Vikas Swarup’s Six Suspects


Random House India sent me a bunch of books quite some time ago, but what with my novel, the A to Z Challenge  and deaths in the family, I haven’t posted many reviews. I read Six Suspects a few months ago, so my memory is a little hazy. I stuck in post-it notes though, which are now helping me remember details as I browse through the book again.

My Declared Bias: I read and write Literary stories and novels — so mysteries are not my favorite genre.

——

 Six Suspects by Vikas Swarup Random House India

Six Suspects by Vikas Swarup

The blurb will tell you what the book is about: Seven years ago, Vivek ‘Vicky’ Rai, the playboy son of the Home Minister of Uttar Pradesh, murdered Ruby Gill at a trendy restaurant in New Delhi simply because she refused to serve him a drink. Now Vicky Rai is dead, killed at his farmhouse at a party he had thrown to celebrate his acquittal. The police search each and every guest. Six of them are discovered with guns in their possession, each of them steaming with a secret motive.

The novel looks at these suspects in flashback, elaborating these very motives. The resulting chapters make for easy reading, though the writing is somewhat stilted.

This is from one of the suspects, a mobile thief, who has taken a job as a servant:

I too, have taken my revenge on the Bhusiyas. Mr. S. P. Bhusiya, the adulterator, for instance, has no clue that the chicken curry he has been eating at dinner time is also adulterated. I spit in it liberally before laying it on the table.”

The plot held my interest at the beginning because Swarup tells us how each of the suspects is related to the other through strange and (increasingly) implausible circumstances. He also uses the backdrop of real events that made headlines in India. But the sub-plots soon entangle themselves into a tropical jungle thick with liana, and the only way to make sense of things in the end is to hack through it, which Swarup does, without much subtlety. I had the feeling this book could lose a few plotlines, and make better sense as a story.

The characters are told, not shown, and they’re not only cardboard, but also melodramatic. Couldn’t bring myself to care for them, one way or the other.

But Six Suspects does a good job of exposing the corruption which India continues to suffer from at all levels of bureaucracy, politics, media and business. Swarup does boil a vile cauldron of these, which stinks as much and as ‘authentically’ as India’s pandemic of corruption does in reality.

The book would have done better with a good editor, who could have balanced story and plot– as it is, Swarup fails in the project he seems to have taken up: write a mystery while highlighting the problems facing Indian society.

Why you could read it: It is an ‘easy’ read once you make your peace with the quality of the prose, and if you are interested in the new, ‘shining’ India, you could do worse than read this book. Some of the voices are interesting, and a few facets of this country, especially the difference between the appearance and reality of its ‘progress,’ have emerged rather well.

Why you could give it a miss: If you like your mysteries to be plausible in their telling, this book is not for you. The plot is riddled with twists and turns, but some of the coincidences are too convenient, and they happen to stock characters with no layers or complexity.

My crib: The editing. Not only do the book’s plotlines need better handling, but also the voices. The most inauthentic, (unsurprisingly, coming from an Indian author), is the Texan forklift operator who speaks British English instead of American– using words like air hostess instead of flight attendant, and pavement instead of sidewalk.

Bottomline, I wouldn’t recommend this book unless you snag it for free someplace and are interested enough in India to want to trawl through it.

What would you like to see any  changes in the  review format? Was this review helpful? Would you read this book?

 
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12 thoughts on “Vikas Swarup’s Six Suspects

  1. Very helpful review – thank you. It’s always harder to write a critical review than a gushing one, I find, and I admired the fact that you achieved a good balance. :)

  2. His explanations of those very co-incidences made “Q & A” (Slumdog Millionaire) believable. Guess it didn’t work this time round. I agree with the other commentators – a good, honest review.

    • There you go, Michael. This is what the editor should have done…gone and asked someone from Texas what they call air hostesses– or at least someone who knows what they call them in Texas.

  3. Darn, this sounded like it could have been really good. Despite the writing style I would still be interested in reading this: I don’t know much about Indian culture or politics and I would like to know more.

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