Jhangir Kerawala’s JFK might, at the first instance, lead you to think so, but the book has nothing to do with the U.S. Presidential elections or the assassination of that former President of the same name. This is a simple thriller, a story set in the streets of Kolkata, a whodunit right in the traditions of the city of Feluda. The man who goes after the killer is not a dashing, specially gifted or fated-to-be-solver of crime, but someone like you or me, with a perfectly day-to-day profile. He is out-of-work, job-hunting, middle-aged, and his life is slowly turning sour because of his unemployed status, which again is his own fault. His only oasis in this life is his pal Manish, who is everything he is not and his support in troubled times right from day one. So, Jatin the hero, is thrown off his balance when Manish- the-alter-ego, calls him up on a rather bad line, and says ‘JFK”, and the next thing he knows is that Manish has been murdered.
This is how Jatin, our not-so-heroic hero jumps into solving Who Killed Manish and Some Other People. I don’t want to drop more spoilers into this review, but Jatin steps deeper and deeper into unfamiliar terrain and then the story does a tailspin connect with a crime-that-happened, a real time one that you and I have shuddered over on many a morning news paper. Yes, the police is on the scene alright, but Jatin, the average Bengali guy, has this love-hate relationship with the police officer investigating the crime, and there is even a woman or two and secret societies on the scene, but it all ties up rather neatly at the end. I would have wanted more clarification on the secret society set up, but the rest of the plot had enough to keep me worried, so I am passing this one.
In a way, it’s also a story of friendships; Jatin, Manish and Montu are thick, and it’s that hidden philosophy that peeps through at one level of the book: People are not often what they seem. Again, the fact that the average middle-class marriage is so dependent on the family budget is another truth that the author has tried to weave into the story unobtrusively. Both Manish’s and Jatin’s lives are the typical middle class see-saws of finance, and later on we realize, Montu’s too. The topic of child abuse is something that we rarely see in fiction in India, and the author has been brave enough to include this as a pivotal point.
This book is not literature, it’s not even a typical novel, one almost thinks James Hadely Chase or even Perry Mason, but with much lesser pace. The narration is slightly ponderous at occasions and it even hinders the pace at which a reader wants to follow the solving of the crime. The twists and turns of the story hints Bollywood, and a Mango-man type in the lead. The blue pencil is conspicuously absent at many a page, yet, it’s a book that one can happily take for company on a train. It will keep you entertained, wondering at the twists, skip a few paras here and there and read the final pages with the affirmation, ‘I knew it, I knew that guy was bad’, but actually you don’t, the story is not that predictable, and that’s what makes the book worth a read.
By Jhangir Kerawala
Published by Grey Oak in association with Westand
This review appeared in the Hindu Literary Review dated 2.12.2012 under the title The good old whodunit