PLOT: 3.5/5
CLIMAX: 2.5/5

Whodunits are one of the best genres to read. They drive the readers to think, compel them to envisage the twists in the plot, and then give out shockers which are totally unimaginable.

These stories are more like a game of cat-and-mouse played between the author and the readers. The author leaves behind subtle clues while building up the plot using which the reader makes certain assumptions, which might be right or wrong.

Bigwigs of this genre like Agatha Christie, Arthur Doyle, Patricia Cornwell, etc. build the plot so well that guessing the future becomes impossible. And, then there are certain whodunits where you come to know the climax in the very beginning itself.

‘The Madras Mangler’ written by Usha Narayanan, is a classic whodunit and a good one at that.

A human limb is found floating in the Adyar river of Chennai. When divers search the waters for the body, they find one but it has all its limbs intact. A further search yields a total of seven dead bodies sunk in the river, all college girls aged 17 to 25.

Media gives the serial killer a name – The Madras Mangler.

Vir Pradyumna, a forensic expert from New York, is brought in to assist the cops. He predicts the next victim to be from SS Padmaja College where Kat, Moti, Lolita, Minx and Deepika are students.

Easy going and fun-loving, the lives of these girls are wrecked when they realise that one of them might become the next victim of the serial killer.

Who is the Madras Mangler? Can Vir catch him in time? Will one of the girls become his victims?

“She was at his mercy, ready to be moulded, with a knife if necessary. She would become his Perfect Bride. Immaculate, beautiful, submissive. A loving human doll who would heal him, making him whole again. Or she would die. Slowly, painfully.”

As I’ve said, the heart and soul of any whodunit are the mystery which bares in the climax. The Madras Mangler delivers it perfectly. The identity of the killer is well concealed right till the end.

There are a few negatives too. One, the book has a bunch of colourful characters, most of them quite irrelevant to the plot – Jambu, Asuras, Balwan, Shaitaan, and are included only to keep the reader guessing.

Two, the blurb of the book talks about a Hollywood action crew and the crowds at the India-Australia ODI; this is a minor part of the story and putting it in the blurb seems like misdirection.

Three, the climax of the book, in spite of delivering a good mystery, feels a bit rushed up; not a great climax. But being a debut author, Usha has done a commendable job with the book.

I would definitely recommend this book to my readers and will certainly wait for Usha’s next ‘whodunit’.