Nestled in the lap of the ceaselessly gurgling Krishna, idyllic tranquillity of the ancient village of Amaravati is shattered one morning by a murder most foul and unnatural. Or the murder of a trader most foul and unnatural, as the denizens of the village would have you believe.
Krishna Shastri, the stern and fastidious high priest of the village, wakes up bone-tired one morning after the late night festivities of Navratri. He feels the pinch of advancing age as he pulls out pales of water from the well to bathe himself in biting cold. Admonishing himself for wayward thoughts, he breaks into rhythmic chanting of shlokas as he proceeds to open the gates of the temple before the daybreak, as usual. He unlocks the sacred chamber praying silently, vaguely aware of the debris of celebrations of the previous night, waiting to be cleaned. Little did he know what awaited him was something much more sombre and shocking: the dead body of the young, beautiful and fresh-faced village-hostess Padmavati, carefully laid out at the feet of Goddess Kali.
Venkat Reddy, the Head Constable, who had spent the night swatting mosquitoes, fervently wished the village chief had called half an hour later so that it would have fallen to the lot of day-shift’s head constable. However, he is unable to shake off the doll-faced innocence of the victim silenced in the prime of youth. So angelic is she in her death that he regrets not having known her while she still lived. He has never investigated a murder case before. Strictly speaking, it is not his job either. All he is required to do is to issue a death certificate and the sub-inspector would do the rest. But so perturbed is he, he resolves to bring the murderer to book on his own.
Shastri is apparently a prime suspect, being in possession of the lone key to the sacred chamber where Padmavati’s corpse is discovered. But, as he points out, a duplicate key can easily be made. Also, the doctor has confirmed that Padmavati’s lungs were soaked with fresh water, indicating a possible drowning in the river. How did she come to lie under the feet of Kali after her death? Reddy quickly realizes the commanding position of the devout Brahmin in the village. Being the priest, he could address even the village sarpanch with certain authority. What is more, Shastri seems deeply disturbed by the defilement of the sanctum in this manner. Surely, he’d be willing to help by guiding him around the village and its homes. Reddy decides to be a guest at his house for the next few days. Together, they move from suspect to suspect, trying to analyse their testimonies and the probabilities of their involvement.
Padmavati, it turns out, was a much loathed woman even if she was secretly desired by many men of the village. She was known to have been close to the sarpanch who was trying to push her into a marriage with him. Did his pride get punctured by her rejection? She seems to have had some connection with Satyam, the sage-like village postman who has been leading a quiet but honourable life with his doting wife. But he seems to have succumbed to Padmavati’s charms, nonetheless. Was he scared she would spill the beans someday? Shekhar and Vaishnavi have recently come from Vizag to settle in the village, away from the din of cities. Shekhar, a paraplegic, was seen riding his motorized wheelchair towards the river that night. The dead woman’s bewitching beauty was apparently of no use to him but the impoverished man could have been after her riches. Then, his wife Vaishnavi, who had sacrificed the world to marry a cripple for the sake of love, could have been stung by the attentions the same man was now paying to Padmavati? Or was it Kishore, the grieving son of the village sarpanch, upset at the thought of his father marrying the village hostess?
It is a small book with uncovering of the criminal central to its theme. The victim is discovered quickly at the outset as the reader is settling down with the village by the river. The dead body is found rather symbolically in the temple which stands at the centre of the village like an ‘axle-groove’. Thereon, the book proceeds in the manner of a typical whodunit, inviting the reader to scan suspect after suspect over the pages. The more they are interviewed, the more complicated it gets and the amateur detective finds himself further and further from the solution. Till suddenly, in the middle of it all, he has the Eureka moment in which the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fall into place with an audible click in his mind. But then do they?
Sharath Komarraju has evoked vivid images of tranquillity about the ancient village of Amaravati, notwithstanding the cruel act. It is the place that was once the capital of Satvahanas, we are told. It has smooth, well laid out roads and the terrain is flat and full of pleasant breeze. Temples and elevated structures have ramps along with stairs. The villagers go quietly about their business. The farmers thwack the oxen, the blacksmith strikes the red hot iron, housewives sing to themselves as they clean the porches, maids splash water and trace rangoli patterns in the front yard of the rich amidst the perennial murmur of the river. But is there a turbulence brewing just beneath the expansive calm? We hear the dissenting voice of the author through the fumbling first-time detective Venkat Reddy. The Head Constable, who has risen from the suppressed class, looks at the established structure of authority, both natural and supernatural, with a cynic’s eye. He rejects the grandeur of the imposing ‘Mahalakshmi’ banyan tree at the first sight. He finds the giant tree, one of the pride possessions of the village, an eyesore.
“He looked at the mess of branches, creepers and trunks in the middle of the clearing, and grimaced.”
The river Krishna is like mother to Amaravati. Being born in Amaravati is like being born to Krishna. The gurgling of the river is a sound the villagers cannot live without. Not so to Venkat Reddy. He is annoyed by the constant noise. Indeed, he goes much beyond that and wonders how the village must have looked when in ancient days it was the capital of the Satvahanas.
“Legends spoke of the golden age of the old kings when everyone had plenty to give; people lived free of jealousy and want; Mother earth gave freely of herself and crime was unknown and unheard of. It was a time when the Krishna and Godavari would flow all year long, neither flooding nor drying up, holding just enough water to feed all the villages that lay on the banks. What makes these once perennial rivers dry up every year in the summers? Is it rebellion against the growing poison in the hearts of people?”
Back to the present times, he is deeply skeptic about the Kali temple “built by Sitaaraamaiah in the belief that Lord Shiva would not be able to resist an occasional visit to the village to meet his wife”.
“Nobody questioned why the lord had to be bribed to enter the village, or why the village needed to be purified every now and then.”
Reddy discovers that there are people who have started challenging the entrenched values and societal mores. The younger generations have looked beyond cast, creed and age to find happiness, ignoring the inevitable suffering that came with it. People from the suppressed communities have started defying authority. Padamavati, a dalit girl, had gone about her business, charging by the hour “for her laughs, her understanding, her empathy, her advice”, without giving two hoots to what others thought of her. Long entrenched values are dying, giving way to new mores, some rejuvenating and some lamentable. And there is the inevitable pain of change and transition.
Does the book achieve what it sets out to do? As a typical ‘whodunit’, I would say, yes, to a decent extent. The author has managed to whisk up requisite suspense regarding the identity of the killer. He briefly sketches the lives of the suspects and to be sure, some of these sound far from happy. There are times when one may feel that the pasts are being scoured simply to justify the act of murder. Some characters turn out well while some remain hurried and flat, but the author has given only so much space to himself. The language is easy flowing but could have been polished at places. There are typographical errors too. Yet, there are places where Sharath Komarraju shines beyond the ordinary story he has undertaken to write. The clever mix of the social metamorphosis has added colours to an otherwise bland murder mystery.
Interesting review style. I was quite gripped to the story line, though I’m not much of a fan of the whodunnits. Sherlock, Miss Marple and Perry Mason were the only exception. But I like the descriptiveness. Though knowing your style, I don’t know if you made it sound better and more intriguing..Good job! On the other side, your opinion of the piece comes at the very fag end. I’d have loved to read a bit of it interspersed here and there too! The interesting part of it, for me, was towards the end where I read what you thought of it..:)
Deepthi, I am thrilled to have impressed you! Just as you, I am also not fond of whodunits with the sole exception of the Sherlock Holmes series. I was careful to deliver the verdict towards the end lest you move away too early! 😀 Thank you so much for those words.
Your review almost ran like a short story. You have a wonderful writing style and had me riveted to your post from beginning to end.
Thank you for your beautiful compliment.
I agree with R. Ramakrishnan…I read your review and wondered if you were the author of the story!!!! When will your book be released?
Bhavana, I am touched by the confidence you have in me. Million thanks to you! 2013 is the deadline I have set for myself. 😀
Your review is good. I have a gripe with Indian books. Somehow, I have been disappointed in most. Have you read the Millenium trilogy? It is very good!
Rachna, quite like Midas, we Indians manage to transform everything we touch. Only in our case the metamorphosis is horrid. That said, there are many authors of Indian origin I love. I will surely read the Millenium triology now that you recommend it. But before that, I must finish the twenty three or so books that I have purchased but haven’t even turned a page from them.
Yes, I love a few Indian authors too, but the new ones leave a lot to be desired. I have no stomach left for chick lit fiction either :). haha about the books you have purchased. I have a good plan at the local library, and that works really well for me. Justbooks is really good in that sense, and you’d end up saving your money too. If your daughters love reading too then it works even better.
Sadly, what you say about the new Indian authors is true to a great extent. Art is expected to be a mirror of its times. How could it remain unaffected by the sickening decadance that has set in in our society. I like the idea of the library. But I love to collect books. My daughters have inherited the madness, too!
sounds like a very interesting book. you have kind of written a short story on the various events depicted in the book. the review is absolutely brilliant and engrossing. hope that the book is as good as your review.
First, I am grateful for your continued appreciation, Deb. I really don’t know but it is a much better book than what is being passed for ‘writing’ today (from much-touted Indian authors). Although the author could have easily written another 75 to 100 pages more dwelling on the unique village and the crumbling social order.
seems it can be finished in a sitting….
With a day job, I finished it in two!
If the book manages to whisk some mystery in an ancient social setup it must be an interesting read……
Alka, it is an interesting whodunit!
I have never relished whodunits, following my father’s principle of reading the first and last chapter and then going on to read the rest leisurely without any tension of the suspense. However, I enjoyed your review for the sheer brilliance of writing. But I am sorry, even that will not make me pick it up to read 😦
Ha ha ha! I loved the bit about reading the “first and last chapter and then going on to read the rest leisurely without any tension of the suspense”! I remember reading you post on that! Thanks for the compliment. And I would request you to never say never again to an author, even if you mean it! 🙂
I just hope the book is as good as its review. I will take a “DM me” route to find the culprit.
Lalit, I am planning to remove my social media presence for a month! 😀
Thank you, Rajesh.
I loved the way you have reviewed this :D.
I guess even a boring book will sound interesting if you give reviews like this 😉 :D.
I was really looking forward for this book from blogadda, but alas I wasn’t chosen :(.
Sounds like an awesome book ;).
I will buy this asap :).
The thrill is too good, and the way you have told it is making me want to get the book right now and finish it at one go 😉 😀
Hey, aren’t you the princess of Smilies? 😀
I am sorry they didn’t choose you this time. But I am sure they will think of you again. And just as you said, you can always go ahead and pick it up from the bookstore. I’ll wait for your review.
That was an absorbing review, USP! Wish I had more time to read thrillers:(
Thank you so much, Rahul. Time is a precious commodity. We all wish we had more!
Sounds like a promising author. I’m trying to read Indian authors in English, this year. Thank you for adding the website. Shall look into that.
D.nambiar, I am happy you are giving Indian authors a chance this year. Some of them thoroughly deserve it.
I have not read many English novels written by Indian authors, but after reading your review maybe I will buy this one
You should take these very Indian sips, sir!
it seems so interesting,, i like mysterious movies and book, they keep us engaged upto the last minute,, and ends are usually unexpected…
In that case, you are going to like this one.
Nice review. I already read Leo’s review of the same book. Both views kind of corroborate each other. Guess this fellow has not written too bad a book after all.
Karthik, I am afraid both of us are perfectionists. Yet, you may just like it!
Cannot wait more to read who did it. 🙂
The review is so interesting sir. I cannot say if the book is made more interesting with your review. You have magic in your words sir.
God bless you, Mak, for the beautiful compliment. You can take a dip in the book.
Thank you sir. Will sure dive deep into it 🙂
Your review is well written and your writing style is awesome! Before reading your review, I wasn’t interested in the book, but now I just can’t wait to buy and read it..
Many thanks to you, Deepz. I am happy you wish to read the book after reading the review.
Your review was definitely a great read and not sure if the book would provide the same. Very Nice writing.
Thank you so much for appreciating my writing. You can read the book too.
I enjoyed reading your review – you have chosen an unconventional style, telling part of the story in your own words; and then slowly moving on to some quotes from the book itself before ending with your own assessment.
It was engaging and well – written.
Many thanks to you, Mr Menon. I have tried to present a quick snapshot of the book. I am glad you liked it.
Normally, when I come across a blog link and if it says Book Review then I wont even bother to click on it sometimes but coming from you I knew it would be something different and special. Brilliant review Sir, loved it. 🙂
Akshay, I am grateful for your interest and appreciation.
When I started reading, I felt (rather assumed…:) ) that you wrote the book. While reading, again I felt, hope it’s not a spoiler…then am I like, No, he wouldn’t do it. 🙂 Enjoyed it for sure. I grew up in my grandma’s village near Amaravathi and there was a gush of memories while reading. The summers we went to the temple and baths in the holy krishna…keep writing, more and more…:)
Also, happy to know that your daughters have inherited your reading madness. I am trying my best to intrigue interest for my son. I don’t think it’s working…oops, I ended up eating your comment space..
P.S: I send a comment on the first day itself, realised I didn’t click the reply button ..:)
Glad to have kept you guessing and invoked childhood memories. I wish the author had written a bit more about the village, it seems to be such a beautiful place. Yet, I am sure you are going to like the story of Amaravati.
Do keep trying to invoke the interest of your son in books. Knowing your reading habits, I’m sure he is going to turn to books someday.
Thank you, for your continued support.
I love whodunits and relish them. My favourite author is P.D. James and my favourite character is Adam Dalgliesh (sigh) from her books. I have found Indian authors to be sadly lacking in this genre. The only exception is Kalpana Swaminathan, who writes brilliant stuff. You should read her spine-chilling “Bougainvillea House”.
But your review has given me hope. But the point is do I buy this book or borrow it from you. What say, Umashankar?
I love the Sherlock Holmes series and have read those stories several times. I can still read them and brighten up immediately on an ugly day. They are all intense and sparkling with the persona of the timeless detective. Apart from that I have rarely ventured farther than a few books of the genre. I will pick up Kalpna Swaminathan soon.
As for ‘Murder in Amaravati, you can not only borrow it from me but go ahead and write a review too! 😉
And you can borrow Kalpana Swaminathan’s books from me 🙂
Perfect! Fits like pieces of a puzzle.
Superb review..will add this to my to-read list!
Thanks a ton, Privytrifles. You would like it.
Its hard to resist the desire to read after reading such a review 🙂
Thank you, Jyoti. I’m sure you’ll like it.
Sounds a good read. BTW, when can we expect your book? I wish you write a book of short stories. 🙂
I feel honoured by your query. However, I have no controls over the author in me! He writes what he writes whenever he feels he is up to it. 🙂
Very well written review.
Pleasantly surprised the way you put it.
Thanks for stopping by.
For the simple reason, this is an unbiased review by you, I would like to read this book 🙂
Thank you, Ghazala Hossain.
I came across your blog by chance. As repeatedly expressed by everybody your review was as good as a story. But what I enjoyed most was all the comments and the replies.
I am glad you enjoyed the comments and the replies. Thank you for stopping by.
Amaravati is a small town located in the district of Andhra pradesh.Amaravati kadhalu or stories of Amaravati are famous in Telugu fiction.Authoured by Satyam sankaramanchi.This story also based on that town but writer seems to be different.As far as my knowledge concerned,this story first published in Telugu.Your review make me recall it…Thanks a lot.
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