Published digitally by Dutton Guilt Edged Mysteries on July 17, 2012
Murder in Mumbai is a police procedural -- or maybe a journalist procedural -- set in modern Mumbai. Two men burglarizing an apartment find a body in a trunk. Inexplicably, they decide to dispose of the body in a garbage dump rather than leaving it where they found it. The dead woman was the CEO of a corporation. Among the murder suspects are the woman’s unfaithful husband, a ruthless competitor, and a subordinate whose career benefitted from the woman’s death.
The best murder mysteries plant clues that give the reader a chance to solve the murder. Krishnadev Calamur makes a clumsy attempt to do so, but given that the improbable motive for the murder isn’t revealed until the closing pages, a reader spotting the murderer will be relying on guesswork rather than detective skills. Still, the straightforward plot is moderately interesting.
The same cannot be said of the novel’s characters. The two central characters are stereotypes. Inspector Vijay Gaikwad is the honest cop surrounded by corruption and bureaucracy. Jay Ganesh is the fiercely dedicated crime reporter, a veteran print journalist who complains that the new kids at the paper don’t know how to write. His investigation provides Gaikwad with the break he needs to solve the murder. But for their enjoyment of chai tea and biscuits, the two characters might as well be Americans. They are thin and unoriginal, lacking in personality.
Calamur strives to be profound in his observations of evolving Mumbai and insightful in his comments about human nature but rarely rises above the obvious. Gaikwad’s supposed pride in the self-confidence of modern women in Mumbai seems more like the author’s commentary on a changing country than a realistic character trait. On nearly every page, a character ponders Mumbai’s class distinctions, the ill-treatment of the poor by the wealthy, and the subordinate role traditionally played by Indian women -- points made so relentlessly through the course of the novel that they become wearisome. Passages that explain cultural and religious traditions read like excerpts from a travel guide.
Calamur’s prose is competent but lackluster, the sort of writing found in the middle pages of second-string newspapers. Long strings of ponderous dialog carry much of the story.
Mystery fans with a special interest in India might be drawn to this story. While it is far from awful, it fails to rise above the ordinary.