• News
  • Columns
  • Interviews
  • BW Communities
  • BW TV
  • Subscribe to Print
BW Businessworld

Ghosts Of A Crime Scene

Photo Credit :

Shadow Men is a murder mystery set in the hills around Shillong. The protagonist, Raseel, a woman in her forties who has lost her parents to a double murder in Delhi, sees three men approach a cottage next door, hears a gun shot, witnesses three men retreating and another man leaving with a suitcase. She learns that among the two dkhar (outsider, from Bihar) boys who lived in the cottage, Suresh is dead and Ravi is missing. This sets off a series of questions and conversations that ultimately lead to the conclusion. Since this is a mystery novel, it wouldnÃÆ'ƒÆ’ÃÆ'†â€™ÃÆ'ƒâ€šÃÆ'‚¢ÃÆ'ƒÆ’ÃÆ'‚¢ÃÆ'ƒÂ¢ÃÆ'¢â€šÂ¬ÃÆ'…¡ÃÆ'ƒâ€šÃÆ'‚¬ÃÆ'ƒÆ’ÃÆ'‚¢ÃÆ'ƒÂ¢ÃÆ'¢â€šÂ¬ÃÆ'…¾ÃÆ'ƒâ€šÃÆ'‚¢t be appropriate to give the ending away. However since it is a novel set in North East, it is not only about who committed the crime but if the murderer can be revealed and to whom he should be revealed. No one knows any longer who is a competent authority, who runs the place: the state and its police or the many layers of tribal heads.

The fact that the protagonist has never fully dealt with her parents' murders impedes her action and she feels claustrophobic. The novel depicts her mind and the shakiness is portrayed very well.

ÃÆ'ƒÆ’ÃÆ'†â€™ÃÆ'ƒâ€šÃÆ'‚¢ÃÆ'ƒÆ’ÃÆ'‚¢ÃÆ'ƒÂ¢ÃÆ'¢â€šÂ¬ÃÆ'…¡ÃÆ'ƒâ€šÃÆ'‚¬ÃÆ'ƒÆ’ÃÆ'¢â‚¬Â¹ÃÆ'ƒâ€¦ÃÆ'¢â‚¬Åâ€Å"I could hear the panic in my words and feel the familiar throbbing in my head head sat like an enormous boulder on my shoulders, solemn, unmoving. Beneath it I could feel myself crumbling ... I remembered commenting that trusting was a criminal act because of the gigantic responsibility it placed on the person you trust.ÃÆ'ƒÆ’ÃÆ'†â€™ÃÆ'ƒâ€šÃÆ'‚¢ÃÆ'ƒÆ’ÃÆ'‚¢ÃÆ'ƒÂ¢ÃÆ'¢â€šÂ¬ÃÆ'…¡ÃÆ'ƒâ€šÃÆ'‚¬ÃÆ'ƒÆ’ÃÆ'‚¢ÃÆ'ƒÂ¢ÃÆ'¢â€šÂ¬ÃÆ'…¾ÃÆ'ƒâ€šÃÆ'‚¢

Bijoya Sawian tries to keep the focus on the main event, the murder. Her use of multiple points of view implies that she wants the reader to rise up to the story. The writing is assured that the reader will know who is speaking, what is being discussed: telephonic conversations, meetings, police probes and so on. She expects us to know if it is Kmie U Flin, the matron, or Robert, the housekeeper, who knows more or Ksan, who has participated in the murder, the boss, who is in the background. It gives the novel pace and the sense of urgency around a crime, but it leaves more to be desired because this is not a movie where we can see the different characters and settings. It would have helped if Sawian had given us more character traits to hold on to and used fewer characters because one tends to get lost in so many of them with names I am not familiar with.

As the reader is learning to recognise the different speakers in their respective situations, Sawain tries to give us a little more background information on the North East and the region has so many layers of conflict. That creates the problem. She canÃÆ'ƒÆ’ÃÆ'†â€™ÃÆ'ƒâ€šÃÆ'‚¢ÃÆ'ƒÆ’ÃÆ'‚¢ÃÆ'ƒÂ¢ÃÆ'¢â€šÂ¬ÃÆ'…¡ÃÆ'ƒâ€šÃÆ'‚¬ÃÆ'ƒÆ’ÃÆ'‚¢ÃÆ'ƒÂ¢ÃÆ'¢â€šÂ¬ÃÆ'…¾ÃÆ'ƒâ€šÃÆ'‚¢t even give the reader standalone knowledge; say in introductory paragraphs, so she tries to weave it into dialogue. What happens as a result is that the in parts the dialogue sound heavy, leaden with the weight of history and the book starts reading less action and more textbookish.

Yet, let this not distract you from the essential brevity and poetic nature of the novel. The scenic descriptions are excellent and Sawain does achieve what most writers aspire for: transporting the reader to the scene of the action. Borrow it on a plane ride, it will get over before you land and you will know more about the place than you earlier did.

Amandeep Sandhu is the author of Sepia Leaves, Rupa and Co.