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The search for a good Indian crime fiction series remains unsatisfied; Anita Nair’s Cut Like Wound is a messy mash of characters and styles.
Review by Unmana Datta
I am a sucker for a detective story, especially old-school ones like those by Agatha Christie or Georgette Heyer (though the one Sara Paretsky I read was pretty good too). So I jumped at the chance of reading Anita Nair’s Cut Like Wound (“introducing Inspector Gowda”), which, the blurb on the back proclaimed, is a “racy psychological thriller unlike any in Indian fiction”.
Let me cut to the chase: reader, I was disappointed.
The main plot is the whodunit – men in Bangalore are being bumped off, and the serial killer seems to be a trans woman (or crossdressing man – the novel doesn’t really bother to make this clear) who thinks she’s possessed by a goddess. But there are a ton of subplots and character explorations, nearly all of them tired cliches. For example:
– The protagonist Inspector Gowda is the stereotypical honest policeman being penalized for being good at his job
– Who is also going through a stereotypical mid-life crisis, with an absent wife and a college sweetheart he gets back in touch with
– …. and a teenage son who he can’t relate to (or, the old stereotypical generation gap, with Gowda shaking his head over how his son says dude when he used to say yaar in his youth)
– Also, the aforementioned teenage son is experimenting with drugs
– A corrupt, criminal corporator
– An incompetent DCP who’s more keen on his foreign vacation than on his job
– A few eunuchs who are all stereotypes and undistinguishable from each other
The novel flitters so quickly between points of view that it’s disorienting. The author seems to think the reader needs to know the mundane thoughts of all the characters. All it does is take away from the action, since none of the characters apart from the murderer seem to have an interesting thought in their heads.
Even the grand denouement is quite predictable. Add a generous dose of transphobia and the implications that a) a child might enjoy being abused and raped and b) said abuse and rape (or enjoyment of the same – this isn’t quite clear) will turn the child into a serial killer when he grows up, and… I wish I had spent those three hours on something more productive, like an online game.
And the book didn’t clear up the real mystery: what does “cut like wound” mean? Is it an injunction to the reader or is a hyphen missing? Is a cut not a wound? So many unanswered questions.
Publishers: Harper Collins.
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Unmana is interested in gender, literature and relationships, and writes about everything she's interested
Cut like Wound is about a serial killer loose in Bangalore. As Borei Gowda tries to catch the killer, Anita Nair’s narration brings alive Bangalore’s sights and sounds. She captures the dilemma’s of Borei’s mid life crisis, his loneliness and his tendency to call a spade a spade. The novel moves leisurely yet is not slow. The book, unlike, other books in this genre does not present the hero as a caricature but as a mortal with his own share of doubts and desires and it is that depiction of Borei that lifts this book above the ordinary. A good read and I can’t wait for more in the Borei Gowda series.
I agree with most of the points made by Unmana Datta (above) especially the overuse of stereotypes with regard to the main characters. I would add these additional remarks to Nair’s “A Cut Like wound”:
* a number of characters were introduced in an interesting manner but were left underdeveloped: M. Hunt has complicated emotions to deal with on his return to India however, Nair seems to have used this character only to push (my interpretation) U on Borei. Was there not another way to bring U and Borei together? Why not develop M. Hunt’s character?
* the use of African characters was disingenuous: there is no honorable African character in the novel and it plays into further stereotypes of all Africans as undocumented. Bore sees his son talking to an African man and assumes drug dealing based on the son’s past and that the cafe / area is under police surveillance. Why introduce two African characters and only use them in relation to illegal activity. Were there no other Indian characters that could have been employed for this reason? What about the gangs referred to on numerous occasions or do gangs in Bangalore not deal in drugs? At best, the novel should have contextualized the drug trade in the city so as to provide further context to the use of the African man.
* the female characters in the book seems to be devoid of any agency: they all serve Borei’s needs in one or other way. The housekeeper cooks and cleans and maybe once acts as a moral authority (commenting on Borei’s excessive alcohol intake); the absent wife is convenient as she never calls / contacts Borei leaving him free to avoid confronting his decision to begin an affair; and U, who is characterized as unfaithful to her husband on more than one occasion (with Borei and supposedly with the British phsychologist, I think the characters name is Richard).
Some of the praise for this book is misleading. Perhaps some of these loose ends related to ‘essential characters’ will be cleared up in a subsequent Gowda novel however, these characters were at best used as unfortunate props in Cut Like Wound.
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