Friday, July 07, 2017

Book Review: THE DARK ROAD

Title: The Dark Road
Author: Mayur Didolkar
Publisher: Juggernaut Books
Pages: 540 (Read in App)

As a murder mystery, The Dark Road by Mayur Didolkar was a good trip but there were some glaring potholes that should have been filled.

The body of 23-year-old Sanjyot Pathak, trekker and marathoner, is found brutally murdered, soon after an act of sexual intercourse, while she is out camping in the forest. This is the second tragedy in the Pathak family. Their older daughter, Amruta, had run away from home years ago.

A powerful man, Siddharth Pandit, Sanjyot’s father’s friend and one-time employer, pulls strings and pays for the privilege of having Prasanna Killedar, a private eye, work on the case in an unofficial capacity.

Prasanna has a daughter, Ira, of the same age as Sanjyot, and she is determined to find the killer. But it’s not an easy case. The murderer has wiped the body free of all fingerprints.

The police are convinced the killer was known to Sanjyot. Was it Kunal Darekar, Sanjyot’s married, abusive boyfriend? Or Kunal’s jealous wife? And is the Pathak family hiding other secrets?

Read the book to find out.

The story is written in the first person PoV of Prasanna, and the third person PoVs of Pandit and Sanjyot. The accounts of Pandit and Sanjyot give us a sketchy idea of what might have happened, but we need Prasanna to make those connections for us.

First let me talk about what I liked about the book.

I liked the easy descriptions of Pune locations, the familiarity it inspired. The best thing about books set in a familiar location are the references – mutton biryani and faluda kulfi. Enough of reading books where characters eat scones and profiteroles, alienating us poor souls brought up on rasgullas and payasams.

The information about hiking gear and habits was fascinating. I was impressed with the nugget of information relating to how seasoned hikers pack their gear in the order in which they will need them. If only there was more of this. There were details about police procedures and the tedium of the investigation but it was handled well.

In Prasanna Killedar, the author has created a fantastic character. In her late 40s, retired as the assistant commissioner of Police, Prasanna is sharp and no-nonsense, a mix of motherly and badass.

The description of Prasanna comes to us through details interspersed through the story, for instance, the rapidly greying hair. These details help us to get to know, and like, Prasanna. The backstory of her as a single mother makes her real and vulnerable.

I found it interesting that Prasanna spoke to us. It seemed as if she were talking to me as a reader, a close confidante whose ear she had.

I enjoyed her voice, the blend of sarcasm and low tolerance for fools with which she speaks. At one point, she decides to charge Pandit a “sarcasm levy” and an “asshole surcharge”, over and above the already high fee.

The name Killedar too was an interesting choice for her. It literally means the one with the key, and by extension, the unlocker of mysteries.

The humour was unmistakably good.

When Prasanna deliberately walks out of a meeting with Pandit, he apologises for not meeting her in the morning, and Prasanna tells us, Like he had been a no-show at today’s meeting.

I laughed out when Pandit opened his Notebook, and Prasanna tells us that she opened hers, a real paper one.

I also liked the pop culture references strewn through. These included the reference to the musical series, Glee; Joker in The Dark Knight, and Prof Higgins and Eliza Doolittle, besides Bollywood films, Once Upon a Time in Mumbai and Hazaar Chaurasi ki Maa; the TV singing reality show Zee Sa Re Ga Ma etc.

The cover with its dark leafless trees and a lonely tent was sufficiently foreboding.

But there were also things that were unnecessary.

Daughter Ira, we are told, is a statistician. Not that her job helped her mother in any way. A wasted detail. Ira served no other purpose than to bring out Prasanna’s soft side, and to play a key role in the climactic sequence. If you’ve watched as many Bollywood films of the ’70s and the ’80s as I have, then you’ll know what I mean.

The drama brought about by Prasanna’s three friends, especially Sharmil and her affairs, was equally pointless and could have been avoided.

The book is a thriller, so even though the author makes a reference to Kunal’s ideological brainwashing that made men point weapons at their own, we can’t go too deep into why Kunal is the way he is.

But surely there should have been an explanation for why Sanjyot persisted in linking herself to Kunal when a powerful man like Pandit was sweet on her? Sanjyot’s motivation needed an explanation.

There were some issues that were referred to but not pursued. These included domestic violence, the rifts in a marriage, the fascination with married women and violent ideologies.

There were some errors that needed to go.

Prasanna tells Janhavi Danve, Sanjyot’s best friend, I’m sure you share our interest in bringing those responsible to the book. 'The' isn’t required in that sentence.

Elsewhere, But still, something in visiting a place so utterly and suddenly silenced by death moved me. That should read something about…

Ignorance is still a bliss sometimes. Bliss doesn’t need the crutch of the article, a.

And in Chapter 10, we get Sanjyot’s and Pandit’s third person viewpoint in a chapter with Prasanna’s PoV.

The reference to Shikha Sharma, CEO of ICICI, was weird. Shikha is the CEO of Axis Bank. If you are going to use a real name, you better get your facts right.

There was also a problem with the voice of the mysterious caller who fed information to Prasanna. But I can’t tell you more for fear of revealing a spoiler.

The biggest issue that prevented The Dark Road from being a smooth ride was the resolution of the mystery. It was awkward and too filmy, and undid the effect of all that had gone before.

Despite it all, I rooted for Prasanna. I sure hope that the author intends to create another book for her. It can’t be the end of The Dark Road for her.

(I read The Dark Road in the Juggernaut Books app)


  1. thanks a lot for your kind review Cynthia. For a new writer this encouragement (and criticism) play an important role. Warm Regards, Mayur (the author)

    1. HI Mayur, I meant what I said about wanting to meet Prasanna again. That character deserves a chance to tackle another mystery.

  2. I'm actually reading this book right Free eBooks Download site as Aazae. Great review!



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