Whodunnit?

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The Body In The Back Seat by  Salil Desai, book reviewThe first few pages of The Body in the Back Seat seem to slow you down, possibly because the drama of the car thief spotting a body in the back seat of the car he has just stolen is a little underwhelming. And because the identity of the body is obvious from the moment the man’s wife goes to the police station and tries to report him missing but the author refrains from confirming our suspicions till much later.

However from the moment Senior Inspector Saralkar comes onstage with PI Motkar at his side, the book picks up. Saralkar is convinced that the apparent suicide victim has been murdered and he is equally convinced that one of the family or a business partner must have done it, since that is his pet psychological theory. One by one we are introduced to all the people who had close contacts with the victim and who may therefore have a reason to murder him. This is accompanied by insights into police procedure and the good cop bad cop games that we know police are accustomed to play.

Like Agatha Christie, whom Desai cites as one of his prime inspirations, the author spends a lot of time going into motive and highlighting the fact that some of the characters have deadly insights into what might have happened – which , as the reader familiar with murder mysteries will expect, results in another murder. There is also the usual quotient of red herrings thrown in to distract the reader from guessing the identity of the murderer.

While the characters of Saralkar and Motkar are fleshed out, the suspects did require a little more completeness because their behaviour occasionally seems inconsistent. Also the shifts between characters and sequences would have done more justice to a film – in fact, one can see this book being made into a fairly successful film in the near future.

Desai does not try for any feats of detection. Saralkar is no Holmes or Poirot, or even Rebus, but a man determined to discover the murderer through constant questioning. The author throws in a touch of humour in the shape of PI Motkar’s problems with his spoilt son. A little tightness would have greatly improved the book because not every character is equally important and occasionally the episodic nature of the questioning gets in the way of the story.

While the nuts and bolts of the novel are still loose, Desai’s is a promising addition to the detective genre in Indian English.

The Body in the Back Seat by Salil Desai
Published by Gyaana Books, India


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Body in the Back Seat, The
by Salil Desai

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Written by Anjana Basu
Anjana Basu

Anjana Basu works as an advertising consultant in Calcutta. In 2003, Harper Collins India brought out her novel Curses In Ivory. In 2004, she was awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship in Scotland where she worked on her second novel, Black Tongue, published by Roli in 2007. In February 2010. her children's novel Chinku and the Wolfboy was brought out by Roli. She writes features for travel magazines and reviews for Indian newspapers.

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