Six Suspects by Vikas Swarup
First word of advice: read the page. Don’t bother sticking this novel in your ears: narrator Lyndam Gregory’s uneven cadences and random slurring will guarantee you won’t get through the 17.5 hours of listening, not to mention his grating attempt at Texas twang might cause unwanted murderous thoughts, as well.
Vicky Rai – playboy, entrepreneur, murderer – is dead. No one is particularly upset: “He was the poster boy for sleaze.” And yet, because of the elevated lives of the rich and famous – “Not all deaths are equal. There’s a caste system even in murder” – Rai’s death is headline news. He was shot in his own farmhouse just outside Delhi, while celebrating his latest undeserved acquittal.
The eponymous six suspects are found on site, each with a possible murder weapon: a formerly high-ranking government official who thinks he’s Gandhi; Bollywood’s most beloved actress who longs to hear from her estranged family more than any devoted fan; an unworldly “tribal” young man desperate to recover a sacred stone; a former cell phone thief who uncovers a fortune in a dustbin; a dirty politician who happens to be Rai’s father; and a Texan who thinks he’s about to get married to the mail-order bride of his dreams. Murder and mayhem indeed!
Six Suspects is Vikas Swarup‘s follow-up to his bestselling debut, Q & A, which morphed into the international film sensation, Slumdog Millionaire [as almost always, the book is even better!]. While an enhancing blend of ironic satire and grim reality illuminated Q & A, Swarup isn’t quite able to pull off the same success here. The back-and-forth from near-screwball comedy to the corrupt tragedy of excessive violence and the power-elite’s dismissive lawlessness, is more disturbingly jarring than it is potentially thought-provoking. The narrative ultimately feels forced at best, confused and contrived at worst.
To reach the denouement – expertly unexpected as it is – requires perhaps too great a commitment at almost 500 pages of whodunit. As unique and surprising (some might say preposterous) as specific story details might be – spirit possession in drag, a hijra with a heart of gold, a blind Bopal gas disaster poster child-now-adult, and so much more – the novel’s multi-layered plot never quite emerges from its derivative shadow: think Agatha Christie’s play, The Mousetrap (still playing since 1952 in London’s West End, making it the longest running play in modern history!), or perhaps even that dastardly boardgame Clue.
I confess that some sort of blind loyalty to Q & A kept me turning the pages, as well as the thought I was ‘earning’ the right to read Swarup’s third title, The Accidental Apprentice, which recently pubbed across the oceans, although a Stateside release date remains unknown. Yes, just that potential was enough to get me through, albeit not without the occasional grumbling.
Published: 2009 (United States)