Madhumita Bhattacharyya’s debut novel, ‘Masala Murder’, is literally that – a murder committed over spices. And it lives up to its name in other ways as well since there is a bit of everything in the book including tons of money, lots of sleaze, an ex-boyfriend and a new romantic interest, and not one, but two mysteries in the form of a kidnapping and of course, murder. Almost as if having named it Masala Murder, Bhattacharyya has determined to give her readers a dash of every spicy element she can think of!
Reema is a private detective – not of the mystery solving kind although that is what she would like to be. Instead she is Kolkata’s expert on infidelity cases. But PI work does not pay her bills hence Reema Ray is a food critic by day. She is also a part a group of do-gooders – the ‘Calcutta Crime Fighters Club’ who are instrumental in helping her solve the two mysteries that land on her doorstep.
The first mystery is the sudden death of a gourmet food exporter – from a suspected case of food poisoning. The doctor who treated him reports a suspicious death but later backtracks and claims that all is as it should be. Reema, who has met the victim earlier as part of her day job as a food critic, is drawn to the case. And because one mystery is not just enough, her ex-boyfriend turns up, asking her to help him find his kidnapped wife and free him from suspicion of kidnapping her.
While Reema works on both the cases, the supporting cast of actors, mainly from her group, turn out to have answers to everything she needs. Image enhancing – ask the detective with the high end software. Previous legal complaints? Ask the lawyer dedicated to just causes. Inside information on what the police force is thinking – ask the policeman.
If this big a support cast is not enough, there is also a very high up police official – Reema’s Uncle Kumar - who is willing to listen to all that Reema has to say. Why someone who has spent years in the police force let a rank amateur take so much of his time just because she is a friend’s daughter is rather confusing, especially since Reema has done nothing in her detective career to earn that kind of trust. To be fair, Reema does make some clever deductions that eventually lead to solving of both cases –but with all the help she had, it is hard not to think that she had it pretty easy.
The other mystery that Reema is keenly interested in is the identity of Shayak who is rather unnecessarily cagey with details. I dislike detective novels that attempt to distract the reader by inserting romantic episodes – romance after I have read the book, I say, and I won’t complain. But when I am following the clues to find a murderer, I am very displeased with tall, dark, handsome men attempting to derail the plot.
It is hard to feel menace or dread – after all there is a murderer on the loose – when the investigating detective is gushing about how sexy she finds a man she just met. Plus the whole deal with her ex- boyfriend who attempts to seduce her so that Reema is distracted from finding out the truth is frankly just sleazy. Like Reema is so weak and desperate for a man that a few kisses will leave her unable to think straight although that nearly happens before she manages to wake herself up out of her romantic stupor and get on with solving the case.
And I think this is where the book failed for me. I would have appreciated it better as a simple whodunit. Bhattacharyya only makes Reema look defocused and rather easily distracted – and while it is Reema who saves the day, for me as a reader, she did too little, too late!
Masala Murder is likely to be the first of a series – hopefully Reema Ray will spend less time on men and more on detecting in her next book!