Title: The Miss India Murders
Author: Gauri Sinh
Publisher: HarperBlack (An imprint of HarperCollins)
Price: Rs 299
Have you ever tasted warm, flat champagne? That is what the experience of reading The Miss India Murders is akin to. One is left with the bitter after-taste of disappointment in both cases.
After all, the book has what seem to be the right ingredients. An experienced writer, who is a former editor of Bombay Times, the purveyor of celebrity glitz; a self-avowed denizen of planet Fashion which she describes as her ‘enduring comfort zone’, having ‘once-upon-a-time’ herself been a model. The setting, a Miss India contest, with all the possibilities contained within it.
Sadly, The Miss India Murders is an exercise in the implausible. To dissect the book and lay bare each one of them, will not only take too long but will also is playing spoilsport. However, a few examples are necessary to substantiate the point being made.
First, a quick summary of the plot. Akruti Rai, top-notch model is taking part in the Miss India contest. She is successful, well-known and the darling of the glamour junkies. The pageant that year (1995) has 21 contestants, including Akruti’s antithesis, Lajjo; who is seen as the greatest threat to Akruti’s chances at the crown.
At the final dress rehearsal for the contest, Lajjo is murdered, collapsing in Akruti’s arms with a knife in her back. This is followed by another two murders in rapid succession. While the police have taken over the case, the book is about the unravelling of the whodunnit by Akruti and another contestant, Parvati Samant.
Now for all that rankles. The most implausible of it all is the basis of the story. The murder is set during the final dress rehearsal, few days before the actual pageant and with some side contests scheduled between the two. One of the main contenders is killed. Does it stand to reason that the pageant will carry on? But miraculously it does. The police don’t stop it, the parents/guardians are content to leave their daughters/wards staying in fairly isolated circumstances – not physically but cut off from friends and family. The organisers don’t baulk; and, what is more, the sponsors don’t shy off – as they would do normally. For, who wants to have their products associated with something as grisly as murder? But even as one gruesome killing follows another, the show goes on…nothing stops its glittering, bloodied progression.
Then, there are the characters – utterly two-dimensional. And though there are 20 contestants, we never get to know most of them. The few who do make an appearance are summarised in a few paras. As for the main characters in the story, all we have is a repetition of a litany of adjectives to describe them.
What also makes the book tedious is that everything is prattled off like the outpourings, learnt by rote, of a naive schoolgirl. There are no layers to unveil, no mysterious packages to unwrap, no real mystery to unravel. Yes, the denouement is surprising, but only because there is nothing – at any rate not much – that has led up to it.
Then there is the plot. If the murderer is relying on getting rid of Favourite Number 2, putting the blame on Favourite Number 1, and thereby securing the crown, it is an exercise in fatuousness. What about the 19 others still waiting in the wings? How can anyone be sure they will win by getting rid of two top favourites? And more importantly, how can they be sure there will even be an event?
Then, there is the on and off the reference to a serial murderer. Obviously, neither the two contestants playing Nancy Drew – or the author – seem to be aware of what is a serial killer.
A fairly facile search of Google will inform them. But suffice it to stress that a ‘serial killer’ is neither a mass murderer nor a spree killer – it takes much more to make it to the category, apparently.
There is neither richness nor flavour to the writing; no interesting insights, highlights or twists to the story. All of which together are a sine qua non for all good writing. Else it is just another book. Take it or leave it.