This is about a semi-alcoholic private detective who traverses the shady underbelly of the Capital with a specific brief: He has to track down a missing person and that assignment opens up the torrid world of a ghastly murder, whose masterminds have an obvious link to something larger and more sinister. Ankush Saikia writes with a sense of immediacy and in this part noir and part thriller, manages to piece together a plausible detective story.
The protagonist here is Arjun Arora, who has barely survived a bad marriage and is into the drinking habit to ride over a troubled past. It is he who takes on the sinister guys, to take the reader on a dark and dangerous journey through the puzzle that is urban India. It is mostly riveting stuff, what with a reasonable style summoning up the myriad shades of grime rather effectively. He has some insights into the world of south Delhi, which has arguably the highest concentration of the wealthy anywhere in the country. The sheer pomposity and vanity of the super-rich and the inevitable pitfalls of the class divide that ensues is brought out in some detail as Saikia races through the caper. The manner in which real estate sharks have mushroomed and what it has meant to the general cityscape follows in the narrative.
It is all about blazing cars and hot steamy details of the denizens who hide behind them; it also has nuggets about journos and their favourite watering hole on Raisina Road, where Arjun tries to share notes with ‘wise’ and uppity scribes, trying their familiar jargon on him. Arjun, however, has to take care that the reporters do not turn him into the story, especially given his own rather privileged background. Much like his first novel, which was described as dark and detailed, this one carries on from where The Girl from Nongrim Hills left the reader. But where it goes a step further is in etching out the contours of the urban divide that is so palpable in the Capital and how those criminally inclined have a class factor of their own. The dark interiors of crime are to be located just beneath the surface and they are dangerous and astounding for those who are not aware of the reality. How several of the celebrated baddies thrive in the wake of all this is also brought out in some detail, which gives the book a sense of perspective. Another reviewer has called this book an engaging pulp and that is not at all wrong. But what rescues the book from meandering into banality is its attempt to try comprehending the layers that lie beneath the underbelly.
There are the usual dramatics of a body recovered from a tandoor (something that actually happened two decades ago) and a city that is in the grip of the madness called the Indian Premier League and its documented shenanigans. Missing suitcases stuffed with cash, sleaze and worse that is known but is hard to prove because of the clout wielded by the super-criminals and such other murky details are laced into a narrative, which for the noir-inclined is recommended reading. The detective bit keeps pace with the overall atmospherics which Saikia etches. However, one does feel that the obviously bright author could have invested the book with more research about the others who feature in the tale, apart from the protagonist. So often, the so-called thrillers miss out on the inevitable minor details that the shortcoming somehow always manages to jar. Money passing hands in a surreptitious manner in crowded work- and marketplaces and the apparent ease with which the entire process goes on is detailed and interesting. The butcher on the loose, that is described, is every bit as sinister as he is post-modern and his character stands out among all the ones that inhabit the thriller. Has Arjun Arora taken on too much on his palate for his own good is a question which keeps repeating itself. While those into betting on cricket will find shades of their wicked selves here, it is of course not they who constitute Saikia’s readers.
The snazzy young who have time only for racy thrillers will find the effort interesting and it is a moot point what route the writer traverses now, having invested in two thrillers already.