Mystery writer and director of the Pune International Literary Festival Dr Manjiri Prabhu believes her bestselling novel The Trail of Four materialised as a perfect arrangement of destiny, writes Ketaki Latkar
Back to the beginning
It is often that you write books, but it is only once in a while that a book happens to you, is something mystery writer Dr Manjiri Prabhu swears by. In conversation with the Free Press Journal on her latest book The Trail of Four (published by Bloomsbury), Manjiri speaks about how the book is set in the picturesque city of Salzburg in Austria, and what got her to go that extra mile to package the 48-hour riveting mystery in the heart of one of the world’s most celebrated cultural capitals.
The plot of the novel is woven around references from the country’s war-torn past and how the well-known Austrian theatre director Max Reinhardt had once adopted the dainty town of Salzburg as home. However, as the Nazis advanced on his beloved city, he — like many others — fled it forever, only to have left behind a secret intended to be discovered decades later.
Paving the way
“Salzburg is so embracing and equally mesmerising. I fell in love with it on my first visit to Austria in 2001, and I already knew I had to be there again to weave a story,” says the wavy-haired Manjiri, whose face absolutely lights up in a child-like joy while speaking about the book’s journey, from conception to its acclaim.
The key cast of the novel includes Re Parkar, an investigative journalist and filmmaker from Paris, who is prone to getting psychic visions of his next case. When he ‘visualises’ the Schloss Leopoldskron covered in black smoke, Re catches the first flight to Salzburg and explains his vision to Dan, the general manager of the Schloss. But Dan refuses to believe him. The Schloss is all set to conduct one of the grandest peace seminars of its time, where top government dignitaries of the world are expected to congregate.
It is just a morning before the guests arrive, that shockingly, the heart of the Archbishop is stolen from its holy grave in the Schloss Chapel and a letter from the departed and long-gone Max Reinhardt is found in its place, threatening the destruction of the four pillars of Salzburg (the film Sound of Music, the Schloss palace, the famous Salzburg Festival and the incredibly gifted musician in the history of classical music—Mozart).
Cut above the rest
Immersing in the Austrian culture, its socio-cultural sensibilities and sensitivities and developing a unique oneness with Salzburg’s character and ways was no mean job. Nonetheless, Manjiri decided to leave no stone unturned in her research. “I did not want the novel to come across as a work of a foreigner. I wanted to write as an insider and to achieve that, I made sure my research was extensive and foolproof,” says Manjiri, who had made Salzburg’s Hotel Leopoldskron her short-term abode while working on the novel, not only gathered insights from historians in the city, but also reading a lot about Austrian legends, in addition to catching up with popular culture, art and literature, and local delicacies.
“Everything started to come together in perfect harmony in order to get me a greater grip on the city’s pulse,” says the wordsmith, further admitting, “…getting access to the Schloss, and to admire the magnificent ceiling frescos was more like that moment of revelation to me. I knew this was where I wanted to sow my plot in; it was as if the Schloss had a mind of its own. And we were already in a happy conversation with each other.”
The nail-biting work of thrill and mystery was launched in Delhi at the hands of Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, following which it was launched at the Schloss palace in Salzburg three months back. Tharoor described The Trail of Four as “the writer’s extended love letter to Salzburg” and complimented her by saying that Dan Brown has finally found his match.
Thomas Biebl, Director (Marketing and Communications) of Salzburg Global Seminar (non-profit organisation that owns Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron, where Manjiri was staying) played a big role in helping her with her research, and also in providing all the local intel. “Manjiri’s passion and energy were contagious, and it was truly inspiring to witness the unfolding of the creative process of an accomplished writer like her,” he says.
Like any praiseworthy piece of writing, The Trail of Four required Manjiri to master sufficient country-specific research, in terms of the locations, the emotive aspect of the characters, expressions in German and historical details. “After I returned from my three-week research visit to Salzburg in 2014, I started to put together the novel. It took me a year to finish it.
In the span of the year, I had to go back to my contacts in Salzburg—at times for understanding or translating German expressions and texts, and sometimes, to crack some practical queries, like the distance between two places or the travel time required to commute from point A to B in Salzburg,” explains the author, who has already authored nine books including The Trail of Four, and is gearing up for its sequel, which would be set in Sweden. Ask her on what’s next, and the director of the Pune International Literary Festival (PILF) is quick to inform, “Right now, all my energies are focussed at making the forthcoming PILF 2017 a grand success. Nonetheless, a part of me loves to meander away to Sweden every now and then.”
Photo credits: Dr Manjiri Prabhu