Review - The Kolkata Conundrum, Kalyan Lahiri
The first in a new series of books set in India, THE KOLKATA CONUNDRUM is lyrical and amusing writing, steeped in a sense of place and culture that will leave readers craving more.
Young Orko Deb is the much doted on son of a mechanic father, not at all interested in stepping into his father's footsteps. Instead he finds himself seconded to work for an uncle who operates his own fledgling security company. Most of their employees, like his uncle, are ex-services and considered to be most reliable and diligent security guards. The violent murder of the resident of an apartment complex under their watch, and the mysterious incapacitation of one of those guards, added to the use of a very convenient murder weapon, is particularly distressing to all, especially when the circumstances lead police to a quick decision of guilt by location.
Set within the bustling streets of India, Deb's investigation takes him from the offices of the company, which double as their living quarters, via trains and on foot, through the city, and into the outskirts and country-side. Along the way he encounters dodgy property developments, observant cafe owners, and the guards that work for his uncle and now him. The sense of the places that he moves through is woven beautifully into his activities - be it via the description of a meal, or a place, a roadside stop, an internet cafe or even just in the way that daily life works. Given that the descriptions are wonderfully lyrical and evocative, it does mean that the pace of THE KOLKATA CONUNDRUM is slightly slower than some readers might be used to, but this is immersion reading.
The characters aren't forgotten within the plot as well and everybody: Deb, his uncle, the guards, the police, the houseboy, internet cafe owner and friends of all are nicely developed. The slightly sketchy police investigation is compensated for by the opportunity for the reader to get to know the head investigator and the pressure he's under. The sharing of information over a drink and a meal in the security company offices a perfectly reasonable way of setting up that revelation. Provided, of course, that the air-conditioning is turned on early enough. Add to that the little touches of interaction between uncle and nephew, and the way that Deb steps into his role as general assistant to his uncle, and investigator of a crime in order to clear the fledgling company's name, makes enormous sense.
The plot itself is nicely twisty with the reader following the trail closely beside Deb. His diligence is admirable and his investigative technique partly intelligent analysis of the facts, and partly an ability to be non-threatening / someone to whom people happily divulge information they would not be so forthcoming with the police on. He's also capable of a reasonable amount of bravery, albeit carefully risk managed by somebody for whom caution is a comfort zone.
THE KOLKATA CONUNDRUM is just the thing for readers who are happy to have their crime delivered gently, and with respect, particularly if love of place and culture is high on the preference list.
The mysterious and alluring Pramila, resident of Avantika Heights, is brutally murdered. Sudhir Das, the security guard from the Golden Red Security Agency, is caught red-handed.
In steps Sudhir's boss, young Orko Deb, the hesitant avenger.
His cautious sleuthing, all over Kolkata, throws up more questions than answers.
Who is Pramila?
Was the National Bank involved in money laundering?
Or was it simply a crime passionnel?
And who robbed the jeweler's store?
Then the media frenzy begins and Golden Red is like a deer in the headlights. The police take charge and Orko lies low.
Until he is arrested.