Goodreads blurb: A teacher lies dead in a small village near Calcutta. Since the Chinese took over, things in the Bengal Protectorate have been sliding from bad to worse. It looks like the work of the New Thug Society, whose members are determined to free Bengal from Chinese oppression.
Under Governor Wen, who is confused and slightly weepy, the law and order situation continues to deteriorate. Resurrected members of the Bengal politburo stalk the land, demoralizing all those who thought they were dead. The Maoists are still in the jungle, and remain strangely reluctant to re-integrate with the Motherland. Meanwhile, Didu has escaped, the price of fish is rising, and the Competent Authority, undisputed ruler of India, is trying to start a war with China.
Unimpressed by the rising threat of war, which is none of his business, Inspector Li of Lal Bazaar doggedly pursues his prey. Why is Propagandist Wang so keen that he investigate something else? What are mining magnate Sanjeev Verma and his partner Agarwal up to, and how is Governor Wen involved? Will Inspector Li be able to interview his suspects before General Zhou shoots them all? And why does his ex-wife keep calling, even though her new boyfriend is rich enough to have a duplicate Eiffel Tower in his garden?
Outrageously funny and wickedly imaginative, Murder with Bengali Characteristics marks the return of one of our finest comic writers.
Now, the truth is that I have been trying for quite a while to get my hands on a copy of The Competent Authority by Shovon Chowdhury, his debut novel which caused quite a stir among the fiction reading community for the theme it dealt with, the excessively dripping satirical overtones in the book and for the general humor with which it dealt with its narrative. And therefore, when his second bookMurder with Bengali characteristics hit the markets, I immediately requested for a review copy of the same from the publishers, who kindly obliged.
But little did I realize that this was a sequel to the first book. Ok, admitted, it is not quite a sequel in the classical sense of the term and can also be read as a standalone novel, but the fact remains that the entire backdrop of this book can be better understood and appreciated only when one has read the first novel. That being said, this is quite a competent (pun intended) book by itself and can also be enjoyed as a standalone novel as well.
In a dystopian future, where parts of India have been nuked by the Chinese and almost the whole of Bengal has been occupied by them and turned into a Chinese protectorate, Inspector Li is confronted with what seems like an open and shut case of murder. Barin Mondol, a small time communist worker is found murdered, strangled with a yellow scarf and a coin is left next to his corpse. The entire crime scene screams loudly as the handiwork of the ‘thugs’. However, for whatever reason, Li is not entirely convinced and gets busy investigating the crime.
With his team of Big Chen, Sexy Chen and Phoni-Babu, he digs deeper into Barin Mondol’s history and tries to unearth possible motives and suspects for the crime. What follows thereafter forms the crux of the narrative which involves multiple characters which are caricatures from popular Bengali culture. As I don’t want to face any defamation suits from any CPI or TMC cadre, I am not naming any of the people on whom these caricatures are based, but suffice to say it will take readers all of ten or fifteen seconds to figure out who the author is talking about when these characters present themselves in the narrative.
While the investigation itself is nothing great to talk about, nor is the motive for the crime, what I found particularly interesting about the book was the fact that the author has pretty much lambasted all of popular Bengali culture, starting from their fixation with the Hilsa and fish in general, to communism, to the Ananda Bazar Patrika, their fascination with sweets, their general outlook towards politics and how general people perceive politics and politicians. As if this wasn’t enough, the author has also gone on to poke quite a bit of fun at some inherently Chinese characteristics such as the Communist Party being the ‘be all and end all’ for all decisions and being completely unquestioned, how the politburo of the Party manages to constantly stay above all decisions made by the Party, and so on.
In a nutshell, this book is a hilarious look at what might happen if we marry Bengali politics and its people with the Chinese version of communism. And suffice to say that there are more than quite a few laugh out loud moments in this book, especially with a lot of witty one-liners which are in the ‘blink and you might miss them’ variety.
A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers in return for a honest and unbiased review.