Review: Audition by Ryū Murakami

Author : Ryū Murakami. Translated by: Ralph McCarthy
Genre : Horror / Mystery
No. of Pages : 200
Publisher : Bloomsbury Publishing
My Rating : ★★★/ 5

synopsis

Documentary-maker Aoyama hasn’t dated anyone in the seven years since the death of his beloved wife, Ryoko. Now even his teenage son Shige has suggested he think about remarrying. So when his best friend Yoshikawa comes up with a plan to hold fake film auditions so that Aoyama can choose a new bride, he decides to go along with the idea. Of the thousands who apply, Aoyama only has eyes for Yamasaki Asami, a young, beautiful, delicate and talented ballerina with a turbulent past. But there is more to her than Aoyama, blinded by his infatuation, can see, and by the time he discovers the terrifying truth it may be too late. Ryu Murakami delivers his most subtle and disturbing novel yet, confirming him as Japan’s master of the psycho-thriller.

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Audition was a total impulse purchase! I’d got this in my Eloor library haul only because it’s horror+written by a Japanese author. This turned out to be a very interesting read. Based on the blurb, I went into the book expecting some level of creepiness and horror elements, and of course it had some truly stomach-churning gory scenes. Can’t say I was disappointed. I definitely enjoyed the whole femme fatale, lady psychopath thing Asami had going on. Honey-trapping unsuspecting men is a trope that never gets old for me. 😂

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My problem with the book was not the gore, but the extremely slow build-up. Because of that, it felt like things escalated too quickly and ended all too soon. The ending was a bit disappointing in how quick and easy it was. I also thought the story was weirdly structured; it would have really helped if the chapters were differentiated to show the readers whose POV we’re supposed to be reading. One thing I never understood was how a vital piece of Asami’s past highlight for potential spoiler: the bit about her stepfather’s abuse of her is told through Aoyama’s dream. That doesn’t make sense AT ALL. why would he dream about something that had nothing to do with him? That’s not how dreams work??? This is why I think having a couple of chapters through Asami’s POV would have elevated the reading experience as a whole, in my opinion.

After finishing the book, I went and watched the movie because apparently, it’s a cult classic?
and holy shit?? Reading it was one thing, but *watching* it was a whoooole different experience. They didn’t have to add new torture scenes is all I’m saying….

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That said, I still think the book was better. I’d recommend this if you are in mood for a bit of gore and a quick read that doesn’t take up much of your time. This book checks all those boxes.blog divider 3

Happy Reading!

~ Mathangi

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Review : The Englishman’s Cameo (Muzaffar Jang #1) || Madhulika Liddle

Author : Madhulika Liddle
Genre : Historical Fiction
No. of Pages : 281
Publisher : Hachette India

Synopsis : Muzaffar Jang is that rare creature in Mughal Emperor Shahjahan’s Dilli – an aristocrat with friends in low places. One of whom, Faisal, stands accused of murder.

When the body of Mirza Murad Begh is found stabbed in the chest, lying in a water channel in the Qila, poor Faisal is the only one around. But what of the fact that, right before his demise, the victim had stepped out of the haveli of Shahjahanabad’s most ravishing courtesan? Could not the sultry Mehtab Banu, and her pale, delicate sister Gulnar have something to do with the murder?

Determined to save his friend, Muzaffar decides to investigate, with only a cup now and then of that new-fangled brew – Allah, so bitter – called coffee to help him….


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Set in 17th century Shahjahanabad (Delhi or Dilli under Mughal Emperor Shahjahan’s rule), this book follows Muzaffar Jang who is an aristocratic young man, but unlike his counterparts who only mingle with upper-class folks and like to amass and display their wealth, Muzaffar isn’t a classist snob – he likes to hang out with all kinds of people, appreciates a quiet life with good books, good food, and less extravagance (wait that sounds wrong – is there a nice, intellectual-sounding word for less extravagance?)

Basically, Muzaffar Jang is a man after my own heart.

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The setting is gorgeous! Madhulika’s writing unravelled the 17th century Dilli alive in front of my eyes. I didn’t pay enough attention in history class to know if the book was historically accurate, but it read like the author has done her research. Be it the picturesque’s havelis, or Mehtab Banu, the courtesan, folding paan with her henna-clad hands or the boat rides on the river yamuna – I could picture it clearly, hell, I could practically feel the dust as if I were on the shores of river yamuna myself. Full points for the evocative writing. This was my first proper historical fiction read and I’m glad I picked this one.

Muzaffar is a smart and likable (and handsome, like the other characters never stop telling you) protagonist with scope for solid development. I see that this book is the first in a series so I think his character would get better as the series goes on.

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I felt like the pace of the book was very slow. 50 pages into the book, you still haven’t learned much other than what the blurb tells you. Then there was the info-dumping. The author took her time with Muzaffar’s background but then all of a sudden you get his whole childhood and family details in a matter of two pages.

Despite being the brother-in-law of the town’s police inspector, when his friend gets arrested on suspicion for murder, Muzaffar decides to do his own investigation privately. Smart and well-read as he is, Muzaffar is not a detective. He is only an inquisitive, young man with friends in many places so as you can imagine, his investigation was slow. He asks questions, tries to put two and two together, tries to break into places and sometimes get caught, sometimes finds a small piece of evidence – you get the gist. I’m not saying every protagonist in a detective/mystery novel should be like Sherlock Holmes and make deductions in a matter of seconds – in fact I liked Muzaffar’s style. The problem was, the whole book is from his perspective and so we get to the bottom of everything only when he does. The titular Englishman and his cameo (which is apparently the name for an oval pendant – I didn’t know this) didn’t turn out to be as ominous as I’d expected but I’m not sure if that’s a bad thing.

Oh, and I really felt like they should have included a glossary for all the urdu words used in the book. The whole book is peppered with them which really adds to the feel of it, sure. but even in India, not all of us know hindi or urdu, so a key would have been really helpful.

My Rating : ★★★ out of 5.

Don’t be put off by how I’ve written more for what I didn’t like. I would recommend this book for its setting, the language, and the feel of it more than for its mystery.

~ Mathangi

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Review: The Masala Murder by Madhumita Bhattacharyya – #DiverseAThon 2017

I had wanted to be a detective. Crime fighter extraordinaire. Equal parts Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot in a fetching female frame.

Author : Madhumita Bhattacharyya
Genre : Mystery
No. of Pages : 292
Publisher : Pan Macmillan India

Synopsis :

Reema Ray is a 26-year-old who writes about food in an entertainment magazine for a living, but Reema is also a private investigator who has her own little detective agency  in North Calcutta. Writing pays, but detective work is where her true passion lies. After studying crime in the US, she comes back to India to set up a detective agency in her home town Calcutta.


I stumbled upon The Masala Murder in the recently concluded Chennai book fair, and the cover and title immediately caught my eye. I do not read a lot of books by Indian authors because the ones I have read were full of cliched bollywood tropes and bad writing.

Madhumita Bhattacharyya may have just restored my faith in Indian authors. The plot aside, the writing was really expressive and the choice of words, clever. I liked that she had also planted small details in random parts of the book for an observing eye to catch on. The author has capitalised on her main character being a food writer and strewn the book with several delicious descriptions of food throughout. I don’t even know how to pronounce most of the Chinese food (involving meat) mentioned here, but it all sounded delectable – and this despite me being a vegetarian, so that’s something right?

A girl’s gotta eat, and as long as that remains true, she might as well eat as well as she can.

My thoughts :

Being a detective is not all murders and catching mobsters, Reema realizes soon after setting up her one-woman agency. What little cases she gets are mostly the unexciting infidelity-related ones. But she does not give up on her passion just yet. Reema is also part of a group which she calls the CCC – Calcutta Crime fighters Club where they discuss unsolved crimes from the public domain that could be solved and raise funds to keep the club going. Her involvement in the club provides her some sense of purpose and drive but being the only woman in this little motley group of people (consisting of lawyers, a police inspector, and a PI) has its disadvantages. Like not being taken seriously.

To Reema’s credit, she’s good. She’s actually studied crime in an University, is ambitious and tries hard to stay true to her passion despite the discouragement she faces. She even knows kickboxing.

When confronted with the dilemma of whether to give up on detective work and become a journalist full time or give up the writing job that actually pays, not one but two interesting mysteries come Reema’s way.

One, her ex-boyfriend Amit is a prime suspect in the alleged kidnapping of his wife Aloka and he seeks Reema’s help to find Aloka before Aloka’s father pins it on him.

Two, a prominent food provisions supplier Prakash Agarwal whom Reema has interviewed as part of her work, ends up dead under suspicious circumstances.

Through the rest of the book, we follow Reema as she interviews the persons of interest to find the motive, sweeps crime scenes; her investigations dig up an almost three-decade old sexual molestation case which leads to surprising revelations. With some help, she solves the crimes rather efficiently.

That said, the book was not devoid of cliches. Be it the mother-hen of a best friend who wouldn’t stop trying to set up Reema with a man, or the very mysterious tall-dark-handsome gentleman who charms the pants off our girl right. at. the. first meeting. However, the real problem areas for me was the predictability of the crimes and the pacing of the book. It could have been at least 30-50 pages shorter. One more very noticeable thing was the lack of humour in the book. A funny moment here and some witty exchanges there wouldn’t have hurt.

I may verge on nit-picking here but there were a few inconsistencies, like the part where it is implied that car’s driver seat is on the left side of the car. In India, the driver’s seat is on the right and I feel like it’s something the editors should have picked up on.

My Rating : ★★★/5

My verdict : Though mild on the masala, The Masala Murder would make a good, lazy Sunday afternoon read.


Read this book as a part of the Diverse-A-Thon 2017.


~ Mathangi.

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