Author: Ismita Tandon Dhankher
Publisher: Penguin India Metro Reads
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Newly-wed Sancha is excited about sailing with her husband, an officer in the merchant navy, on board the Sea Hyena. But Chief Officer Aaron Andrews is keeping a secret from his wife—a month before she arrived, the chief cook was found dead in the meat locker, his death ruled an accident. First Engineer Harsh Castillo is enamoured of his best friend Aaron’s bride, but that’s the least of his problems. The demons he’s battling have a stronger pull on him. When money is stolen from the captain's safe, the inquisitive Sancha makes a game of finding the thief. What she finds, instead, is a murder. With the evidence implicating her husband, Sancha is at a crossroads— should she tell Raghav Shridhar, the investigating officer, about the money or should she give her secretive husband the benefit of the doubt?
The book throws up a relatively unexplored setting in Indian Fiction about life on a ship. The narrative is full of twists and turns and the pace is brisk. All the characters, even though under developed in some cases, bring a tinge of humour and sarcasm with them. All this makes up for some interesting conversations interspersed in the background of solving a murder mystery. I particularly enjoyed the banter between Sancha and Aaron, latter of whom is dealing with a bitter divorce and still can't help falling for best friend's wife.
The thing which left me underwhelmed was that the murder mystery starts well into 75 odd pages. For a book at 210 pages, that's a really late start. No doubt, you need to establish each of the characters on the ship but i just wished it could have been done a little differently since the resolution of murder happens almost as a second thought. I personally found the change in the tone where the narrative is taken forward from each of the characters point of view a bit unsettling, specially when their real names and nicknames both are used generously all through the book.
But if you can get past these roadblocks, there is fun to be had. Most of which lies in the setting where all the events pan out. The mystery resolution done from the point of view of different characters is unique, though won't provide the requisite closure for many readers. The few poems in between the narrative are quirky and deserve the second look. The lucid and 'grey' interactions between the characters is the back bone of this book. The climax is all good in poetic justice sense, but is quite guessable much before the end.
I am going with generous (2.5+0.5)=3/5 for Ismita Tandon Dhankher's Love on the Rocks. It does not have the tight screenplay of No Flying from Fate nor the psychological games of The body in the back seat but will provide you enough fodder to keep going. Read it because it is set in an unique world and has bunch of wonderful moments to savour.