Book Review: Happily Murdered
Most of us who are devout fans of the mystery genre have a certain degree of fixation with the whodunits. They suck you into its mystery unlike any other sub-genre. They seduce you to have a look into them and before you even know it, you’ll have immersed yourself into the action in the form of an invisible detective—someone who lurks in the backdrop like a ghost, reads into the mystery through the author’s craft and yet sees it all from his own point of view—making deductions and drawing conclusions all the time.
With about 60 pages to go in the book Happily Murdered, I was certain I had figured out the mystery engulfing Gulab Sarin’s murder. In fact, it was in such plain sight that my initial delight at having solved the case soon malformed into disappointment for having been presented with a book that was so, so easy to put together. As I read on, the jigsaw puzzles that I had conjured started falling into places with an image slowly starting to reveal itself. But as fate would have it, a complex twist right at the end robbed me of my glory and my theory turned out to be only half correct.
I was pleasantly surprised that it turned out that way.
Set in the chilling environs of Ratnagiri, a fictitious town located in the serene foothills of the Himalayas, the story opens up with a murder. Dressed in a traditional wedding outfit with her hands clutching her dupatta, Gulab Sarin, the newly wedded daughter-in-law of the royal Mehta family, graciously swirls around on the pavilion of the Mehta Palace until her henna-clad legs give away. The following morning—just a day after her wedding—she is found dead. Given the tight security arrangements safeguarding the Mehta Palace and the first-hand information gathered by the police, they conclude it is an inside job. The matter further simplifies for the authorities when substantial evidence is found against Sara Dulla, ex-fiancée of Sid Mehta, Gulab’s newly wedded husband. The Mehta’s are divided on opinions regarding Sara; not everyone thinks she’s done it. The Dulla’s, who are in laws to the Mehta’s, are obviously certain that their Sara didn’t do it. And here begins the thrilling game of whodunit, as 9 of the family members set out playing detectives, their motives to find the truth ranging from clearing their own name to incriminating the others. Two families and a bunch of faithful servants; the murderer could be anyone. The prime suspects, however, are the dubious family members: the ever dominating and manipulative father-in-law K.D. Mehta, the alcoholic socialite mother-in-law Tina Mehta, the Casanova-like husband Sid, his shrewd elder brother Vikram or their sadist younger sibling Yuvraj. Not to be forgotten in haste is the wheel-chair bound family head Biji, who invites strong suspicions time and again. On the other hand are the Dulla’s, hemmed in under much scrutiny from both the police and the Mehta’s. Ned Dulla has had some history with Gulab—or Rose as he prefers to call her, while his elder sister Monica, who is long married to Vikram, had made her hatred towards Gulab outright clear for some very obvious reasons.
Love. Hatred. Murder. Suspects. Motives. Amateur sleuths. Who did it then?
When I first read the name, saw the cover and went through the blurb, I had a very peaceful feeling about the whole book. Even the blood soaked bridal wear couldn’t deter me. On the contrary, it whispered silent death to me—no blood bathe involved. And then, only a few pages is all it takes for the reader to realize that this is an extremely well constructed book. The story is presented in a third-person narrative but we also now and again have the lyrical odd chapters that take us through Gulab’s life story in a first-person narrative.
“’I don’t know how I should introduce myself. Should I say I am Gulab or I was Gulab?’ she wonders.
Gulab’s character is wonderfully etched out. Shunned and ridiculed by her father’s family, acceptance and love is all that Gulab has ever wanted in life. Sid and Yuvraj offer her the much needed warmth of friendship, with the former making her fall in love with him and the latter growing up to become her most trusted friend. The other characters are well constructed as well and this is where Rasleen Syal has truly triumphed. These are characters belonging to the higher society and yet Rasleen makes an average reader understand their psychological perspective—why they do what they do. Almost each and every character has some secret to hide or something to benefit from Gulab’s death, so it is understandable as to why all of them suddenly start playing detectives in the novel. This particular aspect of the book is distinctive when compared to the usual crime novels where we have a cop or a private detective digging for clues. The pace of the book is rather slow but given the delightful, poetic language that Rasleen uses to paint the story, especially Gulab’s version of things, one cannot help but feel that this is a book that really deserves to be read with leisure of time. The fact that such a calm narrative takes the reader through the murder mystery is alone worth a read. The strong undercurrent of possessive love that transpires between the younger characters builds up the suspense leading to the climax, which more or less every reader would agree was a befitting end to the story. It would be worth notifying here that the authoress has purposely left clues for the readers to solve the case and one might just benefit from reading it with rapt attention! Apart from all these things there are a few more noteworthy aspects of the book that I’d have liked to share but I’m afraid that in doing so I would spoil the suspense for you.
Coming to the downsides of the book, there are a few elements that the readers would find hard to digest. One of the prime things that I really missed in the story was the presence of a law enforcement officer. Maybe an annoying, cop who’d have kept the characters on the edge. Instead, we have a couple of police officers making an appearance at the start and then showing up again when the book is all but over. Rasleen might have missed a trick there. Secondly, I could never really understand why someone who is as level-headed as Gulab would forgive Sid time and again for his cheating acts. Agreed love is a complicated thing, but I would have loved to see a resolute Gulab instead. Lastly, I cannot by any stretch of imagination picture two women who are in love with the same man, are possessive of him and want to keep him, turn out to be caring and loving friends. But, for some odd reason Rasleen decides to present an unfathomable bonding between Gulab and Sara. Not happening.
Apart from all these things there are other minor editorial and typographical errors that bump the ride on few occasions but otherwise this is a thoroughly delightful read. Rasleen is a self-confessed fan of Agatha Christie and the best compliment that I can possibly give to her is that this book truly reads like an Agatha Christie mystery.
Not to be missed!
Title: Happily Murdered
Genre/ Sub-Genre: Fiction/ Crime Thriller
Rating: 3.50 of 5
Reviewed for: Author
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