Author : Sharath Kommaraju
Padmavati, the village hostess’s body is found in a sacred chamber of the Kali temple. Men wanted her; women hated her; while some men wanted to keep their liaisons hidden. But who had the motive, the means and opportunity to kill her? Padmavati charged by the hour – her laughs, her understanding, her empathy, her advice – everything was available only in return for payment, which made her, in the Sarpanch’s eyes, a little more than a trader.
‘Look,’ the priest Krishna Shastri said, pointing to the letters around him. ‘Satyam, Shekhar, Seetaramaiah – how many men did she have in her grasp? How many? ‘ The onus of solving the case puts head constable Venkat Reddy in a quandary. He has never even solved petty crimes and here he is faced with murder! If this were a novel, the constable thought vacantly, would the reader think of him as a worthy detective? Would anyone bother reading about a bungling, confused constable pretending to be a detective? The equation before him is simple; seven suspects, seven motives, one murder.
When Krishna Shastri opened the sanctum sanctorum of the Kali temple in the sleepy village of Amaravati on the day after the Dasara celebrations, little did he expect to find the corpse of Padmavati, the village hostess at the feet of the Mother. Along with shaking him to the core, the murder also stirs up the otherwise usually quiet and boring life of head constable Venkat Reddy. While he could have just registered a FIR and let the case file rot in a cupboard until the world forgot about it, something about Padmavati’s dead eyes made him investigate the case further thus leading to the subsequent chain of events.
What I particularly liked about the book was the fact that the author created a main protagonist who was actually learning how to investigate a crime almost like the author himself was trying to learn the ropes of writing a crime thriller himself in the debut novel. Reddy gaaru (gaaru being a term of respect in Telugu) himself was learning on the job on his first real case investigation and therefore restricts himself to tried and tested theoretical techniques. Ably assisted (or at least facilitated assistance) by Krishna Shastri, the constable tries to piece together the events leading upto the crime itself so that the perpetrator can be arrested and brought to justice.
He searches for the usual classic ingredients of a crime – motive, means and method to try and figure out who in the village had killed the hostess. And to add to his woes, it turns out that more than quite a few people had a bone to pick with her; the women because she did what she did, and the men due to various other reasons ranging from possible spurning of romantic advances to the possibility of her blackmailing them. Starting with the village sarpanch, the list of suspects involves the sarpanch’s son, the postmaster and his wife, a partially handicapped teacher and his wife, and Krishna Shastri, the village priest himself.
Another interesting thing about the book is the fact that the specter of Padmavati, her soul, her spirit seems to be hanging over the whole proceedings. Everything that all the characters in the book do obviously deal with her in one way or the other, but the author has managed to keep them so subtle that at times you don’t even realize that she is dead in the first place. At the same time, her presence is not so overpowering that she ends up taking up a bulk of the book as well. All the characters mentioned above are given almost equal prominence and hold their own against each other. And given that this is a whodunit book, it bodes well that readers are not quite able to easily figure out which among the seven suspects could have committed the crime. All of them seem to have equally good motives, means and methods of killing Padmavati.
At the very end though, the author employs the classic sleight of hand that this genre of books necessarily needs to have, and what is good about this is the fact that readers don’t quite see it coming the way it finally ends up. And that to me, elevated this book to a really good one. Given that this was Sharath Kommaraju’s debut novel, this was a really nice crime thriller, and for sure makes me want to pick up his second book as well in the same genre.
|Name||Murder in Amaravati|