These are murderous times. Criminals run amok after killing hordes of people, often without the strong “vengeance” so advertised by 80’s Hindi cinema. Music is murdered every day; civil rights are murdered every minute. Little wonder then, that murder mysteries continue to fascinate readers across ages. What is a good murder mystery? One that comprises a strong plot, well etched-out characters, and a satisfying resolution. Uday Satpathy, in his debut novel with West Land Publishers and Bloody Good Book, makes a genuine attempt at a fast-paced, intriguing thriller. His frequent obsession with “brutality” and its manifestation, however, becomes his undoing.
Brutal, which is India’s first crowd-sourced and crowd-curated novel, starts with a series of murders which are – yes, brutal. When two journalists, Prakash and Seema, chase the story of a seemingly harmless schoolteacher who murders 11 of his students, they hit upon a labyrinthine plot of deception and crime. The incident is ominously similar to one that had earlier transpired in the forests of Bandhavgarh. No one can be trusted and motives are hardly what they seem in the distinctly evil world that Uday successfully manages to create.
The “evil”, in fact, is one of the finest bits of Brutal. There is a good mix of the supernatural and the scientific, the monsters in our brain and the subconscious. Through a series of short, crisp chapters and some easy-to-read, conversational writing, Satpathy makes it evident that he wants you to read his book in one sitting. Moreover, he does endeavour to provide material to perk your interest, especially some interesting commentary on the world of media and journalism, scientific research, the mafia, and would-be “powerful” families.
You are in real, real danger.
Where Brutal stutters is, surprisingly, the plot itself. For example, while Satpathy cleverly intersperses between narrators to provide different perspectives on the proceedings, some of them still seem half-baked. The italicized “thoughts”, especially, are jarring and inadequate attempts at providing an insight into the narrator’s mind. After a point, the proceedings seem stretched and there’s way too much travelling, fighting, spying and talking happening.
Likewise, when the puzzle is eventually resolved, it doesn’t give you the unsettling feeling that brutal murders should leave you with. Instead, there’s a tinge of dissatisfaction that the author chose to meddle with the same larger-than-life criminals and devilish science-fiction-style laboratories that are hardly path-breaking. On the whole, it’s what I call a rather strange aftertaste – not wholly good, to be honest.
Speaking of taste, the cover could have easily done without all the hideous splattering of blood. Severe turn-off not just for me, but for all the sleepy people on the Delhi Metro who judged me severely for not keeping tomato-ketchup off my books. That aside, if you’re looking for some chills and goosebumps and don’t really mind clichés, you might enjoy this one.
*Thank you Team Bloody Good Book for sending across a Review Copy.