Category Archives: Surender Mohan Pathak

What I Didn’t Realise Was How You Would Change My Life*

One of the most common types of blended families is the stepfamily. In fact, there’ve been stepparents and stepchildren for so many years that we could even think of it as one of the traditional family structures.

Blending a family in this way can work, especially if everyone involved is willing to be flexible. But ‘stepping’ almost always presents challenges, even when family members love one another, and really want the relationships to be successful. And when there’s spite or malice, things can turn very bad, indeed.

There’ve been many, many crime novels that involve stepfamilies. One post couldn’t possibly do the topic justice. But I’ll mention a few examples, to start the conversation. Oh, and you’ll notice I don’t include examples of what a lot of people call domestic noir. Too easy…

Agatha Christie used stepfamilies many times in her work, so there are several examples. One is Evil Under the Sun. In that novel, Captain Kenneth Marshall and his daughter, Linda, travel to the Jolly Roger Hotel on Leathercombe Bay for their holiday. With them is Marshall’s second wife (and Linda’s stepmother), famous actress Arlena Stuart Marshall. It’s soon clear that Linda dislikes her stepmother heartily. It’s not so much that Arlena is cruel to her, but she is self-involved, and mostly, she ignores Linda. What’s worse, Arlena is beautiful and graceful, and Linda is at an awkward point in her life, as young people often are at sixteen. One day, Arlena is found strangled in a cover not far from the hotel, Linda becomes a ‘person of interest,’ as does her father. Hercule Poirot is also staying at the hotel, and he works with the police to find out who killed the victim and why. And as far as the ‘evil stepmother’ stereotype goes, there’s Christie’s Appointment With Death

In Ellery Queen’s The Origin of Evil, we are introduced to the Priam family. Roger Priam and his business partner Leander Hill ran a successful company for years. But then, they both began receiving macabre ‘gifts’ that unsettled them. In fact, Hill died of a heart attack shortly after getting one of them. Hill’s daughter, Laurel, asks Ellery Queen  to find out who has sent the parcels, because she believes her father’s death is directly related to them. At first, Queen demurs, but he’s finally persuaded. When he learns that Priam also received packages, he tries to get his help. But Priam is unwilling to get involved at first. Still, Queen meets Priam’s wife, Delia, and her son, Crowe ‘Mac’ MacGowan. Mac is a very unconventional person. He lives in a treehouse he’s made on the Priam property, and wears as little as possible – sometimes nothing at all. He’s convinced that nuclear bombs are about to be unleashed (the book takes place in the early 1950s, during a particularly tense part of the Cold War), and wants to be ready to live in a world where not much is left. Priam has little to do with his stepson; he’s a businessman through and through. There’s an interesting, if dysfunctional, dynamic in the Priam household…

James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity begins when insurance sales representative Walter Huff decides on a whim to visit one of his clients, H.S. Nirdlinger. Huff happens to be in that area, and wants to see if he can get Nirdlinger to renew his policy. When Huff gets to the house, he finds that Nirdlinger isn’t there, but his wife, Phyllis is. The two get to talking and Huff soon finds himself attracted to her. She does nothing to discourage him, and before long, they’re having an affair. Then, Phyllis reveals that she wants her husband killed. By this time, Huff is so besotted that he falls in with her plan, even going so far as to write the double indemnity insurance policy she’ll need in order to collect from the company. The murder is duly pulled off, but that’s really only the beginning of Huff’s problems. He’s going to have to protect Phyllis as best he can if he’s going to protect himself. Then, he meets Phyllis’ stepdaughter, Lola. The two form a friendship (which Huff would like to be more than a friendship), and Lola tries to warn him about her stepmother. There is no love lost between the two, so there’s a possibility her attitude might simply be spite. But it turns out that Huff is in much deeper than he thought…

M.J. McGrath’s White Heat is the first in her series featuring Ellesmere Island hunting guide Edie Kiglatuk. As the story begins, Kiglatuk is escorting two hunters, Felix Wagner and Andy Taylor. During the trip, Wagner is fatally shot. Taylor says he’s not responsible, and the evidence supports him. So, at first, the death is put down to a tragic accident. But Kiglatuk is fairly certain that’s not the truth. Evidence that she saw suggests that another person shot Wagner. But she’s told that the Council of Elders, on whom she depends for her guide license, wants the ‘accident’ explanation ‘rubber stamped.’ Still, she starts to ask some questions. There’s not much she can do officially, but she tries to get answers. Then, there’s a disappearance. Then, her former stepson, Joe, with whom she’s still close, dies. On the surface, it looks like a suicide. But Kiglatuk is now sure that it was murder. In the end, we learn what connects all of these events; it turns out that there’s something much bigger going on than most people knew. The relationship between Kiglatuk and Joe is an undercurrent throughout the novel. It’s clear that they see each other as family, and take care of each other as close family members do. Not much of the ‘wicked stepmother’ stereotype here…

There’s also Surender Mohan Pathak’s The Colaba Conspiracy. In that novel, former safecracker/lockbreaker Jeet Singh has decided to ‘go straight.’ He now owns and runs a small keymaking business. Everything changes, though, when he gets drawn into just one last job, for the sake of his former lover Sushmita. She married wealthy industrialist Pursumal Changulani, but now, he’s been murdered. At first, the murder looked like a carjacking gone wrong. But now, there’s evidence that it was a pre-planned murder. Sushmita is the main suspect, since her husband’s death means she now stands to inherit a considerable fortune. However, Changulani has three children from a previous marriage, and they claim that she was never legally married to their father. They argue that their stepmother was really just their father’s live-in lover. Sushmita needs money to pay a good lawyer to defend her interests, so Singh decides to help her. He ends up, though, being framed for murder. Throughout the novel, it’s interesting to see how stepmother and stepchildren view each other when a lot of money is involved.

Many stepfamilies work well, function as a unit, and love each other (right, fans of Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn Shreve?). But there are always some complexities, and sometimes, they play out in unexpected ways.

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Peter Andre’s Unconditional.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Gail Bowen, James M. Cain, M.J McGrath, Surender Mohan Pathak

In The Spotlight: Surender Mohan Pathak’s The Colaba Conspiracy

Hello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Surender Mohan Pathak is a prolific Indian writer with a long list of crime novels to his credit. He’s written several series, as well as some standalone thrillers, and this feature can only be broadened by including one of his novels. Let’s do that today and turn the spotlight on The Colaba Conspiracy, the seventh of his Jeet Singh series.

Singh is a former safecracker/lockbreaker who’s determined to go straight. As the story begins, he owns a Mumbai kiosk where he makes and sells keys. One day, he gets a call from a former underworld connection, offering him a considerable amount of money if he agrees to do a job. Singh refuses categorically; he doesn’t want any police attention. Then, he gets word that a local taxi driver named Gailo, who also knows about his past life, wants him to do a job. And this isn’t just any job; it’ll be lucrative, but it’ll put both men up against some dangerous criminals whose money they’ll be taking.

On the one hand, Singh feels he owes Gailo, who was partially responsible for keeping him out of prison on his last job. On the other hand, he is serious about wanting to go ‘straight.’ So, while he agrees to at least think about Gailo’s job offer, he initially refuses.

Everything changes when Singh gets an unexpected visit from his former lover, Sushmita, who broke his heart by marrying wealthy industrialist Pursumal Changulani, a man much older than she is. Now, Changulani has been murdered, and she needs Singh’s help. At first, the murder looked like a carjacking gone horribly wrong. But there’s now evidence that this death was pre-planned. In fact, it’s believed that someone paid some hired assassins to do the job. And Sushmita is suspected, since his death would mean she stands to inherit quite a bit of money.

There’s worse, though. Changulani has three children from his first marriage: two sons, Alok and Ashok; and a daughter, Shobha. Those three, and Shobha’s husband, Lekhumal, have every motivation to ensure that their stepmother gets nothing from their father’s will. So, they’ve claimed that she and the victim were never legally married. If that’s true, then she can’t inherit.

Sushmita has no access to money right now, so she needs financial help. What’s more, she wants it proved that she was, in fact, married to Changulani, and therefore, is eligible to inherit. Singh is still more than half in love with Sushmita, so he agrees to see what he can do. Immediately, he contacts Gailo, says that he’s changed his mind, and agrees to do the job he wanted, so that he can earn some quick money.

Singh and Gailo pull off the job, but almost immediately, things go wrong. For one thing, someone seems to know what they did, and makes things very difficult for them. After all, the people they’ve crossed are not nice people. For another, all of the witnesses who could attest to the fact that Sushmita was legally married to Changulani seem to have gone missing. So has any will naming Sushmita in particular as a beneficiary. It’s obvious that someone wants to cover up the murder, frame Sushmita (if she is, in fact, innocent), and frame Singh in the bargain, since he is her former lover.

If he’s to clear his own name, keep the police away, and help Sushmita, Singh is going to have to go up against some dangerous people. And he’s going to have to do things he wouldn’t have imagined.

As you can no doubt already sense, there are several elements of the noir novel in this story. There’s the femme fatale (or is she?), the somewhat down-and-out unlikely protagonist, and a group of people who may or may not be trustworthy (mostly not). There’s also a look at Mumbai’s underworld, as Singh has plenty of contacts among the criminal element.

The story takes place in Mumbai, and Pathak places the reader there in several ways. Culture, daily life, and so on are all distinctly Mumbai. The language is, too. Many of the characters use the speech patterns used in Mumbai English, and Pathak includes some non-English words. That said, though, it’s not difficult to understand either the dialogue or the untranslated words. In that way, and in other ways, the novel has a bit of the feel of a Bollywood thriller.

In many ways, the novel is also a whodunit. We don’t know who killed Changulani, nor why. And the solution isn’t obvious right from the start. And, since this isn’t a police procedural, Singh has to put the pieces together without the benefit of having the law on his side. We do learn who the killer is, though, and readers will have to decide for themselves whether the solution pushes their disbelief too far.

The Colaba Conspiracy is a noir­-style thriller that features criminal underworld elements, an unlikely protagonist who would really rather have just minded his own business, and a beautiful woman at the heart of it all. It’s got a distinctive Mumbai context that adds a touch of Bollywood to the story, and a whodunit mystery. But what’s your view? Have you read The Colaba Conspiracy? If you have, what elements do you see in it?


Coming Up On In The Spotlight

Monday, 4 September/Tuesday, 5 September – The Earth Hums in B Flat – Mari Strachan.

Monday, 11 September/Tuesday, 12 September – The Dawn Patrol – Don Winslow

Monday, 18 September/Tuesday, 19 September – Another Margaret – Janice McDonald


Filed under Surender Mohan Pathak, The Colaba Conspiracy