Murder in the Palace and Other Stories by Priya Bajpai: Book Review

Title: Murder in the Palace and Other Stories

Author: Priya U Bajpai

Genre: Short Stories

Murder in the Palace and Other Stories is a delightful collection of stories where world building and exquisite language go hand in hand.

Review

The book has twelve stories, short, sweet and tangy. Starting from a contemporary detective story, the book moves on to other genres that explore time travel, sci fi, romance, feminism among others with a wide variety of settings. There is a story for everyone here.

The book starts with the eponymous story, Murder in the Palace and the most striking detail of the story is the detective herself. It seems a complex whodunit but the answers are found surprisingly fast and through deduction. I liked the way the story gets straight to the point from the first paragraph itself and yet there is no glossing over the backstory.

Geisha is expectedly set in Japan. It is such a lovely and poignant story. I was transported to a world of beauty, grace, elegance and love that is expressed in subtle ways.

Horrific Holocaust is set in Germany and brings into focus the Holocaust through teenage angst.

I’m II is science fiction that is chilling and is a little too real for comfort. The narrative is captivating.

The Mysterious Globe is almost magical, but it teases and seems unfinished.

I liked the Killer very much. It has an interesting twist in the tale and was so different from the stories I had read till that point.

Mia of Maya is wondrous. The narrator here is from the Mayan civilization and it is not the mere life but the wiping out of an entire people that the story addresses.

Dazzled and Banon’s Conundrum are also very striking stories, with completely unexpected endings.

Neil’s Shoe closes this collection and I was left with an other-worldly feeling, not just from this story but from the heady mix that I had just finished.

What works well

Priya has a very literary writing style and a way with world building that is very elaborate and yet succinct. All through the book, I was constantly struck by how versatile she is, through the choice of the storylines.

Each story is a different world and an experience in itself. I did not read the stories in one go. I picked them at random, savouring them.

The cover art of the book is gorgeous and is a definite plus for the book.

About the Author

Priya U Bajpai is a short story author and poet. She has also been published in mainstream newspapers. This literature scholar is a versatile story-teller. She is adept at writing fast-paced and layered tales across genres. This extremely modest writer lets her craft do the talking.

Verdict

This eclectic mix of stories show case a wide range of settings and emotions. Pick this collection if you like vivid descriptions and a literary writing style.

Download the book here. It is free for a limited period.

Deal of Death by Sonia Chatterjee: Book Review

Title: Deal of Death

Author: Sonia Chatterjee

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime, Detective

Deal of Death is an exciting mystery with a an intricate plot and an unconventional detective solving this whodunit.

Review

Raya Ray resigns from her hi flying marketing job when she encounters a personal tragedy. Moving cities and changing occupations, she starts her own detective agency. Battling the ennui of mundane cases of cheating spouses and missing pets, she decides to step out of Kolkata to help her housemaid’s sister who lives in faraway Munshiganj.

For Raya, it starts as a case to trace a missing newborn from a hospital but leads to being a labyrinth of lies and deceit that goes back generations. Evil thrives in this seemingly simple town and by the time Raya is close to solving the case, she discovers that things are not as they seem and people are not who they pretend to be.

What works well

This is exciting detective fiction, fast paced and well plotted with a refreshingly different setting and a well etched out protagonist.

Raya Ray, the corporate hi flier turned detective, battling her grief, concerned with body issues, helpful, trusting, deducing, relying on observation and instinct, is the well sketched protagonist that gets the reader attention and loyalty.

The setting is the quaint Munshiganj on the banks of the river Annapurna and a twin ghat of Diwanganj. It looks like a peaceful, sleepy town but there is plenty of royal intrigue woven into the town’s history. There is also the curious temple and the mosque flanking the sides of the Nawab’s tomb. The photos included in the book bring alive the place for the reader.

The plot is intricate. Like any mystery, there is a crime and there are unexpected perpetrators, yet the backstory and how events came to pass is novel.

This is an impressive debut book and the author, Sonia Chatterjee finished writing it in a record six days.

On the other hand

The protagonist is well etched out but sometimes she is plain lucky. She gets a lot of information too easily and too fast. Also, Raya seems to know too many things without a real knowledge of the events themselves.

The plot is well built but the execution seems rushed. Towards the end there is a lot of information, which also keeps shifting because of the different povs.

There are too many characters towards the end of the book. It would help if these characters are introduced early on.

Some things need to be figured out clearly in the plot. The events and incidents are sometimes not believable.

A few characters are sketchy. Adding physical characteristics would help a little bit of context and relatability.

Chapter length does not seen uniform, which is a little jarring. Some chapters are very short, just a few paragraphs and they seem hurriedly done just to give information to the reader. The formatting needs to be looked into. Some chapters don’t even start from a different page. The chapter names too seem a little random. There are days 1-4 and then we move on to day 8.

Some scenes would flow better if there is more of description and ‘showing’ the reader rather than ‘telling’.

Also, giving meanings of words, like jhalmuri, tonga in brackets affects the flow of the story. It would help if they are put as footnotes.

About the Author

An ex-banker and a self- confessed bibliophile, Sonia inherited her love of the written word from her Professor father. As a tribute to her late mother and a gift to her son on his second birthday, Sonia started blogging from September 2017. Married to a Doctor, Sonia is crazy about four things in life – books, food, travel and her uber-cute toddler. She currently works hard to realize her dream of becoming a best-selling author while secretly wishing harder for twelve hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Her work can be found at soniasmusings.com. She blogs about food, travel, movies, parenting, personal journeys and social issues.

Verdict

A fast paced detective story with an endearing MC and an intriguing setting. This debut book hits the right notes in the crime fiction.

Download the book here.

Eighty Hours To Save Karen by Sitharaam Jayakumar: Book Review

Title: Eighty Hours to Save Karen

Author: Sitharaam Jayakumar

Genre: Crime fiction, Thriller

Eighty Hours to Save Karen is a racy, engaging thriller that keeps the reader hooked and spooked till the last page.

Review

Retired Air Commodore, Matthew Williams lives in a remote hill village with his only surviving family member, his little granddaughter, Karen. When Karen is struck by a mysterious ailment under very suspicious circumstances, Matthew takes it upon himself to get to the root of her problem. It seems that there are forces beyond the natural that have a hand in unfortunate incidents; not only Karen’s illness but also a doctor’s death.

What works well

The title of the story sets the tone of urgency for the reader. The cover art is very apt for the book.

The characters are very well etched and are brought to life by an extensive backstory and an impressive attention to detail. The protagonist, the mature war veteran-turned-detective to save his granddaughter is very convincing.

The plotline is very credible and the setting of the little village is created well.

There is a good balance between the backstory and the action in the present so that the pacing stays fast. The tight narration ensures that the reader can finish the book in a single sitting.

The spook factor is high; there are plenty of thrilling moments sprinkled in the book. There are blood covered mysterious objects, cats tapping on windows in the middle of the night, unexplained accidents and many more. Yet, there is no morbid blood and gore.

On the other hand…

I kept waiting to understand the relevance of the no. of hours mentioned in the title to the book. It was only when the book was over that I realised that it probably refered to the entire timeline of the book.

I also could not get a clear picture of Karen from the book. It would have been good if her age and appearance had been mentioned so that she could be brought ‘alive’ in the reader’s mind.

I really enjoyed the traveling of the MC from the village to the state capital Shimla and then to Mumbai. But it rankled that a remote village in Himachal had shopkeepers selling ice, where it is probably cold the year round. Also, a retired Inspector living in a villa in Mumbai sounded far fetched.

The story moved very well but somehow I felt that Matthew held the cards too close to his chest. The case was cracked through his research on the internet. I wished the part about scientific research and cult leaders was expanded further for the story to have more nuances.

About the Author

Sitharaam Jayakumar is an Information Technology professional. He is a passionate reader of books on both fiction and non-fiction. He takes a keen interest in sports, especially cricket and tennis. In addition, he is also interested in politics and music. He loves to write about anything that catches his fancy in everyday life. His repertoire includes articles on social issues, crime, women’s empowerment, fiction and several other topics. He is a
published poet.

Verdict

Pick this fast paced crime thriller that turns spooky and psychological in turns. Very entertaining.

Download the book here.

Scaredy Cat : A Book Review 

Title : Scaredy Cat 

Author : Mark Billingham 

Genre : Mystery, Crime Thriller 

Series : Second book in the Tom Thorne series. 

Summary 

Two women are murdered within hours of one another near the station, but in quite different ways. When a connection is made with two other murders which occurred months before, DI Thorne realizes two serial killers may be at work in a macabre partnership.

Review 

Scaredy Cat is the most unputdownable, brilliant and engaging crime thriller featuring a series of murders that turn out to be done by a pair of serial killers. My assessment for the book may sound clichéd but the novel is far from it. Everything, from the cast of characters who are doing the chase (Team 3) to the murderer (s) to the use of folie a deux (more on that later) are original, confident and credible. 

Even though Scaredy Cat is second in the Tom Thorne series, it can very well be read as a stand alone book. It being a series is a bonus for the reader, for by the time you reach the climax, you would have resolved to read more of this excellent author. 

The Detective Inspector Tom Thorne, a very capable and rather melancholic officer with a reputation (also of disregarding the Powers That Be) is Part of Team 3. He is partenered by a seeming sidekick, Dave Holland, who, in reality can carry a lot of plot on his shoulders as well as the gay pathologist Hendricks, who is really a very good friend. The quartet is completed by Sarah McEvans, hard faced and competent and acting as a pivot for the climax. The other characters, Norman, the media guy and Brigstocke are quirky and well rounded and unpredictable. 

The team has another ally in carrying the story forward and that is London itself. In the books that I have come to love, the location and the setting is mostly elaborate and it plays a large role in moulding the psyche of the characters. So, it is here, the under belly of the city mirroring the mind of the industry affected by the killings, the perpetrators, the victims and the ones chasing the killers. 

Thames, the lifeline of London is dwelt upon lovingly even though all the protagonists could see was the squalid disrepair. I read of the serene beauty of the river banks in Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat and reading of the Thames through the eyes of Thorne and another police officer was a jolt, just like the one you get when you match reality with memories. 

The killer or the killers, as Thorne surmises very soon in the current investigation, are untraditional. The department has been sitting on other cases, of women being murdered some months back. As the investigation deepens, there arises a picture of not one but two serial killers, who strike simultaneously and kill similarly even though both are different. Their psychological profiling shows that one is hesitant and the other ruthless. It is the Modus Operandi that is different and intriguing. There are similarities and then there are deviations. 

In explaining the killers’ mindset, the author has excellently used Folie a deux, a condition of a shared psychosis, a psychiatric syndrome, in which symptoms of a delusional nature are transmitted from one person to another. Needless to say, the relationship between the pair of killers is troubled to say the least delving into the meaning of power and fear harnessed to disastrous conclusions. 

The book cover shows a pair of eyes, with a different expression in each eye. The title conveys something of fear, of teasing, of bullying that is the backdrop of the killings. 

The backstory is well developed and the frequent flashbacks keep the story running back and forth, not that the reader loses interest. These flashbacks introduce newer interest and understanding as the story unfolds; as a pair of murders turn into a series, more happening in different locations and more being rediscovered as part of a pattern. 

As for the gore factor of the killings, it is not very high. It is not the actual act that is disgusting but the way it is carried out. There is an emotional angle to the killings in case the reader is not horrified enough that runs through the mind of Tom Thorne. He milks the brutality over and over again, agonising over the inevitability of the crime and the poignance of the last moments of the victims as captured by the CCTV footage. 

What’s to Like 

In case of crime thrillers, I am more interested in the crime and the criminal and not in the characters solving the case. But here the Team 3 is exceptionally interesting, their dynamics riveting and the office politics intriguing. 

The characters are so well fleshed out that inspite of the angst ridden monologues / thoughts of Thorne, he never becomes tiresome. Even though there is no love interest, nothing to contrast the character with but slowly the interaction with his Alzheimer ridden father brings the compassion out in full. 

The book gives the reader every emotion. The thrill of a chase. Mystery, of course. The horror of murder. Angst in the heart of the most hardened police investigator. Emotional trauma and a few tugs at the heart strings. 

The pace never slackens (almost) and the narrative is tight, entertaining, intriguing. When the investigation is slow, there is tension in other ways. It shows up in the form of an illicit or a falling apart relationship or the paranoia of a drug addict. 

Also the book builds up to an excellent climax, which is every bit as exciting as the building up to it. 

Some of the scenes stand out very well. There is the place where the dreaded, cold blooded killer finally loses control, slapping his wife. There is the unforgettable scene of a coke snorting police woman. There are Thorne’s counseling sessions to his gay friends that stand out. And sometimes it is chilling going back into the past, in the childhood of the killers. 

Scaredy Cat isn’t just about a few horrible crimes nor is it a straight cat and mouse chase. There is plenty of cheese to nibble at ( stretching the metaphor). The plot is nearly flawless. 

What’s Not to Like 

By the time I turned the last page I had all but forgotten the minor irritants in the book. 

There is a frequent change in the Point of View and in the beginning it took me a few paragraphs to understand that something was amiss. I had to backtrack to understand why the story was not running linearly any more. Once I caught on to the POV trick, I wisened up and rather started enjoying the switch in the voices as the scenes changed. 

Thorne is very angst ridden and very melancholic. His thoughts run in circles. He thinks endlessly of the nature of his profession and the hardening of hearts and emotions as time goes by, encountering the crime and the criminals. After a while, his thoughts become predictable and look like fillers covering up a lull in the plot. 

There are a few minor credibity issues with the book. Thorne is in touch with one of the killers on phone. He is supposed to have escaped from custody and yet, Thorne just picks the phone and talks to him. That simple, even when the prisoner broke his nose while trying to get away. There was too much of bonhomie between them. 

The discovery of Karen McMahon’s grave with remarkable ease was another place where things seemed to be coming together all too easy. 

TV Series 

This 2002 bestseller was also made into a successful TV series in 2010. 

About the Author 

Mark Billingham is an English novelist, actor, television screenwriter and comedian whose series of Tom Thorne – crime novels are best-sellers in that particular genre. This is initiative enough to pick this particular book. 

Tom Thorne, the DI, around whom the story revolves, has been imbued with a lot of Billingham’s personal characteristics. The two share a birthday, a locale (London) and musical interests. 

The inspiration for Scaredy Cat came from Billingham’s own brush with crime. He and his writing partner were kidnapped and held hostage in a hotel room. Billingham used that fear as the basis for Scaredy Cat and the motivation of the killers. The hotel killings also appeared as a sub plot in the book. 

Should you read it? 

Most definitely! 

It is a Must-read for crime thriller lovers and for all the other genre readers who like a well fleshed out story and plenty of intrigue.