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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Friday, 19 October 2018

"Witness the Night" by Kishwar Desai

A detective story set in Jalandhar in the Punjab in which courageous "professional but unsalaried social worker, rudely called an NGO-wali (and a rather amateur psychiatrist)" Simran battles to clear the name of Durga who had been accused of the murder, by poison and stabbing, of virtually her entire family. Apparently in the Punjab a Chief of Police can ask a friend of his from college to befriend a young girl who appears bang to rights and somehow this person has sufficient influence to be allowed to wander around the scene of the crime picking up missed clues.

Each chapter begins with an italicised section in which Durga, the young girl who survived the family massacre but was apparently raped, gives some account of what happens. These are carefully written to preserve the mystery of what happened and whodunnit to the end. The rest of the story is told from the point of view of the amateur sleuth (who drinks heavily but has a heart of gold).

There are moments when the writing jars:

  • The very first section is intended as the hook and is a detailed account of the massacre: "The thick bile of sadness oozing from their hearts has regurgitated into their throats and blocked their voices, their pale shadowy hair seems like seaweed, green and stringy, floating in the air. Yet, all around their collapsed bodies is the scarlet odour of fresh killing, the meat at their feet is newly shredded for the dogs, which are peculiar and never bark. They do not even nudge the meat." I thought this prose too purple.
  • There are some clunky moments of dialogue: "Listen, before we go in, no matter what happens, let me just say I really like you and thanks a lot. I was angry with you earlier, said a lot of things, I know - but you were doing your job, just as I am doing mine now. This sounds like a foolishly heroic statement, so I hesitate to say it, but if we can save her somehow. ..."
  • There are some errors. The word 'somersault' is not spelled "summersault". The "Indian Made Foreign Liquor" shop's name is presumably an oxymoron rather than an "anachronism". I loved the "rickshaw puller's skinny legs peddling [sic] away" although I suspected they should have been pedalling.

The author is at her best when bringing us into the world of the Punjab. It is a world of unbridled patriarchy in which illegal abortion and infanticide is practised for girl children. It is a corrupt world in which the rich people can bribe the police to turn a blind eye. It is a world where poor girls can be bought to be sex slaves for rich boys. The author manages some nice moments of local colour:

  • "We called all women older than us 'aunty' in Punjab. And all older men were called 'uncle'. Earlier we had more complex terms to describe relationships, but with the coming of the colonizers and the angrezi craze, much of the descriptive terminology, such as phoopi or taayi, had been junked." (p 167)
  • The railway station "specialized in announcements made in Swahili which came on after the train had left." (p 116)

There are moments of insight:

  • "In many cases it is difficult to distinguish the criminal from his circumstances, and then you understand that life can really be unfair." (p 9)
  • "Surprising how even death - or a terrible disease like cancer - does little to mellow some people. They still carry their burden of destruction with them ... seeking to annihilate others before death snaps them in its jaws." (p 170)
  • "If you live in a lake you don't antagonize the crocodiles."
  • "It is said that if everything goes well, the wrath of the gods descends on you, so you have to put a black mark somewhere on your body to deflect misfortune." (p 40)

This is a debut novel which, despite some rather flat characters and the occasional poor writing, has some excellent moments, especially with the scene-setting. October 2018; 243 pages

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