Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Book Review: The Spy Who Lost Her Head by Jane De Suza

What happens when a Jane Austenesque village damsel (albeit garishly dressed by Victorian or modern day standards) comes to Mumbai in the hope of landing herself a husband, but instead ends up holding the severed head of a murder victim? Well, in the hands of the very talented Jane De Suza, the damsel (who goes by the colourful name Gulabi) would have a series of adventures culminating in a grand finale where the vivacious Gulabi brings proceedings to a graceful closure.

Pretty soon after Gulabi reaches Mumbai, fourteen suitcases in tow, she finds her ideal man, an Engineer-MBA, soon rechristened Bemba (Bemba as in BE, MBA). Actually, she literally lands right on top of him and immediately starts wooing him with fried brinjals etc., a process made doubly easy since he’s her landlord. The nice and slim Tanya makes up the third resident in their home and we are told that though Gulabi and Tanya have very little in common, they get along very well. Actually, we see them get along exceedingly well, amidst many howls, screams, tantrums and mishaps.

Gulabi’s acquisition of the severed head - it actually belongs to one Sunder Raj, a journalist who made the mistake of exposing corruption in high places – doesn’t change Gulabi all that much. She continues wooing Bemba and is wooed in turn by many men.
In a book where everything is over the top, De Suza’s style of writing made me feel I was reading an adult version of something akin to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s Tom and Jerry series of animated cartoons. Gulabi’s emphasis on Queen’s English and her total confidence in her looks and virtues makes her a lovable character, but I got the feeling all along that Gulabi was unlikely to crack the case with her skill and intuition, the way murder mysteries are usually resolved. I turned out to be wrong. As I waited for providence to dump (or shower) answers on Gulabi, De Suza poured some additional intelligence into Gulabi to make her a wee bit cleverer than I would have given her credit for initially and the resolution of the case did add to Gulabi’s glory.

De Suza’s writing, which at times reminded me of Joseph Heller’s Catch 22, is partly small-town pidgin (when spoken by Gulabi), partly frivolous and when spoken by the narrator, it's 100% Queen’s English, elegant, prim and very proper. The Spy Who Lost Her Head is definitely not your traditional murder mystery where a serious detective grimly gets on with the task of solving the crime, as bullets fly around him or her. Nevertheless, I found it to be a good read, though I am usually a sucker for grim, serious, deadly, detective stories in which bullets rain down on the detective and bombs explode all around (without doing any real harm). Does Gulabi win Bemba? How exactly does she resolve the murder of a wronged journalist and send the culprit to face his just desserts? Do read this very readable book to find out for yourself.

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