Three short novellas linked by place and characters through time, collected into a short book suitable for reading during Noirvember. Indeed, I quite early on began to suspect that the third story was in its way paying homage to Casablanca, which was later confirmed to me through the author’s notes. (Casablanca, however, is, according to people like “the czar of noir,” Mr Eddie Muller, not really noir, it just looks like it. ) The third novella in this book, I would argue, is spiritually more noir than the film to which it pays homage.
It is also my least favourite of the three novellas, for a couple of reasons, including that it is set in a near future which seems far too grim to be realistic, and I don’t generally consider myself that much of an optimist. (Note: since first writing this review, I’ve read some predictions for the near future of Kolkata that indicate the future in this novella is a bit more realistic than I presumed. Yikeys.)
I encountered a few typos and a bit of repetition throughout this book that I felt could have been prevented had it been given another editorial pass, indeed in some places it felt as though it was a bit sloppy and in an over-hurry to get out there into the world. There was one moment in particular in the third novella when I was confronted with what seemed to be like a fairly significant logic gap. Which was a bit of a shame.
However, I enjoyed this book and the first two novellas in particular. There was some nice humour, and in one relatively early moment in particular, it provides a dramatic, poetic, evocation of a place I’ve never been, Kolkata, a sort of “third main character” for these stories, although since I’ve never been to Kolkata I don’t know personally how accurate it is. The two main characters we follow through the collection, Inspectress Madhurima Mitra and a sort-of private detective-type character, Becker, are both appealing, although I was left wanting to know more about them, perhaps wanting to see them working on other mysteries, given more depth and time than the short novella format allows. (I also really like the title of “Inspectress”)
The first novella in this collection I would happily grant four out of five stars, and the second 3.5, while the third and final entry in this short collection is perhaps 2.5 stars from me, which works out to a rounded-up 3.5 stars for the book in it’s totality. I recommend it to those who like their criminal tales a bit seamy and their heroes determined to stick to their codes of conduct, even as those around them do not.
This is the first work I’ve read by Tom Vater, it does leave me curious to try further fiction from his pen.
I have provided this honest review in exchange for a free copy of this book.
About Tom Vater
Tom Vater is an Asia-based writer.
He has published some 20 books – four novels, nonfiction, illustrated books and guidebooks, all on Asian subjects.
Tom has written four crime fiction novels. The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu – the third English language edition out with Next Chapter out now – is a travel thriller set on the 70s hippie trail between London and Kathmandu. A Spanish translation is out with ExploraEditorial.
The Detective Maier trilogy – The Cambodian Book of the Dead, The Man with the Golden Mind and the The Monsoon Ghost Image, a Southeast Asia series of novels follows the exploits of a former conflict journalist turned private eye.
Tom has written for The Guardian, The Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Telegraph, the Nikkei Asian Review and many other publications. He co-authored Sacred Skin – Thailand’s Spirit Tattoos (2011), a notable bestseller. He is also co-author of several documentary screenplays, including The Most Secret Place on Earth (2008), a feature on the CIA’s covert war in Laos in the 60s and 70s.