of In the Shadows of Death  

When you turn the last page of the book, the theatrical finale comes as much from the extraordinary storytelling as it does from the reveal of the murderer. In clean, clear prose, Saurabh Mukherjee’s debut novel traverses the underbelly and upmarket suburbs of Kolkata, searching for a serial killer, who, like the famed Jack the Ripper, lives a life in the shadows until he steps out once too often to murder adulterous women.

“Recent Indian English fiction has, for long, celebrated romance; crime fiction by foreign authors is more popular here. But, that is slowly changing, and crime writing has garnered more interest lately,” says Mukherjee in a telephonic chat from Kolkata, where he works with a consulting and technology service firm. “The IT industry influenced me to write this book. There are storylines aplenty. Long work hours, where people often take on another identity, create idiosyncrasies and strange relationships. There are great stories waiting to be written.”

An avid reader of crime fiction, and inspired by James Patterson’s Alex Cross, Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and the books of Cormoran Strike, Mukherjee was writing long before he found the inspiration for his debut novel. A student of South Point School and Jadavpur University, he always had a lot of stories bubbling inside him. “I wrote for school and later for tech magazines, but fiction, especially stories on relationships, is what I yearned to write. In 2014, I decided to jump headlong into it, and wrote wherever — airport lounges and long flights — and whenever I found time. I write every day. It hones my art.”

The story, told from the perspective of protagonist, ACP Agni Mitra, and the killer, follows the troubled lives and the horrific deaths of women, till it reaches a point where one of the deaths touches a raw nerve for Mitra, who is battling the demons in his life. The research offers plenty of tropes from the hardened and sinister world of a police detective. Even the love story that runs through the plot is no rose-tinted portrait. The steadfast brother-officer, the sleazy employer-employee nexus stained by sexual overtones, the cuckold, the possessive lover, the naive girlfriend and the policeman whose heart sometimes gets in the way of better judgment… Mukherjee weaves all their tales into the novel.

Mukherjee has the unerring eye of a master craftsman, bringing in elements of forensics and cyber crime to build the story.

“We have, for long, celebrated the spirited detective — one who was flawless. I wanted Mitra to be more human – a man with foibles, trying to set right the world, while his own spiralled towards destruction. I see him more of a Poirot or a Byomkesh Bakshi than a Holmes. The novel doesn’t just piece together a jigsaw; it addresses the psyche of childhood trauma, and how early experiences influence the way a man perceives a woman. But, the book is not meant to be judgemental, although it is scurrilous enough to threaten reputations.”

Mukherjee hopes to make ACP Agni Mitra part of a series and has already cast him in his next book, The Colours of Passion, releasing this year end.

But, he says he’d like to step away from Hitchcockian plots and sexual fetishes to write a romance novel sometime. Until then, the dashing Agni Mitra will tap into the reader’s readiness to engage with brutal violence.

(In the Shadows of Death by Srishti Publishers is priced at Rs. 195 and available online and at bookstores.)

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Printable version | Oct 17, 2021 5:42:49 AM |

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