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May 29, 2011

Book Review - 32 : The Body in the Back Seat

Author: Salil Desai
Publisher: Gyaana Books

Senior Inspector Saralkar has just returned to his desk after attending a Secrets of living course for police officers in Pune. It clearly did not offer him peace. He is now eagerly waiting to sink his teeth into a new case. A body has been found in the back seat of a car in the tow yard of the Chaturshringi police station in Pune. To PSI Motkar is seems to be a straightforward case of suicide, but the senior inspector is not convinced. He has a dark little soul that's always conjuring up homicide.

Reading Salil Desai's 'The body in the back seat' is like being excited about a dish prepared by your mom, only to realise that a little salt is missing which would have made your meal just perfect. Don't get me wrong, it is much better than any of the fiction novel you have across in recent times specially in the genre of murder mystery but it fizzles out exactly at the point it should have picked up steam. Dissecting the book into further details will be like giving away too much away, and that is one crime you don't want me to commit. But let me just say, it could have been so much more. It's all foreplay and much less playoff in the end.

The book starts off brightly and briskly when we are exposed to the murder in the back seat of the car and how the traffic cops identify the body. In the next 100 odd pages, we are introduced to a Rajshri-style saga consisting of victim's family members, friends and business associates. At this point, author's attention to detail and pitch-perfect accuracy in describing the state of mind of each of the characters is commendable. The writer adds human touch to the way the cops deal with the crime and pushes the envelope by inserting psychological games they play with the suspects. However, the episodic nature of interrogating each of the characters with almost similar set of questions slackens the pace considerably. Shifting from one character to another in the screenplay, the writer delves into the emotional psyche of each of them even when it is clear that a few of them may not be associated with the murder in any form.

Relying more on treatment than content to take the story forward, author exposes to the dark secrets of the victim's life as the two cops tries to unravel the mystery using various clues. From here on, it gets inconsistent with its own logic. If you look back after finishing the book and tries to fit in pieces, you will definitely wonder at reactions of the main culprit at certain points in the narrative. There are a few coincidences and last minute character thrown in to get out of tricky screenplay situations to resolve the mystery. It is only with avoiding any self-indulges or side-tracking into sub-plots, the author keeps the narrative on a tight leash.

Apart from this, there is one particular scene (and you will know if and when you read the book) between Sarlakar and one of the main character which give away too much information, too soon about the motive of the murder. If you have exposed yourself to reading murder mysteries over the years, it is not difficult to even guess the killer from here on. Hence, it become a slog to finish the book as i was just waiting to read how the murder has been committed, having identified the motive and almost second-guessed the killer. It is my genuine suggestion to edit this chapter so that the suspense stays on just a little longer.

Also, this may be a nitpicking but i am surprised no one at the publishing house noticed how similar are certain "personality traits" in murder victims of this book and Saurbh Katyal's No flying from fate, latter released last year. For any other reader this may not pose any problem. But since i have read both the books in the same month, i was seriously underwhelmed at finding the same murder "logic" being used to pan out the screenplay. Though i must quickly add that the treatment of murders in this one is deftly handled and craftily written with major emphasis on internal catharsis as opposed to external reactions in NFFF.

I am going with 3/5 for Salil Desai's debut novel, The body in the back seat. It is well intended, neatly packaged and crisply edited book. It has got it's heart in the right place all through, but other body parts are scattered all over by the time you reach the end of the book. Still, i make a recommendation to read it. It's not perfect, but still there are lot of things to enjoy. Just like junk food, you will enjoy the guilt-ridden outing but later will always complain about the mom-made, a little salt-less meal.

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