A mystery too elaborate

Six Suspects by Vikas Swarup (Doubleday)
Barbara Ludman

Diplomat Vikas Swarup has been claimed by South Africans by virtue of his posting to Pretoria as India’s deputy high commissioner, but his novels—this is his second, after Q&A—are set in India. Q&A, about a young, uneducated waiter who answers all the questions right on a TV quiz show, was a major success worldwide; it’s been translated into three dozen languages and a film is in progress. Six Suspects is also likely to do well, despite its bulk—at 470 pages, it is about 100 pages longer than, say, the latest John Connolly.

Super-spoiled Vivek ‘Vicky” Rai, son of a deeply corrupt Uttar Pradesh home minister, is on trial for the murder of a waitress who refused to serve him a drink after hours because he was already very drunk.

At a party he throws to celebrate his acquittal, somebody knocks him off. Police identify six suspects, all guests carrying guns, and Swarup goes through their stories, one by one—a young cellphone thief, a Bollywood star, an American tourist, the aforementioned home minister, a mad bureaucrat who thinks he’s Gandhi, and an Andaman island tribesman seeking a sacred stone stolen from his village.

All are given equal weight, although some are more interesting than others: the cellphone thief, who falls in love with Rai’s sister, is a case in point. Swarup is very good on young, appealing slum-dwellers living by their wits.

A book about corruption, it’s billed as an ‘elaborate mystery”, which is a fair description. It might, however, have been a bit less elaborate—and at least 50 pages shorter.

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