Six Suspects by Vikas Swarup (Doubleday)
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.