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Published on: 12/3/23 3:18 PM

Book review: The Fast and the Dead by Anuja Chauhan

Murders in the ooru

Anuja Chauhan brings her deceptively mild-mannered sleuth ACP Bhavani Singh back with her second murder mystery, The Fast and the Dead. The book has everything fans of her work like and look for: enough red herrings, a whole slew of interesting people with enough motivation to make the cut as suspects, a sprinkling of romance, loads of witty exchanges, and a denouement that holds the required quantity of last-minute surprises.

ACP Bhavani is holidaying in Bangalore when he is instructed to turn his sharp gaze on a murder that has taken place  — coincidence, coincidence – right in Habba Galli, the Shivajinagar street which holds the B & B the policeman  and his wife Shalini are staying in. The story, readers will find, is largely driven by coincidences as many murder mysteries are. The suspects are all obviously denizens of Habba Galli,  their lives intertwined in ways simple as well as intricate. Adding to this pot which is simmering rather than melting, is the issue of street dogs,  with those looking after them pitched in forceful battle against those who consider them a collective menace to the area.

And so,  when a couple of people die, we find those with motives to kill them comprise virtually all the characters we come across in the galli. The first victim is a jeweller who wouldn’t have won a place in any  popularity stakes,  and we see that even his immediate family are able to seamlessly pick up their lives and carry on after his demise; the second is the local gossip, a woman with a virulent tongue and equally virulent thoughts, and her  only,  not too deeply affected mourner is her widowed spouse.

Even as Chauhan goes about laying down the plot, making all the small reveals, the well-rounded characters take over the story, warts, eccentricities, charm offensives and all, relegating the murders to second place. Yes, of course the reader does want to know whodunnit and why; it`s just that they are quite enjoying reading of   Jaishri Rao, former member of Bangalore`s haute monde, her vet daughter Jhoomer aka Jhoom  once the belle of Habba Galli, Hadi Sait  the Bollywood hero who has been nursing a crush on Jhoom for like forever, Hadi`s beauteous mother Ayesha, the mixed bag Kedia family, even the loud TV anchor with a tendency to shriek `Bloodshed most galore in Bangalore!`

All our slang

The Bangalore patois rears its head sans frills in everyday talk in an endearing manner. Saraswati the cleaning lady in the house of one murder victim does so much galata; Peter saar is jushtu shy; someone else slips an `andhre` (which means `and so?`) casually into the conversation. The filmstar Hadi Sait  gets a hilariously cool intro describing a Rajniesque sequence from his film Majnu Mechanic; we watch a new bahu (who has her husband down as `Pati Babe` in her phone) set off a  rebellion in the Kedia household, rather like Rocky`s Rani did in the KJo film. Chauhan has also taken a hot local topic, that of Bangalore`s  twin camps of  those who  love and those who loathe strays, and used it as a possible motivational device for her murders. This topic isn’t treated too lightly, either; we read of Jhoom wistfully hoping for proper equipment for her veterinary clinic so she can operate on cataracts and blockages of the heart on canines with  quixotic  names like Tiffinni, Darponk, Roganjosh, Macho.

My only beef, and it’s a small one,  is that not all the localizing devices fly. The Marwari jeweller probably was  born and brought up in the ooru but even then, we read of him breaking out into Carnatic ragas when he gloats  and it`s is a stretch. And when ACP Bhavani attempts Kannada, and Kannada slang like `chill maadi ` at that, it jars. As it does when he says someone asked him if Haider Sait dunnit. There are numerous references to `chance pe dance` and one (doubtfully) wonders if it’s a popular phrase with Bangaloreans. A typical  Bangalorean, Krish Chetty,  puns on Sona and a sunhaar, Jhoom talks of `aukaat` casually. These aren’t impossible references but come off sounding somewhat implausible.

Then again, to balance that,  we have members of the Mangalorean Catholic community speaking absolutely on-point, we have the word `simply` used in the way so familiar to Bangaloreans, to signify `what rubbish.` We have the senior Mrs Kedia earnestly assuring the ACP she is not that `lookist` and believes one-two fat friends should be there in a group also, to add variety.  We have the word `snakishly` as a delightful descriptor for sinuous behaviour.

Overall, a fun read. And there`s more fun ahead. Soon,  we will  get  to watch ACP Bhavani, who uses the old-fashioned `hum` instead of `main` as a first person singular, solving these crimes on Netflix.

The Fast and the Dead. By Anuja Chauhan. HarperCollins Books. Rs 499. 409 pages.

Related Links:

Book review: Baaz by Anuja Chauhan

Book review: The House that BJ Built by Anuja Chauhan

ACP Bhavani SinghAnuja ChauhanBangalore storyHarperCollins Booksmurder mysteryThe Fast and the Dead

Sheila Kumar • December 3, 2023

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