Monday, 22 June 2009
Book Review: A Nice Quiet Holiday
Lawyer turned detective novelist Aditya Sudarshan’s debut offering borrows at least one idea from Arthur Conan Doyle’s creations. A Nice Quiet Holiday has two men working in tandem not unlike Sherlock Holmes and Watson. The detective is a portly, courtly and old worldly Additional Sessions Judge from Delhi, Harish Shinde. Shinde’s law clerk Anant, the narrator of the story, is not unlike Watson doing most of the spadework for the Judge who prefers to be an armchair detective. No, Judge Shinde does not smoke a pipe or wear a bowler hat, he’s too Indian for that. However, just like Holmes, Judge Shinde is a student of human nature and does not hesitate to spout arguments and analyses at the drop of a hat (or turban if you will).
It was not just Arthur Conan Doyle’s creations that Sudarshan’s work reminded me of. The setting for the crime, a murder, is a family home in the foothills of the Himalayas where lots of friends, family and guests have gathered, smacks of something from an Agatha Christie, with a heavy Indian flavour of course. Except for the first chapter of the novel, the entire story is played out in that family home.
Sudarshan writes well, in simple English and in a manner that is both elegant and pleasing. In fact, his style of writing is good enough to iron over the few minor cracks in the story. For example, as Sudarshan explains, clerking for Judges is not a common practice in India, especially in the case of District Judges. However, Sudarshan’s style of delivery makes it look very natural.
One of Sudarshan’s achievements is that he treads the fine line between pulp fiction and literature very well. A Nice Quiet Holiday has all the ingredients needed for a best seller. It has a murder, exciting court proceedings, a tall and intelligent lawyer (the narrator), a damsel almost in distress, mob violence and a philosophising detective. Despite the presence of so much spice (or masala if you so prefer), Sudarshan’s fine writing makes it difficult to label ‘A Nice Quiet Holiday’ as pulp fiction. The best bit about this novel is that Sudarshan keeps us guessing till the end as to the identity of the murderer.
A Nice Quiet Holiday runs to 224 pages and the word count doesn’t exceed 50,000 (my own estimate). In other words, it is a fairly quick and light read and is ideal for train journeys. It wouldn’t surprise me if the judge and his clerk make many more appearances in Sudarshan’s future works and solve more crimes.