In the Spotlight: Swati Kaushal’s Drop Dead

>In The Spotlight: Val McDermid's The Grave TattooHello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. The traditional whodunit sort of crime novel is at least as popular today as it was during its first incarnations. The murder, the cast of suitably suspicious ‘people of interest,’ the discovery of clues and motives, all of these arguably have a timeless appeal. And there are all sorts of ways in which such a mystery can be ‘dressed up,’ so it needn’t be a boring ‘read this before’ sort of story, either. Let’s take a look at an example of a contemporary take on a traditional mystery today, and turn the spotlight on Swati Kaushal’s Drop Dead, the first of her Niki Marwah mysteries.

Rakesh ‘Rak’ Mehta, President and CEO of Indigo Books India, Ltd., has planned a retreat for his senior staff at the exclusive Lotus Resort in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh. Everyone duly arrives and checks in, and soon enough, the meetings and other activities begin.

On the second morning, Mehta’s body is found in a valley not far from the resort. It’s soon clear that he fell from one of the cable cars that take visitors up the mountain to the resort and to other locations. Shimla Superintendent of Police Niki Marwah and her team are assigned to look into the matter, and she travels to the area. At first, Mehta’s death looks like a terrible accident. But there are suggestions, too, that it might have been murder. Before long, the case is considered a ‘suspicious death.’

Marwah and her team interview the Indigo staff members who were at the gathering, and start to piece together Mehta’s last day or so. As they do so, a few strange things come out. For instance, Mehta bribed the cable car operator to keep the cars running until midnight. So it seems that he’d planned to meet someone there. And the team learns that Mehta had just announced to his staff that he was planning to move to China. In fact, he’d even arranged an activity where one person’s name was chosen to take his place as CEO.

At the same time, Marwah and her team learn that just about everyone on Mehta’s staff had a reason to want him dead. He could be arrogant, overbearing and sometimes, downright cruel. At the same time, he was a very successful businessman who could be inspiring, and he did have a way with women, as the saying goes. The team finds even more when they look into Mehta’s past. He didn’t live anything like a blameless life, and more than one person from his past might have a very good motive for murder.

Little by little, the police get closer to the truth about what happened. When they do, they find that they’re up against a desperate person. And desperate people can be very ruthless…

In many ways, this is a traditional sort of mystery. There are several suspects, and we learn that each one of them is hiding something. In fact, even some of the hotel staff are not telling everything that they know. There are all sorts of undercurrents of jealousy, spite, and betrayal that are reminiscent of the search for motive in traditional mysteries. Without spoiling the story, I can say that there are some interesting traditional-style clues, too.

And yet, this mystery is thoroughly modern. The Indigo staff members use plenty of today’s technology, as do Marwah and her team. There are contemporary kinds of characters and dialogue, and contemporary outlooks on life.

This leads to another important element in the novel: Niki Marwah and her team. In a sense, the story has the ‘taste’ of the police procedural. There are briefings, searches for evidence, and so on. It’s worth noting, too, that the team works as a unit, with none of the police politics that you sometimes see in procedurals. Each team member has particular skills, and Marwah knows very well that she depends on these people. In their turn, they respect her.

The story takes place in the northern part of India, ‘in the lap of the Himalayas,’ and that setting is an important element in the novel. The resort is located in a place of great natural, rugged beauty that also presents dangers. It’s not uncommon for helicopters to be used to get in and out of the valleys, and the cable car that’s the focus of this murder scene is not unusual either.

The novel is also distinctively Indian in other ways, too. Food, daily life, and so on reflect the culture of today’s India. So does Niki Marwah. On the one hand, she has contemporary attitudes (and so do her team members). Those readers who are tired of misogyny will appreciate that Marwah’s skills as a detective (and she certainly has them) are more important to her team and her supervisor than is the fact that she’s a woman. On the other, she respects and shares some of the older traditions. For example, in one subplot of the novel, she’s trying to get through the case as quickly as possible, so that she can join a large family gathering. The occasion is her Dadi’s (paternal grandmother) birthday, and it bears all the hallmarks of a traditional Indian family reunion. In fact, Marwah’s parents have even invited someone they hope will be a good match for her.

Another aspect of this novel is the look we get at the publishing industry. Some of the meetings have to do with publishing schedules, choices of author and so on, and readers get the chance to ‘sit in on’ these discussions. There’s also a look at business in general; and some of it’s wryly funny. For instance, if you’re in the business world, I’ll bet you’ve participated in various company team-building activities. There is such an activity in this novel, in which the staff members are put into groups and taken into a forest area, with safety kits and instructions to work together to get back safely to the resort. The way in which the different characters react and interact will resonate with readers who’ve done team building exercises.

A word or two is also in order about the resort setting for much of the novel. The Lotus is very upmarket, with a staff that’s been trained to cater to every guest whim. Each smallest detail is taken seriously. Some of the guests are courteous, and some…are not, and readers get to see how the staff deals with it all.

Drop Dead is a traditional mystery ‘dressed up’ in the wardrobe of modern India. It features a skilled police detective and her team, and takes place in a distinctive, exclusive resort. But what’s your view? Have you read Drop Dead? If you have, what elements do you see in it?



Coming Up On In The Spotlight

Monday 21 September/Tuesday 22 September – Friday the Rabbi Slept Late – Harry Kemelman

Monday 28 September/Tuesday 29 September – Death’s Golden Whisper – R.J. Harlick

Monday 5 October/Tuesday 6 October – Havana Red – Leonardo Padura


Filed under Drop Dead, Swati Kaushal

18 responses to “In the Spotlight: Swati Kaushal’s Drop Dead

  1. Sounds like a good one – I like the idea of a female police officer in a society we tend to still think of as very male dominated. As far as the crime goes, I think any boss who makes his staff go on one of these team-building horrors deserves to be murdered for that alone…

    • 😆 I couldn’t agree more, FictionFan! That ought to be a criterion for anyone proposing to hire a supervisor of any sort: Do you make use of team-building events? And they should have to sign some sort of contract that they won’t institute them.
      As to the book, I really like the way Kaushal handles that the male/female thing, to be honest. There are mentions of the sexism that still exists – it’s not glossed over. At the same time, it’s clear that women are now in positions of authority and responsibility, and everyone’s just going to have to get used to it.

  2. Col

    Not an author I have previously heard of. Probably a pass from me.

  3. For me I think the draw here would be the setting – thanks Margot, look forward to getting a copy (in the fullness of time …)

  4. Margot, I enjoy reading your reviews of crime fiction by Indian authors, something I ought to be doing myself. I’m hoping to read a lot of Indian fiction in 2016.

    • Thank you, Prashant. I think this one does a solid job of portraying the Himalayas and Himachal Pradesh. I’ve not been there (yet) myself, but the depiction seems realistic to me. I’ll be interest in your thoughts if you get the chance to read this.

  5. I like the sound of this – different and intriguing setting but with some traditional whodunit elements and a setting in the publishing industry – definitely one for me.

    • Oh, I hope you’ll like it, Moira. It really does have the elements of the traditional whodunit nicely woven in. Yet, it’s contemporary and outlook and execution. And the setting’s so appealing.

  6. Oh I must check this out. I am very familar with Simla (Shimla) as it is where my father and his siblings all went to school – The Queen of Hill Stations – in the most beautiful of settings – especially back in the 1930/40s. My father’s family were in India (British Indian Army) and he and his siblings were all born there (well, in Rawalpindi, now in Pakistan) and so I am excited to read the descriptions of the region. I have a little knowledge of how the Indian Police work – hubby was out there for a long time – so I am sure I shall enjoy this book and will look out for it. Thanks Margot. Appreciated. 🙂

    • Oh, Jane, I didn’t know you had so many connections to India in general and that part of India in particular. That’s fascinating! I think you enjoy this series, then. It’s got a real sense of place and setting to it. The stories themselves are nicely done too, I think.

      • Oh yes India is deep in our family genes. My dad didn’t come to England until he was in the Army in 1947 – partition. His dad took his young bride of 18 there and they stayed until 1947 so all their children born there. They went to school in the Himalayas and came down for 3 months of the year to see their parents. Dad went to school age 3-21 in Simla; St George’s College. I have the most amazing photos of their life there with the Hill tribesmen from 1926 onwards. A magical life in many ways. Dad spoke several dialects and also some Kenyan, and Malay diatects as he travelled with the Army and so did we all later on. Wander-lust runs in the family. I shall look for the book. 🙂

        • Wow, Jane! What a fascinating life your dad had! So much history, so many stories. And I can well imagine that, raised in that sort of a family, you’d have inherited wanderlust too. One of these days, I’d like to visit that part of India; I hope I will.

        • I think you would love it. I have only been to Bombay (Mumbai) and Calcutta and Karachi on my long journey to Singapore as a tiny child…it took 7 days by plane back then and with lots of stop-overs to refuel in many countries on the way. Dad did have an interesting life – his school was full of Princes and Maharajahs, so he had friends in strange places. We grew up constantly travelling and of course, I never stopped. I do hope you will go one day..positive vibes you do. 🙂

        • Thank you, Jane. It all sounds wonderful!

  7. This does sound interesting, Margot. I will keep it in mind. And the upcoming Spotlight posts sound interesting too.

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