Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A detective story daubed in fantasy

Name: The Matsya Curse
Author: Shweta Taneja
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Pages: 248
Price Rs 399

The Matsya Curse, the second book in Shweta Taneja’s Anantya Tantrist Mystery after Cult of Chaos is a thrilling read, especially the first half of the novel, as the heroine Anantya, an occult detective embarks on a journey to investigate of the murder of a tribal supernatural (it means whatever you think it means.). Like a classic hard boiled noir, her detective faces resistance at every level and we are introduced to a host of colourful, weird characters, both friend and foe, more foe than friend. But then Anantya is an unequivocal expert, both in combat and magic and she doesn’t need anyone’s help.

Taneja’s has a way of describing scenes, which is thrilling and she is at her best describing action sequences, which is always difficult to do in fiction, describing one movement to the next when different things are going on.

Then, we unravel the mystery and the plot loses its stream. It surprises you why the author, after spending so much time and energy to create a seemingly new world of angels and demons in modern day Delhi (there is a lovely sequence where the detective travels to an underworld city via an underground Metro station), should resort to an old myth of immortals (including Ashwathama and Hanuman, to give you a clue).

But you must commend Taneja’s world building, which is creative, though at time incredulous. There is a Ministry and Tantriks in Delhi parallel to the Central government (a Harry Potter reference?), there is an immigration office for supernatural creatures and there is even a disco for them.

It’s all fun to begin with, but ultimately proves to be very problematic. The author creates a large tapestry of environments filled with fantasy creatures for her heroine to tackle and ultimately win. But in the process, we are told very little about those creatures themselves. This reviewer has not read the first book, so perhaps he missed certain things, but random appearance of random characters seemed haphazard. It seems her world is only the outlines, without colours to fill them.

I really enjoyed the book, but was also frustrated, because I wanted more; I wanted it to be perfect.

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