Sunday, August 26, 2012

Barnabas by Sangeeta Nambiar - A Review

A mystery writer hits the nail right on its head when he/she realizes that he is dealing with an intelligent audience. The misfortune with most of our in-bred mystery authors is that they try to spoon-feed their audience, point out the obvious, play around redundant sub-plots - and in the process create a thriller which loses its thrill in the first fifty pages. A smart writer would understand the psyche of his readers, he would let out facts on purpose to pique their interest, and he would know the topography of his plot well enough to play mind games and not allow the reader to arrive at any conclusion till the very end. Recently, via a book sent my way by Westland, I had a rendezvous with a similar smart author, her name being - Sangeeta Nambiar.

Setting her novel in the pre-independence times, roughly around the Quit India Movement, Nambiar has created a character called Barnabas C. Mehta, who, quite obviously, is the lead of her eponymous novel - Barnabas, Bombay's First Private Detective. Yes, in this novel, we are transported back to the times Mumbai was still known as Bombay, and Gandhiji had gotten ready to launch his third big assault on the colonial government. British establishments and Englishmen were a prominent part of the social fabric of India. While a large chunk of Indians, infected with patriotic zeal, were responding unconditionally to the call of Gandhiji, there were others like Barnabas, who could not associate with that concept of nationalism, which was solely based on the resentment towards a collective enemy - the British. Barnabas had been brought up in the backyard of Francis Curtis, his father's employer and an Englishman who was an indistinguishable part of India and its people.

The son of a cook, Barnabas, brought up fine and intelligent in the tutelage of Curtis, decides to become a jasoos, much to the disappointment of his father. The man who calls himself the first private detective of Bombay soon has a complicated case in his hands to solve, one which he pursues beyond the mandates of his assignment. A British woman, Rose Stanton, goes missing from her house. To keep police out of the loop, her husband, Thomas Stanton, invites Barnabas to search for his wife. Barnabas was a detective of great skill and intelligence. He finds Rose in the bylanes of Girgaum, a shoddy area compared to the grandiloquent homes inhabited by the British, well under the stipulated time. What his smart investigative skills could not anticipate, however, was that Rose would be murdered just the day after he met her, and that he himself would become a suspect in her murder investigation. Mr. Barnabas C. Mehta now has a case to solve, and in which the culprit is a complicated and brutal, but a daring person, who indulges in mind games with this private investigator himself.

To be honest, it was very easy to figure out where the script is headed; it is the journey which was very thrilling. Running along with the author, you can figure out just enough details to feel as if you are in Barnabas' shoes, but you still will not find enough facts so as to uncode the whole storyline. Deceit, secrets, sinister ambitions, and misleading clues - all the ingredients of a perfect murder mystery are to be found in this amazingly well written book. The background, the period none of us have seen but remember as one which lay down the foundation for a free, democratic India, add to the charm of the book. It is extremely interesting to note that in an otherwise all English cast, how an Indian steals the show as the protagonist. The characters of this novel as a beauty! Defined and consistent, they are as believable as characters get. The mystery is mysterious, not because the end is elusive, but because the road to that end is nowhere in sight. The expression of the author is easy to understand and the story interacts well with the reader. This book does not deserve anything less than 3.5 stars on 5. And also, this book deserves a sequel. Barnabas C. Mehta should resurface with his second case, and his third. Moving closer to the year of independence, the turmoil and tension in Bombay would make for an excellent backdrop to Mr. Mehta's investigative skills. I hope Sangeeta Nambiar picks up from where she has left.

"I am not allowed an opinion. I have to look at the facts."
- Barnabas Chetan Mehta.
Bombay's First Private Investigator.

(Reviewed on request from Westland Publications)

Details-
Title - Barnabas
Author - Sangeeta Nambiar
Publisher - Westland
Price - Rs. 250
Pages - 232
Genre - Mystery

8 comments:

  1. ohhooo ohhooo..... seems very intriguing book ...."I am not allowed an opinion. I have to look at the facts."
    - Barnabas Chetan Mehta.
    Bombay's First Private Investigator.

    this revel the attitude of life which must be follow to live smartly on this planet...!!! like it i like it.. on the top of it nicely you have put your concepts & perception on this book... will read it for sure...!! thank you so much for sharing your reviews..!!

    Thank you!!

    anant jain!!!

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    1. You should read this book. One of a kind, and very interesting.

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  2. Seems to be Intriguing and engaging,will give it a shot for sure..:)

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    1. And I am telling you, you will not regret it!

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  3. Lend me your copy when we meet :)
    -Wn

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  4. Hi I am one of the best matrimonial detectives in Mumbai and being a private detective myself (and a female one at that), I love the fact how Sangeeta Nair has woven a detective story around historical facts and it would be fun to see how the backdrop of pre-independence influences the sequence of events as it moves through the various acts. Am going to definitely buy this book and publish a review on our website's blog.

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    1. That'll be great! I am happy I could introduce you to this book.

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