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Book review: Penumbra

Everyone one of us would have tried playing the sleuth when we were young, thanks to the Enid Blyton and Carolyn Keene books like the Secret Seven and Famous Five and Nancy Drew. Even Scooby Doo and friends helped us to imagine ourselves as the clue finders, that we were not. A few days ago, I unlocked my house to find the living room a mess. Of course, I had to be the detective that I always wanted to be, to deduce and choose between the hot wind or the mouse as the culprit behind the ransack. I carefully analysed the window placement and probable direction of the wind and decided to blame it. I also was joyous that it could not have been the mouse, as there was no other damage found around the house. I do not know if I should feel happy or foolish that I didn't think of any other possibility for having a mess inside a locked house, like a thievery or a ghost phenomenon.

Nothing better could have made me choose this book for a read than the above incident. Yes, after I solved a classic whodunit I wanted to read about one. So here I spent a little over two hours to read this short story. So how did it fare on the scales of a real life detective (that's me, ahem ahem).

Book Name: PENUMBRA
Author:   Bhaskar Chattopadhyay

Genre: Fiction Thriller
Characters: Prakash Ray, Rajendra Mukherjee,
Disclaimer: Thanks to the publisher for the free copy of the book, in exchange for an honest review.

Prakash Ray is invited to celebrate his uncle Rajendra Mukherjee's 60th birthday, whom he has never heard of before. He is intrigued by the scenario and not having much to lose; Prakash travels to the secluded villa, located far away from the city limits. He meets a mix of characters who have also been invited by the gregarious and artistic Rajendra. As the night wears out, he gets to know about the guests and learns more about his uncle and his life. All seem fun and frolic until they find a dead body. Cut off from the outer world and stuck in a closed environment with somewhat unknown people, tempers flare and suspicions on each other swell. Each of them tries and play detective to solve the murders and absolve them of the suspicion. So who, when how and why forms the rest of the story.

The writing is straightforward and direct as suited to the genre. The editing was crisp. The plot is relatively tight, though I had a few reservations, and the end connects well without leaving any loopholes. The protagonist Prakash is a simpleton who plays Watson to the characters who want to play Sherlock (mind you there are two), whose naivety seem to be a little too simple for my liking.

The subplot about Prakash and Suhashini is an interesting addition to the story about but makes us understand why Prakash had to take the trip. There are several cliches, and I was able to guess the culprit before the cat was out of the bag, though the reason was not clear until the end. The timeline of the story did not bode with me well, maybe it was just me.

The primary feature for a whodunit to win the hearts of the readers is getting them involved in the plot and when the mystery unravels it should be an 'I should have seen it' moment. Most of us who grew up reading Agatha Christie or Sherlock Holmes (or even watching, in case of the latter) might relate to what I am saying about being involved in the story and only for that reason 'And then there were none' or 'A Scandal in Bohemia' stays the top favorite among hundreds of detective short stories for many readers.  So how did 'Penumbra' fare in this aspect? I would say it did this in part, except for the *key clue*, which was not available for the reader to help solve the puzzle.

Growing up we would all have played the classic detective board game, 'Clues'. The game consists of six suspects, six weapons, nine rooms, and a murder, the players take turns to guess the murderer, who is randomly selected among the players by a pick of cards. This book is similar to the game and has similar characters. It follows the classic whodunit style. If you were looking for an Indian version Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie or our very own Byomkesh you might pick this book.

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