Chain of Custody by Anita Nair
|Chain of Custody by Anita Nair|
|Reviewer: Lesley Mason|
|Summary: A gripping police hunt thriller that succeeds in maintaining human warmth against a backdrop of shocking and very real child exploitation in modern day Bengaluru|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 324||Date: October 2016|
|Publisher: Bitter Lemon Press|
|External links: Author's website|
After the success of A Cut-like Wound published in the UK in 2014, Chain of Custody sees the return of Inspector Gowda of the Bengarulu (rendered throughout in its anglicised version: Bangalore) police, called in when an affluent lawyer is found dead at his home in a prestigious and well-guarded gated community. However, that is the prologue jumping ahead of the story – as is the current vogue.
Nine days earlier… a man is travelling on the Prashanthi express, watching three scrawny boys…runaways, almost certainly without a ticket. He knows the look. He remembers being one of them. He remembers how he got from a six-year-old sold into servitude to where he is now…doing, well, what exactly?
Meanwhile, young Reka is sneaking out to meet her boyfriend, the exciting and ever so slightly dangerous Sid, who has an idea for them both to make some money. The yellow butterflies in her stomach ask her whether she is making a mistake.
Elsewhere, Moina stared at the ceiling and thought of the sky that lay beyond it. She didn't know what lay beyond it, the sky or another floor. But she chose to imagine a vast blue sky, for only that would allow her to believe that one day this would end.
Life in Bangalore continues in its way. Land deals are being done. A man who loves his disabled wife, takes her to the temple, tends her and cossets her.
And Inspector Gowda is travelling the locality chasing after ATM dacoits.
He returns home to find the 12 year-old daughter of his housekeeper has gone missing. What starts as a search for this missing schoolgirl soon brings the Inspector's team into contact with the child-trafficking underworld…but is there any connection to any of that with a murdered property lawyer?
Nair has spoken in the press about how angry she became doing the research for this novel. Pushed to tackle the subject by a local media report estimating 55 million children in India are caught up in this racket that is barely spoken about, Nair set about getting official reports from police stations, talking to social workers and spending days working with the real-life NGO "BOSCO (Bangalore Oniyavara Seva Coota) working to rescue and rehabilitate children caught up in this modern day slavery. Her fictional detective is her vehicle for social comment.
Far from being a polemic though, this is first and foremost a thriller. The shifting viewpoints keep the pace up, the office politics of the police station are as centre stage as any wider political issues, keeping the focus down on the personal level. Santosh, who barely survived the first book, is being 'eased' back into the team – that's the theory at least – but as well as being barely yet work-fit, he's resenting the 'soft desk' on child welfare not to mention the attitude of his new partner, until he finds out just how smart she is and just how dark a beat he's been allocated.
Gowda fits the modern template for the flawed fictional police inspector, committed to finding the truth, hopefully in the pursuit of justice, but not necessarily hidebound by the rules. He has the archetypally messy home-life: a drug-addict son, an intelligent wife with a high-power job in another city, a lover closer to home and a borderline-drink problem that he's trying to keep in check.
Problems of insensitive laws, indifferent officials, uncooperative witnesses are taken as given, as is the pace of development which sees the rural outskirts of the city being swallowed up by new development and the inequalities inherent in the country being accentuated rather than addressed.
All of it told in the truly authentic voice of an author writing about her home town.
For more crime set in India we can recommend The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall.
Chain of Custody by Anita Nair is in the Top Ten Crime Novels 2016.
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