Kalpana Swaminathan’s “Raagam Taanam Pallavi” (Speaking Tiger Books, 2020)

Speaking Tiger Books
INR 499.00/-

MURDER SHE SANG

A Review by Anjana Basu

Kalpana Swaminathan has been thrilling murder mystery fans across India with her Lali mysteries. This is her eighth foray into Lalli’s world and in this one she takes readers through the world of Carnatic music. She also throws a googly at all those who thought Lalli was infallible. In this one her indomitable detective heroine is convinced that she has committed a murder sometime in the past but is unable to remember the details. The Lalli we see at the beginning of the story is a febrile insomniac, fretting over the crime she cannot remember. Sita, her niece, is at a loss and alarmed because Lalli will not confide in her usual associates, Dr Q, Savio and Shukla. Music, however, soothes Lalli and stirs the neurological paths of her memory bit by bit – which clears the way for a later brush with brain fingerprinting.

While this is causing chaos in the building community they live in, an actual murder does take place and is connected to the music teachers who live upstairs in Utkarsha. Swaminathan weaves a plot as intricate as a Carnatic melody with references to musical chords and composers like Dikshitar and his kritis that may be unfamiliar to most readers who would be better versed in Hindustani Classical Music – as would the nuances of the title. Along the way she throws in titbits for the delight of lexicographers and bipliophiles, in keeping with her own interests, though this in no way detracts from her story telling.

The book is full of references to food like crisp murukkus and restaurants that have sold their Tamil soul for wraps instead of dosas – food and elusive literature have been part of Swaminathan’s work since the beginning and her forensic department is more easily bribed with those than with anything else. There are also humorous references to the road safety campaigns that the police run in whatever language they feel appropriate. There is also a lively description of the young deity at Kanyakumari, a temple dedicated to the joyousness of young girls.

An innocent murderer, types of folk music and religious mysticism unite to create a spellbinding story in which, sadly, Lalli’s confession of crime seems to be the weakest link though it ties in neatly with all the rest. Also Shukla takes a fall in the reader’s eyes though he is restored to his previous cheerful eminence by the end.

Anjana Basu
Kolkata

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