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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Banquet on the Dead Book Review

Quite a character, ain't he..?

Bottom Line
One of the better books of the season, Sharath’s book is an engaging murder mystery that proves to be a page turner.  However weak characterization and loose ends in the story prevent it from becoming a true clutter-breaker that it could have become.

second time author, Sharath Komarraju

Rs 250 || 265 pages || Westland Publishers

Writers, authors and scriptwriters should sooo see, study and analyze the Dark Knight Trilogy to learn the art of creating something that is so bloody damn freaking awesome.  

Like millions, I too am a crazy raving fan of Christopher Nolan’s Bat and one common observation about the trilogy is that many people liked the second Dark Knight movie the most (which introduced us to that awesome piece of sheer magic, also known as the Joker)   Popular media has also validated that by rating this movie higher that the other two.

Have you ever wondered why?

Well, using methodology from a writers’ workshop that I’m part of, here’s why.

The beauty of ‘The Dark Knight’ is due to the rich characterization of the main characters, esp that of the Joker. Period.

If you remember the movie (how can you not, eh? J) the story wasn't really that great; but the characterization of the Joker was so powerful and you could almost smell him - he just got inside our heads  and just creeped us out as the mass murdering, sinister and unpredictable madman.  And it was the fitting nemesis to the ideals that Batman symbolized. The clash of these larger-than-life characters was what the movie was all about, with the character of the Joker getting etched into our collective conscience with his lines, quirks and mannerisms, which further added layers and layers to his tremendous character.

The other two movies in the trilogy however focused more on the story telling rather than the characterization – understandably so, as the story had to be told- in the first, it was the story of how the Bat began and the third was focused on how the legend ends.  But that story telling was at the expense of characterization – proof being that the characters of villains of the first and third movies pale in comparison to that of the Joker.

So in conclusion, people who want to build a story should focus on two things – the actual storytelling and the characterization; the richer the latter, the more memorable the overall story is and that’s what can take a not-so-great story into the realm of the unforgettable.

Now in this light, here’s my review to second time author, Sharath Komarraju’s ‘Banquet on the Dead’:

Sharath’s book is an engaging murder mystery set inside an ancestral house in Hanamkonda, a small town somewhere near Hyderabad.  The book traces how the seemingly complicated case is eventually solved by the cop-and-reformed-criminal-duo of Inspector Nagarajan and Hamid Pasha.  Kauveramma, a wealthy matriarch with a supposedly profound love for life, was found dead in the neglected family well.  The closed case was reopened due glaring inconsistencies - the old matriarch was terrified of water, there was no water in her lungs and the other relatives (also residents) of the sprawling house stood to profit hugely from her death - the case is thus reopened.

The story telling:

A perfect murder mystery is one where there is a strong plot, strong characters, multiple suspects and most importantly, an unpredictable and satisfying end.  

Sharath’s book has most of these elements. The book starts off directly with the murder, immediately brings in the two main protagonists and then each subsequent chapter introduces us to a new suspect and his version of what had happened on the day of the murder. What adds to the thrill is that everyone has a strong motive to kill the old lady. In the end, the duo weaves everybody’s stories together, linearly peels off inaccuracies to unearth accurate clues, weeds out the relevant nuggets of information from the irrelevant, dishes out and dismisses various theories and through sound reasoning and rational deduction, connects the dots to finally reveal the killer.

The strongest part about the book is Sharath’s writing – he’s a keen observer of life and his ability to recreate scenarios in simple language is what makes the book work. There aren’t too many jargons being used and the story telling is engaging – there were times when I wanted to know what happened next and kept me hooked – Sharath’s very strong talent of articulation, sometimes captivates the reader with its sheer simplicity.

I’d say the end is good (not great though, but good yes).  It answers the big questions, even though there were a few loose ends; but nevertheless the end does have a juicy element of surprise.

What could have been improved:

*Definitely the characterization -  Hamid Pasha’s various mannerisms added dimensions to his personality but there wasn’t any depth in Nagarajan’s character.  Considering each chapter of the book was basically the introduction of a new suspect, a huge opportunity for characterization was missed. This is what made this book merely just another good-read, when powerful characterization could have catapulted this book to a whole new level. Considering that Sharath ended the story with a promise of more stories with the Nagarajan+Hamid duo,   I feel Sharath missed an opportunity here to endear these characters to the readers.

*Too many characters – Due to weak characterization, many of the characters - particularly the female characters - appeared similar and thus were confusing to tell apart.

*Loose ends - In the end, you know why the killer killed her but the motive was not specifically mentioned there.  Of course, the motive was explored earlier, a few chapters back, however I would have wished that in the end, it was repeated again right after the killer was identified so that I know conclusively that “The motive behind the killing was…”.  Again, there is a glaring loose end here which reveals itself only after you get over the genuine surprise of the end.  Also, I felt that Sharath sometimes took liberties with the reasoning and few instances of reasoning were a tad too simplistic. But like I said earlier, the writing and the end still makes it work.

*Misdirection - Misdirection in murder novels keeps the readers clued in to the guessing game.  Sharath’s story was pretty much unidirectional and I felt that ample opportunities to misdirect were unexploited.  I never really got into that mode of wondering who the killer really is; I just let the story uncover itself.

 What next:

*Sequels –  Sharath ended the book with an obvious indication that Nagarajan and Hamid will return with the next case.  With more characterization, I’m sure readers would welcome it.

*Bollywood – Considering Talaash has suddenly made murder mysteries cool again, I wouldn’t be too surprised if this story finds its way to the big screen.  I’d suggest Sharath to approach the Malayalam movie industry, which is currently showing sudden openness to fresh new ideas.  And the milieu of this story fits it too.

*Marketing – I’m not sure if Sharath has focused too much on the marketing side of this book. Like I mentioned earlier, this is definitely one of the better books that’s come into the market. But awareness levels for this book are very low.  Even Sharath’s website seems to mention only his first book. The book doesn't seem to have a great social media presence either.  Crosswords-Indiranagar didn't know of the book but once they checked, they told me it was doing decently well in sales. Also, as seen below in the pic taken at the above bookstore, there were just two copies of the book tucked away on the bottom row in a lonely corner of the store. Think marketing for this book has to be enhanced.

*Also, I felt the title of the book was a little too heavy for its own good.  Sure, after reading the book, one may be able to find meaning in the title and the cover picture - but to a first timer, I think the title and the somber cover might just put her off.

So in conclusion, I guess Sharath should study Heath Ledger’s Joker to take notes on characterization but like Nolan, he can rest a proud man for bringing about a genuine good read, in the face of the increasing crap that is coming our way in the guise of Indian fiction.

Good job, Sharath!

(You can buy the book here.)


  1. What do you mean I can ALMOST smell him? I can really smell him. Creepy guy and the best nemesis ever. That's the longest review I've ever read. Now excuse me while I go and lie down ;)

    How's life, RAJ?

    1. Hey RCB!!!! Wassssaaabbb!!! Always so happy to see u.. hey, I mentioned u in my last post after ur comment thr :)

      And I owe u an explanation to our earlier conversation on 'following' :)

      I got married RCB.. following ur steps, I must say :).. was pretty quick .. was hoping to put up a post on it but u knw how it is with laziness lurking all around :D

      Thanx for going through the review.. ya, its pretty long :D.. thought I'd include other aspects of the book process too :)

      I'm good RCB, hope u r too.. Like I was telling bout marriage.. I now get for free what I used to pay for and pay for, what I used to get for free.

      Obviously I'm talking of food at home and the extra newspaper subscription.


  2. hmmm so i guess I should get this book then .. :)


    1. Hey Biks, It's one of the better books in the market now :)

      Kaise ho, ji? Hope all is well on ur side my friend :)

  3. aaan...indeed...one of the better books :)
    i agree.
    extensive review that eh ?
    hihih..oo and nice pic :P
    how be thy mate ?

    1. Hey! Hey! Hey!

      Meoww, wassapp yaar...looong, looong time, eh?

      Oh I've been far, far away frm the blogging world fr a while.. went to dilli n came back with my bride :)

      Nice to see u yaar :)

    2. you got married??!!! :/ okay..i am missing something out here..
      were you married before or is the bride brand new?

    3. Just got married Meoww.. was not arranged, rather engineered :)

      So lil bit of rebellion n retaliation was ingrained innit.. u knw, folks not agreeing n stuff.. but in the end, guess it all worked out fine :D

    4. AWESOME!!!! simblyyyyyyyyy AWESOME!!!!!!!!
      aaaaaaaand by ze wayyy...
      i need to thank you for something...you will come to know the same when i write my next post \m/

      cheers and SUPER DUPER CONGRATULATIONS to thuo and thy bride!!

      i would louuuu to read the love story here on the blog!!

    5. thou*

      kindly ignore typos that happen in sheer excitement :)