PLOT: 4/5 CHARACTERS: 4/5 WRITING STYLE: 4/5 CLIMAX: 4/5 ENTERTAINMENT: 4/5
Most of my recent reads in the thriller genre have been psychological thrillers especially domestic thrillers. So, this time, it was a pleasant experience for me to switch to a different sub-genre ie detective fiction. Read on to know more about my thoughts on Soumon Chatterjee’s debut work The Calcutta Conundrum, a book that I read recently and came to love.
The cover of The Calcutta Conundrum doesn’t impress much. It does a good job of showcasing certain elements of the story, but as a thriller, it fails to entice the reader. It doesn’t follow the latest trends in thriller and mystery cover designs and that’s where considerable work needs to be done. By the look of it, it appears to be more of a contemporary drama than detective fiction.
Talking about the blurb, it isn’t the kind of introduction that will surely lure the reader into making a purchase. It shows promise, but here again, the pull words are missing. It fails to draw a potential reader’s attention to the possibilities that the book holds.
What to expect?
Expect a short read (just over a hundred pages) that can be done in a single sitting. Expect a thriller centered around an amateur detective. Expect a mystery that is packed with local cultural flavors. Finally, expect a thriller but not a murder mystery.
Who can read?
Since the language of the book is easy and beginner-friendly, the book can be read by all types of readers. The pace and the length also make it an effortless read.
Let us talk about the storyline
IPS officer Pratyush Basu is tensed and alert. Dangerous convicts are on the loose and there is a considerable threat to Pratyush and his family. That it is the annual Durga Puja celebrations adds another layer of complexity to the security position.
Meanwhile, Pratyush’s son Pratik arrives from IIT Kharagpur to partake in the local festivities but unlike other years, Durga Puja is not on his list of priorities. There is something else bothering his mind.
Pratik’s friend Jiah had a break-in at her house. Nothing was stolen, but her Kakudada Swadhin was brutally assaulted by the perpetrators. As a result of which, he is currently in a coma.
The amateur detective in Pratik cannot help but be involved in solving the mystery. As he starts to uncover some yet unknown facts about the mystery, the police have no choice but to involve him in their investigations.
Will Pratik unravel the mystery of the inexplicable assault?
Will he get hurt in the process?
Who wants to hurt Swadhin and why?
How good are the characters?
When it comes to mysteries written around a central detective character (for example Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot), most of these characters are either professional detectives or highly experienced consultants. In the Calcutta Conundrum, Pratik, our amateur detective enthusiast, is a college student who loves solving inexplicable mysteries and complicated puzzles. He gets sucked into the case because of his interest and curiosity, which comes to him as a family legacy. His father is in the CID and his grandfather was into criminology, forensics, and other applied sciences.
Pratik is a refreshing character.
Pratik is a relatable character. Being a novice, he doesn’t carry a halo around him. One can see him emerge from the shroud of anonymity to a person who, by the end of the book, gets recognized due to his skills, proactiveness, and out-of-the-box thinking.
Moving on to other characters
Policeman Halder adds variety to the book in terms of the comic relief that he provides. He is not just eccentric, and weird, but also smart, and helpful. And most importantly, he brings an air of lightness to the narrative.
Another character who manages to stand out is Swadhin Kakudada, who is a mystery in himself. As the reader would come to know, the entire mystery of the book revolves around Swadhin Kakudada.
Pratyush, Pratik’s dad also adds a lot of weightage. He brings maturity to the mix and keeps Pratik grounded. Pratik’s lack of experience is perfectly balanced by Pratyush’s experience and expertise.
Other characters like Jeet, Jiah, Samvit, Swastika, and Jibon together lend the book a homely and familial vibe.
What about the writing?
One thing I love about the book is just how versatile it is in terms of appeal. This is a book that can be read by a wide variety of readers. Doesn’t matter if you are someone just beginning to read English novels, or you are a regular reader looking for a racy and effortless read, The Calcutta Conundrum is a book that would be enjoyed by a wide stratum of readers.
Further, there is a lot of action and adventure that happens in those hundred-odd pages which makes the book both racy and interesting. To accomplish so much in just over a hundred pages indicates a job well done.
Commenting further on the pace, the initial few pages are slow; the story takes its own sweet time to get a hold on you, but once it does, there is no going back.
The setting of Kolkata during Puja
There is something magical about Kolkata during the time of Durga Puja. The setting of the story is in the flavorsome city at the time of the Puja, and even though Puja doesn’t feature as a major backdrop in the story, the underlying cultural atmosphere that it creates inadvertently brings out the local flavor of the book.
What did I like?
One thing that I have noticed in Indian authors when they write mysteries is that they try to emulate their western counterparts. When you are writing a mystery set in India – talk about India, talk about its people, bring out the local elements, play on cultural tendencies and nuances, historical elements, etc. Do not just make the characters Indian but make the book Indian as well.
Thankfully, this is one of the best things about The Calcutta Conundrum. The book is as Indian as it gets. It makes full use of its diversity and cultural influences.
The mysterious past of Swadhin Kakudada also adds a lot of variety to the book. His life has been full of adventures and all things weird, eccentric, and unconventional. Be it his stay in the mountain town of Dharamshala, be it his trekking trips, his mysterious bunch of acquaintances, or his face reading skills – all of it together makes the book an unforgettable read.
What could have been better?
One thing that I find useless is the inclusion of a forced and half-baked romantic angle between Pratik and Jiah. The romance between the friendly duo is pointless and seems out of place. While chalking out a romance, it is always important to make sure that it is not half-hearted or mechanical. Sadly, in this case, it is. It feels that the author himself is confused about the direction which Pratik and Jiah’s relationship should take.
How good is the climax?
The climax is the most important aspect of any mystery and thriller book. Unfortunately, it is also one where many debut Indian authors fail to make an impression. When it comes to The Calcutta Conundrum though, the reader gains a lot of new knowledge throughout the book; knowledge that plays an important role in its climax and gives it an edge. Unpredictable and unique, it gives the story a befitting end.
It all comes down to entertainment
There is no dearth of entertainment in the book. The plot is tight-knit, the characters interesting, and the pace racy.
In the end
In the end, The Calcutta Conundrum is an effortless read; one that shows a lot of promise and one that would be loved by a wide variety of readers.
The final verdict
Go for it!
Pick the book if
- You are an Indian reader looking for a short and effortless thriller.
- You enjoy exploring new authors.
- You are looking for a fast-paced detective thriller.
- You enjoy mysterious and eccentric characters.
Skip the book if
- You don’t like thrillers.
- You are a voracious consumer of mystery and thrillers.
Can’t wait to read it? Buy your copy of The Calcutta Conundrum using the link below.