Author: Avtar Singh
Publisher: Fourth Estate
Price: Rs 499
In Necropolis, Avtar Singh’s Delhi is alive, densely populated in its slums and the pockets of privilege but the air is heavy with foreboding. DCP Sajan Dayal, his second-in-command Kapoor, and Smita Dhingra, a young, strong cop from the Indian Police Service, have their hands full with vampires and werewolves warring with each other in the capital. In a post-Twilight era, urban youth have taken their angst and ambition to the next level, appropriating fantastical identities to play out rivalries online on social networking sites and YouTube and offline at Metro stations and on the streets.
All this could be dismissed with the wave of a hand if it were not for a kaffiyeh-sporting leader of one of the groups who has a penchant for collecting a single digit from the hands of those he has vanquished. The plot thickens right in the beginning in Lajpat Nagar: Dayal and Kapoor investigate the attack on a rickshaw-puller who ends up with nine fingers. The other vagrants in the area appear to have heard nothing, seen nothing. It appears that only one person might have a clue, and she might very well be a creature of the night, too. Razia is Delhi: her presence is ephemeral, her secrets are plenty and go back centuries when the Mughal royalty called the city home — and she has her sights set on Dayal. He’s not like the other men she has known, with his greying hair, his not-entirely-taciturn ways, his determination to get down to the bottom of these mysterious attacks, brutal rapes and senseless kidnappings. Is she corporeal, Dayal wonders but it doesn’t matter. He has so many questions and she may have all the answers.
Necropolis is ambitious, brave even, to embark on a journey through Delhi, brushing along the grim realities the city inflicts upon its citizens, irrespective of class, and inching its way into the supernatural. A willing suspension of disbelief? Check. Exciting premise? Check. Lost along the way? Check. Singh has created a likeable DCP and Dhingra is a well-etched character who represents the modern, tech-savvy young face of India, but for all her mysterious ways, Razia is the weakest link of the novel.
In a city known for its sycophancy, Dayal navigates his way through the high-class and low lives for a semblance of truth. Singh’s description of the lives of middle-class and upper-class folk is spot on and praiseworthy. But one can’t help feel let down by his decision to write in a style that almost feels as though he accidentally spilled — like a cup of coffee — a thesaurus on the pages as it was being written. If the reader is game, this can be fun in the beginning but tends to slow down the pace significantly and the novel becomes a tedious read, especially with one crime close on the heels of another and no resolution in sight.