The festive season is over and as the lights have dimmed and the noise has calmed down, a strange feeling of emptiness is hovering around. Now an empty, idle brain is devil’s workshop who has a penchant for mysteries and murders. So my inner devil gets intrigued seeing the title of Rasleen Syal’s debut novel “Happily Murdered”. A large mug of coffee, my favourite cozy corner and I finished 246 pages at one sitting. And yes, I must say that the book is quite capable of holding your interest till the last page.
Rasleen has clearly confessed in the ‘Acknowledgment’ section that she is an ardent fan of Agatha Christie and that her muse owes a lot to Christie. So, as I started reading, truly speaking, my expectation was quite high.
Set in the backdrop of a fictitious town Ratnagiri, located at the foothills of The Lower Himalays or Siwaliks, the story opens up as the newly wed daughter-in-law of the Mehta family is found dead on the very next morning of her wedding, still clad in her wedding finery. It comes as a bolt from the blue to the Mehtas and to their chagrin the police conclude this as an inside job. There are ample proofs against a particular member, Sara Dulla, but on a deeper look it becomes clear that someone is trying to implicate her in the crime. The “whodunit” game starts from here and all the nine members become suspicious of each other. The story continues in a style of parallel narration, one exploring the facts and incidents that happened on that fretful night and another is the narration of Gulab’s own life-story, in first person.
Just like Christie, Rasleen has portrayed “high society” characters with mainstream appeal. The character of Gulab is well created with an array of humanly emotions, all meddled up due to lack of one thing, LOVE, and for which her quest never is quenched. There are many clues left by the author here and there so that the readers can ransack their own brains to pinpoint the murderer. It could be anyone, the most practical and dominating father-in-law Mr. KD Mehta, the pompous and boastful mother-in-law Tina Mehta, Gulab’s husband, the philanderer Sid, who is in dire need of money, or any of the other conniving in-laws who some way or another have played important roles in Gulab’s life. In fact, a moment comes when you start even suspecting the octogenarian ‘Biji’, mother of KD Mehta.
The success of Rasleen’s pen lies here. She presents the characters with a psychological introspection and thus revealing the fact that how an unnatural death can drastically change the nature and ambiance of an otherwise normal household. The characters confront each other in their process of becoming sleuths in their own way and many bitter facts surface up. The plot is not so fast-paced but the pleasure remains as the reader unknowingly starts to investigate along with the 9 members. The clever deceptions made by the author to manipulate readers’ thoughts and feelings has made it more difficult for them to solve the main mystery.
I’m a nitpick when it comes to thrillers ( I can’t help it). So there are certain things that has made the book enjoyable as a one time read only. It’s not like classic thrillers which are cherished every single time you go through them even knowing full well who has actually done ‘it‘.
I fail to understand why Gulab each time succumbs to Sid, when she is aware of his infidelity and is strong enough to raise her voice against other adversities.I would like to share one of Christie’s quotes in this regard, “Too much mercy….often resulted in further crimes which were fatal to innocent victims who need not have been victims if justice had been put first and mercy second”. Gulab’s love for Sara and their friendship too look like a bit made-up. Normal feminine instinct does not let a woman to do so much for another woman who is in love with her own betrothed. Moreover, detection should always be logical and scientific as a process. Somehow I don’t find it logical enough…..the process of detection.
The language of Rasleen is a delight. Like a cool breeze blowing slowly though the enjoyment is often marred by typographical errors and even omission of words in at least two places.
However, “Happily Murdered” is a good read over the weekend. I enjoyed the book and is recommending it for all mystery lovers.
From my side it’s 3/5
The book was received as part of Reviewers Programme on The Tales Pensieve.