Captivating crime thriller
Manmeet Sodhi

The Gardener’s Song
by Kalpana Swaminathan. IndiaInk.
Pages 219. Rs 295.

Karunkar Rao was murdered. He was a "frail grey man of indeterminate age," gossipmonger whose curiosity was unquenchable. He was in habit of peeping at the secret lives, especially the residents of the apartment complex, Utkrusha A. He was suspicious of everybody and everything. He would not only trouble them with insane questions but talked to all and sundry about them. It was from him came the news that Kamath’s gynecologist had flatly refused to oblige with a fifth abortion, the story of why Ramachandran’s daughter’s wedding was called off, the story behind Patherphaker’s premature retirement and the truth about Kumudben’s nervous breakdown.

Paradoxically, Rao was profoundly disgusting but oddly compelling. He was conferred with the title of the ‘rattlesnake’ by the residents of the building. Many of them wished him dead and had enough reason for murder.`85Padmanbhan’s dramatic confession ‘before the fact,’ Pathrephaker’s regret at having narrowly missed dislocating Rao’s neck, Ramachandran’s bitter remarks that Rao was our destiny, Kumudbhen’s frisson of hate, Wadia’s pent up wrath and his own son’s misery.

Kalpna Swaminathan has fully justified the female point of view, concerns and values in the person of Lalli, the female detective. By and large in a male dominated profession, she stands out alone and counteracts the world of crime. She is not a submissive sexual object but an autonomous female role model. She is 60 years old, silver-haired, retired from the police, still their last resort when it comes to solving a murder mystery. Lalli and her niece, the narrator of the novel, are all set to solve the murder mystery of Rao who lived in the same apartment block.

It is a captivating crime thriller that keeps the reader glued right up to the last page. The pattern of events, with its many tumultuous twists and turns, fell in with the lines of Lewis Carroll’s The Gardner’s Song in some mysterious way. The galaxy of characters is intriguing; it keeps you guessing without losing interest.

Beneath the storyline many social elements have been picked up. It talks about dowry death, adoption, the international diamond smuggling, hypocrisies of the middle class and many more.

On the whole, the book does make a good read. It is a gripping tale with all the ingredients of a murder mystery: a murder, its investigation, clues, a search, digressions before the mystery is finally unraveled. With her delightful writing and cinematic appeal, Kalpna Swaminathan leaves one chilled, surprised and delighted.