Inspector Gowda goes down sinister paths

Inspector Gowda goes down sinister paths

Inspector Gowda goes down sinister paths

Chain of Custody
Anita Nair
Harper Collins 2016, pp 311, Rs 350

Four years after he was first introduced to us, Inspector Borei Gowda returns to the printed page and to the reader’s imagination in Anita Nair’s Chain of Custody.

This is a fitter Gowda, who is drinking less and therefore more alert. However, he is still carrying the scars of his denouement with ‘the Corporator’ in the last case he solved, as depicted in the first Inspector Gowda story, Cut Like Wound.

It’s a pragmatic world we live in, so we learn without much surprise that Gowda’s last murder ‘catch’ is out on bail, leaving a spasmodic clench of fear inside both Borei Gowda as well as his faithful wingman Santosh. There are enough references to the first book at the start, but soon enough, Chain of Custody starts to move of its own volition.

We are dropped into the story without ceremony from the very first page since Nair does not waste any time with re-introductions and instead, gets to setting up the mise en scène. This time, the case involves missing children, and the reader, alongside Inspector Gowda, almost immediately registers the dread associated with such cases. The abducted children are invariably press-ganged into labour of all sorts, or worse, become child prostitutes living a hellish life.

The author lays out everything as on a flat board, with no red herrings till the story is well up and running. Then what could be a red herring makes its tantalising appearance and puts the reader to work, trying to discern if it indeed is one or not. Clever. As is the depiction of that particular vulnerability of women victims towards their boyfriends, indeed the men in their lives. The perpetrators of the crimes against children are shown to the reader early on, but that does not in any way keep the reader from second-guessing the characters every step of the way, a most gratifying benefit of good crime fiction.

The subject of necessity is a disturbing one and Nair deals with it in a matter-of-fact fashion, bringing to it the clear, hard gaze we imagine her protagonist to be using. This, despite the fact that one of the young victims happens to be Gowda’s maid’s daughter. Then again, this unsentimental gaze is not in the least uncaring. Compassion has its place but not when Inspector Gowda is on the move, attempting a closure to the case.

Gowda himself continues to be a complex soul, with a lot of introspecting. He’s still juggling wife (the down-to-earth Mamatha) and mistress (the elegant Urmila); still trying to reach out to his somewhat truant son, Rohan; still trying to put the fear of god into lawless elements. Off and on, he reveals quite a sensitive side to him under the gruff exterior, and we find him philosophising on diverse matters: the twisted minds of those who would traffic in children, the degraded environment, the convoluted link between those who wield the puppet strings of life and those who remain angry, reluctant puppets, as well as the berserk manner the city of Bengaluru has mutated in all directions.

Neither Inspector Gowda nor the story takes one false step all through, making the book a satisfying read. As for Borei Gowda, he sort of grows on one.