10 May, 2021

Noir Say Die

Successfully spooky, written with surgical precision, thrilling to the psychological core

Abhijit Bhatlekar
Noir Say Die
When Kalpana Swaminathan’s first novel, Ambrosia for Afters, was published in 2003, it was greeted with tempered enthusiasm: a promising start. In Bougainvillea House, that promise has been fulfilled. What a corker of a book!

A practising surgeon, Swaminathan is one of those hyphenated few: a "writer-physician", which small band of brothers (for they are mostly men) includes Abraham Verghese, Michael Crichton, A.J. Cronin and even Anton Chekhov. Like them, she wields her pen with the precision of a scalpel. And like her novel’s protagonist, Dr Liaqat Khan, she too is in search of the truth—the murky, complex, heart of the matter beneath the surface. The good doctor finds himself playing detective in a series of mysterious deaths, all surrounding his elderly patient, Clarice Aranxa. The work of a physician and that of a detective are not so very different after all. Symptoms are, after all, clues; the diagnosis, the smoking gun. "It’s the iceberg effect," explains Dr Khan. "All I see, all I’m told is the one-eighth on the surface. The seven-eighths that...

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