Book Review: Deja Karma
Best known for writing crime fiction, Vish Dhamija’s latest offering Deja Karma is a legal psychological fiction. Crowned as the India’s John Grisham, Deja Karma has undoubtedly stimulated the genre of legal fiction in India which was almost non-existent before the arrival of Dhamija on the scene. As suggested by the title, the book commences with the imploration of the concept of Karma as described in Hinduism “Your Karma invokes His choice.”
Alternating between the first person and third person narrative, Deja Karma unravels the story of Jay Singh, the best defence lawyer in New Delhi at two levels: personal and professional. Haughty, arrogant, ostentatious, unethical and perfidious, much like Boyce Baylor of No Way to Treat a First Lady, Jay Singh “found it intolerably difficult to comprehend the senseless morality bug…He bent witnesses, bought prosecution’s testifiers to turn them hostile, blackmailed people into providing alibis.” Being a devil’s advocate, having sold his soul to Mephistopheles years ago, Jay Singh takes a case to win, “Right, wrong, true, false were good for textbooks”. Haunted by the demons of his past and the memories of that one night which left him orphaned with his father murdered and mother arrested, he becomes a successful Vakil sahib by day and a closet alcoholic by the night. Not able to recede out of the memories of that fateful night, Jay launches his own investigation into the circumstances of that night without paying hfeed to his mother’s last words, “don’t waste your life looking for the killer…if this was devastating, the truth will destroy you.” Will the truth be the undoing of the mighty Jay Singh as prophesied by his mother or will he be left unscathed? As they say, the truth might be stranger than fiction and the author indubitably lives up to the hype.
Compulsorily referred to a psychiatrist, Jay simultaneously lands the biggest case of his career. Debauched and licentious, Vinay Kumar, the heir apparent of a retired MLA is accused of murdering his girlfriend, Gina who was found dead in her house, shot to death. What follows is a medley of events where the infamous defence lawyer rummages through evidence to make events more amenable to his client’s version of truth. The narrative enthralls the reader throughout in the search of Gina’s murderer. Is Vinay Kumar guilty of being decadent and depraved or is he also the killer? Dhamija reticulates the multi-layered narrative and keeps it engaging with electrifying twists.
While narrating the events, the author provides the reader a glance into the saddening state of the Indian legal system where “all evidence was malleable, witnesses could be influenced or coerced, experts could misjudge or misinterpret or be rewarded to misunderstand, technology could fail to provide any coherent or convincing evidence…Corrupt the witnesses or evidence first. If you don’t succeed confuse the prosecutor to convince the judge that there were far bigger motives…” Although meticulous and detail oriented, the author does not ensnare the essence of the Indian courts completely which is more mundane and prosaic. However, being a fiction writer, the author preserves the semblance between reality and fiction and thereby, sustains the readers’ interest into the otherwise drab working of the Indian court rooms.
Amalgamating Grisham with Scott Turow, the author unfurls the plot which is not just a whodunit but also works at moral and psychological level. Dhamija keeps the audience postulating whether Jay will strike a final bargain with the devil or will his karma finally catch up with him as strongly prognosticated by the title of the book. Albeit, the ending of the book is to an extent, disheartening and the quality of editing inadequate at times, Deja Karma is taut, thrilling and riveting and is recommended to anyone interested in legal thrillers.
To quote Dhamija, “A good story, in my opinion, will always connect with readers” and in my opinion, Dhamija unequivocally tells a good story.
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