If revenge is best served cold then a murder mystery is better dished out with a side of laughter all the more to enhance the nerve-wracking notes in its taste, and Debeshi Gooptu has come out with a very competently turned-out, satisfying crime thriller which fits the exact bill for readers of the genre that has emerged as the flavour of the post-pandemic lockdown season. Rip-roaring rather than bittersweet, The Rossogolla Murders is set in Paribartan-successive Calcutta/‘Kawlkata’ — a “garishly coloured butterfly” — where old landmarks have vanished and glitzy malls coexist alongside doddering mansions, and also where, backed by capital and publicity, high-end designer “confusions” like the chilli rossogolla are threatening to overwhelm the delectable traditional confections created by the humble moyra of the Bengali street. The story follows a team of two Gurugram housewives, Dolly, a jovial, flirtatious Punjabi, and Mrinalini aka Mini, an ironic Piku-esque Bengali, trying, through their joint legwork, Mini’s intuition and Dolly’s derring-do, to catch the serial killer of high-profile women who slays not with knife or bullet but with poisoned sweet. Dolly is suspected of one of the murders and it is up to Mini to don the sleuth’s hat and clear her friend’s name.
Comedy and characterisation are the two pillars on which most whodunits rest. The cast of characters here are refreshingly both believable and unique, often irritatingly real, but never stereotypical. The two female protagonists are flawed but endearing enough to have one rooting for them and secretly invested in the outcome of their friendship. While Mini is wry and nonchalant, for the most part, the irrepressible Dolly is a motormouth and a misspeaker, and a running joke in the storyline comprises her malapropisms that can be anything between being unintentionally rude, plain embarrassing and indecorously accurate. Those around her and the reader are left constantly holding their breath to hear/read what she says next. Mini’s absurd nightly dreams are another source of humour while the author’s own piercing observations and authentic research on the city add value, too, as does the elegant language. Much as she enjoys Calcutta, the author does not shy away from portraying the Bengali’s oddities, follies and insecurities — the overcooking mother, the weak-willed child and the Bengali man’s irrational love for biryani — all make their special appearances. “Detection is addictive”, as per Mini, and the reader get treated to what turns out to be quite a page-turner, shaped and enriched by all these qualities. She is curious, though, to know as to what college worth its name in salt is located near the BBD Bagh precincts which Mini’s dad, the retired senior advocate, had gone to.
But the only real gripe this reader has with the narrative, she would frame as a double-barrelled question. Red herrings are aplenty, but did the author incorporate a clue or two as to the identity of the murderer at the beginning, or indeed throughout the entire development, of the story? If so, then, she certainly missed it. If not, should this novel be classified then as a sumptuous crime thriller rather than the purely cerebral whodunit that she had looked forward to?
Presuming, as humans are wont, that she is on the right track, this reader would then award herself the right to ask a bonus, double-barrelled, question. Which would go thus: Is salt-and-pepper the new hairstyle trend in town for men? Why are so many eligible men seen sporting this hair in this book?
The Rossogolla Murders
pp. 171, Rs. 215