How will you treat a novel if it reminds you of Agatha Christie's bestseller thrillers and mysteries? Simply, it is a treat! I have been reading suspense thrillers and murder and crime mystery novels since a long time that I can’t even put it vaguely. But still it takes me time to identify and decide whether I want to read the same author again or not. Well, not every time. Of course with Collin Dexter – I knew, midway, I won’t be coming again for him. If a thriller or mystery is slow-paced awfully with a lot of characters, well it’s a time-testing experience for me. I abhor that type.
Anyway, lately I got engaged with a new thriller written by an Indian author. The book was launched by Javed Akhtar at Pune International Book Fair. I think that was enough to pick it up. I read it in three sittings, the last one was a bit stretched. What I got? Sheer joy and unforgettable experience. The novel was ‘The Hawa Mahal Murders’ by N. J. Kulkarni.
Coming to the story, the preface itself looked quite promising where a kid dreamt to build a Hawa Mahal like the one he saw in Jaipur while on a tour with his mediocre parents. Well that kid goes on to become a famous jeweler by the name of Rajat Mehta and builds a lavish Hawa Mahal, but in Bombay (now Mumbai). The day Smita and her husband Karan Joshi move into the Hawa Mahal building, Ria Khan, mother of a famous Bollywood actor, is murdered. And it marks the beginning of the actual novel. Let me tell you that Hawa Mahal is a famous, kind of grand building in one of the posh areas of Mumbai, where actors from Bollywood to the current CM’s daughter-in-law live. However, Karan Joshi is just another employee in an IT firm – a kind of misfit there. There itself the mystery starts as how can a mediocre working professional afford the lavish Hawa Mahal rent. What’s the internal connection? Like this, there are many more ugly and pleasant facts there awaiting discovery. And for Smita a bad marriage experience is on the verge of realization after this murder. How will she cope up in Hawa Mahal? It is another story to know her destiny.
Well, to your concern, as usual, the watchman is framed and picked up by the police and the case can be closed anytime. The initial thought is that the murder and the blackmailer is the same person. And it has to be that watchman. However, there is a twist in the form of ACP Jai Rege; he is handling the case. But his boss, Chivate, at any cost want this case to be closed as soon as possible. Why? It has its own reasons?
The author has brilliantly brought out the intricacies found in the police department, where juniors either behave like a spy or busy planning backstabbing. Jai is caught in the web trouble of as on whom to fall back on, and who to trust. His juniors Bhat and Billu are no better than a case gone astray. Well, they have more share in the story than just being into the pipeline of auxiliary characters.
The novel stretches up to around 300 pages, with short and crisp chapters with new and exciting turbulence that chugs the story ahead rivetingly. The list of characters is long, but positively it builds a larger web of suspects. The session of investigation and interrogations and forensic drama all unfolds something bigger and hidden from everyone but at the same time things look foggy. One more murder takes place, and from there the story sees no dip in its tides of excitement. I got tired of interpreting – who is who? I stopped supporting and abhorring the characters, rather got with the flow. With so much lineage, sin history, and sweeps (ugly and miserable and good), this novel pushed me into an abyss of sheer delight and bemusement.
With Mumbai as a backdrop, shocking family history one after another, the role of elite people in affecting the society, the oppression of poor ones, I think with all these elements spiced up in one tapestry, the author has nailed it perfectly. At least this year, which is dwindling fast, I think there is no one like N.J. Kulkarni. The novel is way too impressive and good for all sorts of readers, and for hardcore thriller and crime fiction fans, a palette of mirth and entertainment.