Crime and city have been intertwined for long. An urban city has stood for evil, corruption, and class conflicts.
Writers from Raymond Chandler to Dashiell Hammett to Jo Nesbo have explored these complex landscapes through their novels very well.
Ankush Saikia’s 2018 mystery thriller “More Bodies Will Fall” does the same and much more.
The story starts with the quintessential dead girl trope.
Amenla Longkumer is found dead in her South Delhi apartment, strangulated to death by her phone charger. She is a “brave” and “nice” girl who does not deserve to die but as in many other thrillers, she still does.
Her death sets the stage for our cynical detective Arjun Arora to embark on a harsh journey of self-exploration. He solves the mystery of Amenla’s death but in the process also deconstructs our myth of a unified national entity, India.
The mystical and often othered North-East becomes the center of “More Bodies Will Fall”. It is ripped apart due to ethnic conflicts.
Amenla is symbolic for the entire North-East—beautiful, peaceful land marred by prolific insurgencies, often invisible to the dominant North-Indian consciousness.
Saikia’s mettle lies in making the unfamiliar familiar and vice versa. The dominant Hindi speaking pop culture homogenizes Nagaland, Manipur, Guwahati, Meghalaya as a single reality for easier mass consumption.
Saikia subverts that. He gives us, if not whole, a deep insight into what constitutes the North-Eastern Indian belt and how plural it is in its identities. From food, clothing, specific tribal differences to women, things are not as what we imagine.
Next, comes our very own Delhi—a unique amalgamation of local and global cultures. Delhi is for the powerful and is mostly ruthless to its working class, most of which are formed by the outsiders.
Saikia deconstructs the national capital beyond its nationalist imagery. Delhi, in Saikia’s world, holds similar unfamiliarity and complexity as the North-East.
Rani Mukherjee’s character, Meera Gaiti, touted in the film No One Killed Jessica, “the more you know Delhi, the less you understand it.” Saikia’s novel lives this statement.
From Delhi to Nagaland to Guwahati and even to Bangkok, we are led through the lands which are not what we imagine them to be. They are dangerous, ruthless, and not fit for a woman as good as Amenla.
Among all the good that this novel has to offer—plot, characters, storyline etc, my only qualm was about Amenla.
Saikia is an exceptional writer and his attention to detail is applaudable but like many other crime narratives, his is also the one, which leaves the dead girl hugely unexplored and grossly simplistic.
That is something the Indian crime fiction must pay attention to: how are they treating the dead girl trope differently from the west?
The western pop-culture is notorious for being obsessed with a dead girl story, which keeps on representing the dead women as passive and plot enhancers with very little to no contribution in the larger plotline.
Saikia comes very close in being different from many other popular Indian male writers of crime fiction.
Amenla is empathetically humanized by the detective Arjun Arora and almost is a foil to him. However, she does not amount to much except that. We do not know her as an individual much.
Nonetheless, “More Bodies Will Fall” is a refreshing book in the genre of crime fiction as it gives us an experience very less imagined.
Here’s hoping that the Indian crime fiction subverts the western dead girl trope for better in the coming years.