Goodreads blurb: Kauveramma loved life. She was terrified of water. So why was her body found floating gruesomely, hair fanned out, limbs outspread, in the well of the family compound? Her sons, daughter, grandchildren-some of them resident, others far-flung-assemble at her death with expressions ranging from composed or confused to those of outright maniacal grief. Things don’t quite fit, and one of them demands an investigation into the mysterious drowning.
Enter a policeman, Inspector Valmiki Nagarajan, and a charming rogue, Hamid Pasha. The latter is an elderly Muslim and a reformed criminal who spouts ghazals, has exquisite manners, and it’s clear he’s the brains of the two. He and the policeman regard each other with reluctant admiration and gruff affection. They have been on opposite sides of the law and clashed in the past, and that has formed an unstated bond. The duo interrogates each member of the family and staff in turn, unearthing secrets of their past, and calculating the degrees of their love, hatred or loyalty to Kauveramma-and each other. As it happens, everyone had something to gain from Kauveramma’s banishment from their lives.
As the blurb states, the book begins with Kauveramma’s body found floating in the well of the family compound. And when Inspector Nagarajan is requested to investigate further into what is presumed to be suicide, he gets his enemy turned friend Hamid Pasha into the mix.
The duo then proceed to talk to each one of the large family which consists of the victim’s sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters and daughter in law (not to leave out the servants as well). Their conversations gradually reveal that there was more to this family than just the obvious fissures and tension. Each and every member of the family had a bone to pick with the victim and with each other as well. If ever there was an example of a dysfunctional family, Kauveramma’s herd was a prime example of the same.
While all three sons were widely considered to be useless when it came to money matters, the grandsons had reasons of their own to dislike their parents and grandparents. The daughter in law was the one with the strongest motive but it seemed too obvious to suspect her of the crime. And each conversation the investigating duo had with the family members seemed to complicate matters even further.
Hamid Pasha seems to see things in a clearer light when compared to the Inspector, and ultimately this proves to be invaluable in them figuring out what actually happened on that afternoon.
Banquet on the dead is not your regular edge-of-seat, bite-your-nails, kind of murder mystery and fits more with the Agatha Christie Miss Marple kind of domestic murder thriller. But don’t be fooled by the relative calm with which the crime is dealt with, as the author Sharath Komarraju [Link to blog] ensures that all loose ends are tied up, the murderer is finally nabbed and his/her motive for the crime is also well justified.
While Sharath himself doesn’t consider this novel his best piece of work, I felt that this was an extremely competent novel albeit in a somewhat different style when compared to his debut novel Murder in Amaravati [Link to my review] which also I thoroughly enjoyed.
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