PLOT: 3.5/5

“But… she is – how do I put it? big, large, overweight. I won’t beat around the bush – I’ve already said it before, haven’t I? She is fat. Yes, I called a perfect girl in a perfect relationship with my best friend fat. So, judge me. But then, let me judge people’s weight too.”

        – Chetan Bhagat, One Arranged Murder

My musings

Chetan Bhagat’s obsession with number names continues. His latest book, “One Arranged Murder” is proof of that. The title and the premise are exciting enough to give most readers a reason to buy and read the book, but the question that lingered on my mind when I picked it up, was this – will this book finally take Chetan’s writing to a whole new level? Read on to know more about the book and what I think of it.

What to expect?

Expect the same things that you would expect from a regular Chetan Bhagat novel. It does not matter which category of readers you belong to, beginners or regulars, you would mostly be getting the same things out of this novel. Yes, there is a marginal improvement from his previous works, but the word that I would like to stress upon is marginal.

Who can read?

Just like most of his books, “One Arranged Murder” is written for the masses. Because the language is so simple and flowy, the book can be easily picked up by a non-reader or a beginner level reader in English.

Let’s talk about the storyline

Keshav and Saurabh are best friends, colleagues, flat mates, and business partners at a detective agency they started. They are the same guys whom we see in the book, “The Girl in Room 105”. But Keshav and Saurabh are not talking, and the reason is Keshav’s habit of fat-shaming Saurabh’s fiancé, Prerna. Prerna is on the heavier side, and Keshav always finds some reason to take a jab at her weight.

Prerna and Saurabh, on the other hand, are a cheesy and romantic couple. There is probably more love between them than any arranged marriage couple. On Karva Chauth, Prerna decides to fast for Saurabh. She doesn’t eat and drink all day, and in the evening, gets all decked up, waiting for Saurabh to come and help break her fast. Saurabh is supposed to enter from the back gate and meet her on the terrace of her three-storey house, but when he finally reaches there, what he sees shocks the life out of him.

This is the story of “One Arranged Murder”; the story of one arranged marriage that eventually becomes one arranged murder.

What about the writing style?

The book has all the ingredients of a classic masala drama. It has romance, comedy, murder, action, adventure, family drama, friendships, and light-hearted banter. It has a big Indian joint family that looks picture perfect from the outside, but on the inside, it is brimming with secrets and scheming members. People have corrupt intentions, dirty secrets, personal vendettas, and generations-old grudges.

How good is the pace?

Racy and fast-paced, the book has the ability to captivate the reader from the very beginning. For many books, what doesn’t happen till, well, 25% of the book, happens at just 25 pages here. I remember getting sucked into the story and its mystery by the end of 25th page.

Experimenting with formats

I like the way Chetan Bhagat introduces a new manner of storytelling. To break the monotony of first-person narration, he makes use of some new formats. For example, after the preliminary police investigations, he decides to move the story forward by including transcribed testimonies of related people. While narrating all that information in a first-person account would have been quite cumbersome, the testimonies quicken the pace and keep things crisp and racy.

Comic undertones

The writing style is quite witty, with a generous dose of light-hearted humor. Every part of the book, even the most mysterious ones have comical undertones. Even when the mystery thickens and everyone is under the radar, the narrations have an air of nonchalance and light-hearted banter. Nothing in the book is dark or foreboding; nothing that gives you edge-of-the-seat mystery vibes.

What did I like?

I like the way Chetan experiments with the narration. Throughout the book, it is mostly Keshav who narrates the story, but at times, some characters (like Sourabh and Anjali) tell their own story in some parts. They tell their tales from their point of view and perspectives.

Experimenting with the concept of an unreliable narrator in the first two chapters is also something that I loved. I just hoped Chetan had used it on a bigger scale. The ingenuity of this switch, especially in the beginning, is truly remarkable. In the first chapter, Keshav narrates and makes you form an opinion of Saurabh Then in 2nd chapter, Saurabh assumes the role of narrator, and tells you that he is sure Keshav must have already brainwashed you, he must have told you things, and you must have believed him. This makes the reader have trust issues with the main narrator – the reader is confused as to whose story must be trusted– Keshav’s or Saurabh’s?

The book also provides a running social commentary about things that are wrong with society. Some of the things that the author talks about are – (1) Big fat Indian weddings, where people spend lavishly, only to show off, even when the money is tight (2) How people cringe at the word dowry, but the same people say ‘sometimes it is not dowry, it is love, isn’t it?’ (3) People holding on to family honor, even when it comes at the cost of justice and (4) The tendencies of businesses to work unethically, when they overborrow, speculate, and siphon funds that do not belong to them.

A dig at his critics and literary fiction

There is a small paragraph in the book where Chetan makes a jibe at his critics. In a scene, where Saurabh is cooking butter chicken, and tossing the onions into the kadhai, Chetan writes the following.

“If I were writing an Indian literary novel, the ones white guys in Britain judge and give prizes to, I would write two more paragraphs on the aroma of red onions fried in butter…”

What did I not like?

Fat Shaming is not cool, and unfortunately, “One Arranged Murder” is full of it. When you shame characters – calling them a fat cow and bullying them for the extra pounds on their waste – you are stereotyping people, categorizing them, and judging them for how they look.

You are labeling them and reducing their entire existence, irrespective of their kind and caring nature, professional success, and business acumen – to just one word – FAT. You are also normalizing fat-shaming, which is not cool at all, not to mention, so not okay in the 21st century.

Another of my qualm comes from the language. I feel that it is sometimes deliberately messed up. Also, in many places, the author makes use of Indianized English, which might be to connect with his regular readers, but I am not a big fan of it.

“She is how old?”, “Sick you are” “all because of you only, sir” are some of the examples that I would like to quote. In addition to the messed-up sentences, improper punctuations run abound, and even the editing seems a bit lacking.

How good are the characters?

The characters are relatable. Even though what happens to them does not happen to most of us, but still they are relatable. They dream of quitting their jobs to pursue what they are passionate about. The way they talk, the way they live – I am sure it will be relatable to most of us.

I feel that there is not much substance in Saurabh’s character. He is shown as bossy, complaining, neglectful, and most important of all – his character has been created around food. While it is comical, it is sometimes unbelievable too, as every single chapter has Saurabh and his food punches.

“When you have super eaters like Saurabh, how super the food is and how good it is for you doesn’t matter”

The mystery quotient

Multiple characters, all of whom have different reasons, different motives, and different histories come under the radar of suspicion. Many of their stories are deliberately twisted to accommodate more angles and theories, and throw the reader off course. The frequent plot twists in the form of ghosts from the past, and skeletons from the closet ensure that things remain heated and spicy.

The mystery is not the best, most ingenious, and inventive out there – but overall, it is entertaining to read. Some subtle hints lie here and there, and you may get an inkling of what might happen but the whys and hows are revealed only in the end.

Is the climax good?

The climax is good and gives a befitting end to the story. Some aspects and elements are predictable but overall, the how’s and the why’s remain unanswered till the very end.

It all comes down to entertainment

It is entertaining and easy to read in the same way most other Chetan Bhagat books are.

In the end

In the end, One Arranged Murder is a decent one-time read which is fast-paced, racy, and entertaining at the same time. It is not the best mystery and thriller book out there. It certainly doesn’t feature in my top 20 or top 50 list but even I can’t deny that it is entertaining.

The final verdict

Can be read.

Pick the book if

  • You are a Chetan Bhagat fan. You like his style, his writing, and his stories.
  • You don’t read too many English books and not many mysteries and thrillers at that.
  • You don’t mind books with sloppy language.
  • You like books that have the complete ‘Bollywood’ or ‘Tele series drama’ package – romance, mystery, comedy, action, adventure, family drama, rivalries, scheming, etc.
  • You are a beginner level reader of English novels.
  • You are looking for an easy read that is also fast-paced.

Skip the book if

  • You don’t like Chetan Bhagat, his writing, and have never enjoyed his earlier books.
  • You are a regular or voracious reader of mysteries and thrillers.
  • You are a regular reader of English books.
  • You don’t like books that tend to normalize fat-shaming.

Can’t wait to read it? Buy your copy of “One Arranged Murder” using the link below.