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  Books   07 Oct 2023  Cozy murder mystery begs for a sequel

Cozy murder mystery begs for a sequel

Published : Oct 8, 2023, 12:00 am IST
Updated : Oct 8, 2023, 12:00 am IST

A person in great need of a psychologist herself, and a most irritating individual to boot

Ela’s Unfinished Business. (Image: DC)
 Ela’s Unfinished Business. (Image: DC)

Crime novels are supposed to be perplexing, but the only time I was genuinely baffled while reading Ela's Unfinished Business by Gayatri, was when I got to the last two pages.

The point of my puzzlement was Piu, a psychologist and one of the main protagonists of the novel. I discovered, just as the book ended, that I would be delighted if Piu were to return in a sequel. And this was astonishing because up to this point I had considered Piu to be more a caricature than a character — a person in great need of a psychologist herself, and a most irritating individual to boot.

Actually, I could say the entire novel is in desperate need of a psychologist (or at least a tough editor). Yet, somehow, Ela’s Unfinished Business held my interest throughout. A cozy mystery set in the fictional hill station of Beri Shola just up the road from Madurai, the book centres on Ela, a woman who strongly believes that she is responsible for the murder of Rose, Beri Shola’s local grande dame. That’s because Ela tends to blank out at crucial moments, and somehow, when she returns to the present, someone is dead.

Piu, a woman who has made some tough decisions recently, is delighted by Ela — finally, a patient in genuine need of psychological help. And though Piu is unconventional and cannot keep her mind off her own issues, she does manage to help Ela through the pain.

Meanwhile, a new police chief has taken over in Beri Shola, a cop who cares nothing for controversies or compassion as long as his job is done. Nachiketa, the cop, suspects everyone of the murder of Rose, including Rose’s politician husband who had allegedly died in an accident some time earlier. But he eventually zeroes down on two suspects, one of whom is Ela. Piu is convinced Ela didn’t kill Rose. Nachiketa is convinced Ela did. Ela herself decides to confess to the crime. But did she actually do it?

I wouldn’t call Ela's Unfinished Business a crime novel because much of the time, the solving of the crime is sidelined by Piu’s analyses of Ela’s psychological issues. The characters are also weirdly drawn — Piu’s behaviour is sometimes so manic that you can't help wondering why Ela continues to see her, and Nachiketa is inconsistent in his thoughts and actions. On top of all this, the town and its character are a mish-mash of stiff upper lip British Raj sensibility and the small towns depicted in American cozy mysteries. Ultimately, you can’t help thinking that the author meant this to be a parody of a cozy mystery rather than a cozy mystery in itself.

Yet, it never occurred to me to simply stop reading the book. That's because it has great potential to be the start of a series. If the author would only figure out what she wants to do with Piu, Nachiketa and the town of Beri Shola, I would cheerfully buy a sequel.

Ela’s Unfinished Business
By Gayatri
HarperCollins India
pp. 248; Rs 399


Tags: review, ela's unfinished business, gayatri, mystery novel, cozy mystery, psychological thriller, book review, fiction