Author: Suparna Chatterjee
Publisher: Rupa & Co
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐
Akhil Banerjee, Calcutta High Court judge, retires from service. On his morning walk, the day after his retirement, three other retirees, Chandan Mukherjee, Bibhuti Bose and Debdas Guha Roy, all recent retirees, invite him to become part of their group. Chandan has retired from the State Bank of India, Bibhuti from a British firm, while Debdas is a retired professor of geology.
Mr Agarwal, a rich man from the vicinity, invites the four men to his house to a function at which he proposes to felicitate Akhil. A collector of valuable artifacts, Mr Agarwal’s home is filled with expensive paintings, and other collectors’ items. A precious stone belonging to the late Mrs Agarwal is passed around from hand to hand and admired by everyone. Later, after the function is over, Mr Agarwal files a police complaint, alleging that the stone has disappeared.
Akhil and his three friends take it upon themselves to solve the mystery. Will they succeed in finding the stone? Or is the thief one of them?
The mystery was extremely tepid and weak. The identity of the criminal was obvious but the good judge and his detective buddies waited until the end of the book to figure out who it was
The language was colourful and entertaining, but proportionately very little has to do with the robbery. It could have improved with tougher editing. The punctuation issues too should have been resolved. Most of the book was in the past tense but a stray present tense hinted at the imperfect editing.
The character’s names were mentioned in full every single time. It was most annoying. Has the author never read another book before beginning to write this one? Another issue a good editor would have eliminated. The only exception to this odd usage is Subhadra, wife of Akhil, who never gets more than her first name mentioned.
Oddly, while the Bengalis, except for Subhadra, are referred to by their full names every time, Mr Agarwal doesn’t even get a first name.
Mr Agarwal says at one point, “I didn’t mean to insinuate my guests, sir.” Incorrect usage of the word.
What the author does with joy is create a pleasurable image of the city, Kolkata. Its old-world sentimentality, its addas, its culture and the things that make its people tick. The descriptions of the city are laidback and charming. The book does a good job of evoking the Calcutta sensibility, the diehard support of Brazilian or Argentine football, the reading of The Statesman, the broken Hindi spoken by Bengalis to the rickshaw drivers from the Hindi heartland.
There was a fair bit of humour in the book. Chandan’s use of the word, iye, when he was at a loss for words. There are far too many digressions into Indianisms and Bengali idiosyncrasies.
There are far too many threads in the book, too many subplots, that are standalone; if only they had had some tying in with the main thread, it would have worked.
Chhaya Guha Roy is looking for a groom for Piya, her educated “wheatish complexioned” daughter. Incidentally, Piya was the only one who stood out in her bit role. The others are all stereotypical.
Poltu, a streetside Romeo, is smitten with Piya, but will she ever reciprocate his love? The Sabuj Kalyan Samiti plans to make its Durga Puja pandal better than that of the Milonee Club, but is hiring a lion really the best way to achieve that? Piya’s parents attempts to engineer an arranged marriage for her. Bibhuti’s nightmares about his family. At one point, it even becomes a history lesson about the battle of Plassey and the East India company.
The trouble is that none of these should have taken over a book that purports to be a mystery novel. For a book that was described by the Sunday Guardian as a ‘combination of Blyton, Christie and Ray,” this one was none of the above.