Crime in paradise

Crime in paradise

Crime in paradise

Third in the Simran Singh series, The Sea of Innocence by Kishwar Desai follows Simran Singh, a social worker and crime investigator, on a holiday to Goa with her adopted daughter, Durga.

The holiday is nothing like the typical Goan holiday she’s expecting. A disturbing video of Lisa Kay, a British teenager, being raped, appears on her phone. Soon, she is visited by her ex-boyfriend and top cop Amarjit, who cajoles her into investigating the case. Lisa Kay has mysteriously disappeared and Simran has to crack the mystery, without, of course, drawing the media into the picture.

Much against her strong resolve to not take up the case, Simran finds herself deep in the quagmire of deception, lies and tales spun around the missing girl. There are politicians involved, and there are locals involved, and even the women who sell wares on the beach are part of a clique. The tattoo maker, Veerama, for instance, is also part of the picture.

The author draws heavily from the real-life incident of Scarlett Keeling, the British girl whose mother fought bravely for justice. That real-life incident is also referenced in the novel. The plot is rivetting, and as Simran makes her way slowly through the cobweb of lies woven around by those involved, we desperately start to hope that Lisa Kay is alive.

Meanwhile, we are introduced to Goa’s murky drug mafia, the tourism racket, the world of casinos, and the lives of those who work for them. Like the sad case of Vicky, who is originally from Chandigarh and works in a floating casino run by a top politician.
Desai has succeeded in creating the right atmosphere and the novel has the feel of long-form journalism. The author’s background in journalism definitely shows. She started her career as a print journalist, after all.

Back to the plot, Lisa Kay also has a sister who is on the lookout for her, and a lost-in-the-hippie-era father. Simran, during the course of her hunt for Lisa Kay, also learns a lot about these characters and their sad lives. About what draws foreigners to Goa.

Another character she meets is Dennis Pinto, who stands by her throughout the investigation, and wins Simran’s heart too. While we figure out whether Lisa Kay’s sister Marian, or rather ‘Anne’, is really looking for her sister in right earnest, or whether she is part of another trap set to catch Simran, we also meet Vishnu Braganza, an electronics shop owner in Anjuna village, who is attached to Kay. It is his story that moves. Without giving away much of the plot, we must underline that his character plays a crucial role in the book.

The way Simran’s character has been fleshed out reminds the reader vaguely of Mmma Ramotswe, the famed investigator in Alexander McCall Smith’s No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. Though not quite in the same league, The Sea of Innocence is a good read. Some repetitive passages about how Goa has turned into what it has now, and assertions that there’s more to Goa than tourism and drugs (albeit true), slows down the plot, in an otherwise racy thriller.

References to the Delhi rape case (deliberately brought in to show the larger picture of crimes against women), as the author says in a print interview, seem like a force fit. The need to peg the story around such news incidents and constantly bring in a context is a largely journalistic one. Nothing wrong, but feels like the author is spoon-feeding contexts. Readers could have joined the dots themselves, anyway.

The Sea of innocence
Kishwar Desai
Simon & Schuster
2013, pp 356