Title: Juni Dagger Murders in Meraupatnam
Author: Arjun C Kathpalia
Pages: 159 pages
Price: Rs 195
Arjun Chandra Kathpalia in his first novel Juni Daggers murders in Meraupatnam promises to give his readers a murder “mystery with a generous side of comedy”. The story begins when residents of Dormeth lane in the fictional town of Meraupatnam witness multiple murders, and the mayor invites celebrated private detective Juni Dagger to solve the case. Just as most detectives have an assistant or a sidekick, Frenchman Monroe is enlisted to be Juni’s. Soon, slick haired Monroe’s role gets limited to cooking gourmet food for Juni rather than actively participating in the investigation.
As Juni switches from shawarma, to balti pie to pizzas and doughnuts while also experimenting with poulet roast, the plot seems driven more by his love for food than the investigation. Juni’s habit of dumping his food bills on strangers adds just the right pinch of salt. But, as Juni gains haters in the town, he finds an unusual ally in Cameron, a shuriken throwing ‘ninja’.
Not exactly an original, rivetting mystery, what the book lacks in plot, could perhaps have been made up for in the narrative style. While the language is easy to read, Kathpalia’s book carries a Sherlock-esque air about it. The characters call each other whimsical names, talk gibberish at times, and Juni walks away in mid-conversation — all seem suspiciously drawn from the television adaptation of the classic. To bring in a romantic angle (not very different from the show where the woman, although trained to kill, still needs a “Bond, my Bond” to save her), Juni is drawn to Cameron and ends up inviting her on his next assignment.
The attempt to make the book humorous by adding old men going after unapproachable young women and shabby looking characters only makes it seem tasteless. Following the unsaid dictum of crime thrillers, the characters are given dark pasts and childhoods full of abuse, loneliness and death.
Rather than elaborating on things like “Detective work is always romanticized”, if the author had left it to the readers to draw their own inferences, the story might have retained some element of mystery. Overall, the book might have been better suited for the children’s fiction shelf, but would have required a makeover even then.