REVIEW : Murder With Bengali Characteristics. What a hilarious title for a book, I was left expecting a black comedy with social commentary based predominantly in Bengal. And that’s what I got. Don’t you just love it when you get exactly what you expect?
The story is set is a not so distant Dystopian future (2035) where China is all powerful and has taken Bengal under it’s ever expanding wing. The book starts with Inspector Li (Chinese) investigating the murder of a seemingly harmless local icon who actually spends time teaching the Bengali children. The clue lead Inspector Li to believe that it was a hired hit, done by thugs and he sets out to find out why. And of course, whom. But the why is more important here.
Then we meet Mr.Agarwal and Mr.Verma, two underhanded businessmen who are always looking at ways to make their lives easy and to ensure a plentiful supply of fish. They’ll do anything and everything including chasing after a Tiger’s noonoo and trying to start a riot in order to make things go their way. Then of course there’s Bijli Bose, a resurrected(?) wrinkled mummified creature who has a lot of support from china and therefore cannot be touched, no matter how much of a “Goonda” he is.
On the surface the book looks like a crime thriller set in a dystopian land, filled with scifi elements, prostitute ex-wives, psychotic leaders and an escape from a mental asylum, but Murder With Bengali Characteristics isn’t just that. It is a rather intelligent, albeit a little and, social and political commentary on what is, what could be and what cannot be avoided. Author Shovon Chowdhury hits the mark in many places, eliciting mad witchlike cackles from the reader (me) and making them embarrass themselves while reading out in public but there are a lot of places where he misses the mark completely making me blink in confusion. I wonder if I could have avoided these if I had known a bit more about Bengali ways or was a Bengali, but I’m not. So that’s that.
I do think this is a very nice book, the kind that you read in instalments, slow and steady, relishing each joke and each hilarious statement (AR Rahman is considered classical music. An actress falls in love with her own clone while shooting for a film and etc). If you are a fan of Allo Allo or films like Four Lions, this would be right up your alley. But it isn’t for those who like commercial fiction, Indian or otherwise. I enjoyed the book a lot, but it doesn’t have an interesting plotline which is the only thing keeping me from picking it back up once I put it down. When it comes to language and writing skills though, I’d give the author five stars. Plot, not so much. I wish I had read The Competent Authority first because I believe that is the prequel and is better. Maybe I’ll pick it up someday at the library and give it a flip through. I rather this book a nice solid 3 stars.
*Thank you, to Aleph, who very kindly provided me a copy in exchange for a review.