If your first novel is turned into a movie which takes the world by storm and ends up with 8 Oscars in its booty, coming up with another can be quite intimidating. But luckily by the time Slumdog Millionaire, based on Vikas Swarup’s first novel, Q& A sent the whole world in frenzy with the stupendous success, his second novel had already hit the bookstores. The only thing he now has to deal with is the sky rocketing expectations of the readers.
By the time one reaches at the bottom of the first page of his second novel, Six Suspects, one knows that Vikas Swarup does not need to lose his sleep worrying about the reaction of the readers. This novel is entirely different from his earlier work in its premise. It’s the story of six individuals coming from diverse back grounds who are present at a party where a murder takes place. Out of hundreds of people present there, they become the suspects as each one of them is in possession of a gun. They all have a perfectly plausible reason to murder Vicky Rai, a play boy who was hosting the party to celebrate his acquittal from a murder case that had caught fancy of the whole nation.
Out of these six suspects, a retired bureaucrat named Mohan Kumar is grappling with possession by a spirit which takes over his body at the most unexpected times while the second suspect is a celluloid goddess, Shabnam Saxena whose stardom has become her nemesis. Larry Page, an American who had flown to India to marry his internet girlfriend becomes the third suspect while the fourth suspect is none other than Vicky’s father, Home Minister of Uttar Pradash, Jagannath whose political career comes under doldrums thanks to Vicky’s brazen misdemeanors.
Munna Mobile is the next suspect who is a petty thief but is propelled into the world of rich and mighty after an inadvertent encounter with pretty lass in a discotheque, following an unexpected windfall. Last suspect is a tribal Eketi Onge belonging to a dying tribe overwhelmed by the intrusion of the so called civilized Indians responsible for their welfare. He leaves the shores of Andamans to bring back the sacred stone stolen from the tribe by a welfare officer and though initially fascinated by the glitter of modernism; he soon gets disillusioned and wants to return home.
Many readers and critics have compared this novel to Agatha Christie’s works which could be due to the eye for the detail that Vikas Swarup has. But this comparison is a gross injustice to the novel as it’s not just a whodunit, but a multifaceted, richly textured tale of India as seen through the eyes of assorted characters. This book has a far wider canvass than was ever attempted by Agatha Christie.
The book is a pure entertainer and even the most mundane and sorrowful moments in the lives of the characters have been enliven by the interesting observation and witty comments made by them. The first person narrative has its added advantage as the style of narrative is as varied as the characters themselves. Larry Page’s narrative generously sprinkled with the typical American slangs is a huge contrast to the telephonic conversations of Jagannath that are used to take the narrative forward. But the real fun is in watching the development of different story lines and then their mergence into one great dénouement.
Another factor that not only adds to the virtuosity of the narrative but also makes it sound hauntingly familiar to an average Indian is the inclusion of epoch making events of post modern Indian history in the narrative. Whether it is Union Carbide tragedy or Jessica Lal murder case or Sanjeev Nanda BMW hit and run case, they all are camouflaged and added to the plot and contribute towards making the narrative multi layered, and rich.
Six Suspects is a heady mixture of comedy, pathos, tragedy, humor rolled into a classic whodunit. It’s impossible to put this book down once you start reading this riveting page turner that provides first hand insight into contemporary India.