For those who romped through Those Pricey Thakur Girls, snarked, laughed and sniggered at, and along with the alphabetically named girls, the news of a new Anuja Chauhan novel is like knowing there is a strawberry cheesecake waiting for you at home when you return from a long day at work.
In a recent interview, Chauhan said she felt murderous during the lockdown; thankfully, she channelised that desire into writing a juicy thriller, which doubles up as a romance, with an occasional foray into the romcom genre, her specialty. ‘Club You To Death’ is a ‘bloody romance’ alright with the blood-spattered cover setting the tone nicely. The story begins in the hallowed Delhi Turf Club (DTC), the “most exclusive club in the country” to get into which “regular people” have to wait 37 years and pay through their pierced noses. It is election season and the club is a hotbed of machinations, petty politics and jealousies, not to mention rigged tambolas.
Wit and chutzpah
Into this mix is thrown a beefy personal trainer, Leo, who claims he has Jamaican roots, but turns out to be very local indeed. Chauhan is at her witty best when she describes the WhatsApp chats and the hush-hush-giggle-giggle conversations the middle-aged women who frequent the club have about this hottie — evidently, all of them have the hots for this trainer — he being the primary reason for their enrolling in his muscle-numbing Zumba sessions. They even turn up in their designer leotards at sharp 6 am so that they can ogle at him doing his bench presses. A day before the votes are to be cast, Leo is killed with his inventive murderer using the trainer’s favourite silver barbell to commit the act.
In comes the very opposite of the Delhi police officer you have always imagined. ACP Bhavani is not your stereotypical paan-chewing, constantly swearing rustic; he is ‘cultured’, mild, a gentle giant of a man who has put up his wife’s ‘four golden rules’ in his crime branch cell in Chanakyapuri. The rules are about being kind, “not taking any load” as a typical Dilliwala would say and listening to people. He also religiously does his 5 Basic Exercises as prescribed by the Canadian Air Force, never mind his paunch.
Bhavani, unexpectedly, gets the help of crusading lawyer Akash Dogra (nicknamed Kashi), whose father is a member of the club, but who hates the world it inhabits. Kashi’s now-off-now-on girlfriend and sexy-babe-about-town Bambi Todi is also roped in for the detective work and the three begin unravelling truths in what first appears to be a straightforward murder, but obviously is not.
Chauhan has got the milieu of both the DTC crowd and the Delhi police right. Her talent for snark and easy wit shines here too, as it did in Thakur Girls and The Zoya Factor. Happily, she effortlessly manages to go beyond the frivolousness of the high-flying lives she describes and lays bare the routinely sad and hollow core of their often pitiful existence.
The denouement by ACP Bhavani seems to be highly inspired by the likes of Poirot and Miss Marple. He too, like they often do, gathers all the suspects around in the last chapter and points out the murderer after a longish lecture that intersperses moral grandstanding with explanations of his detection methods. In fact, this is where the writing is weaker than the rest of the book and the pace slackens; you are impatient because by this time you also have a fair idea who the murderer is. You want to see the drama play out and Bhavani’s leisurely expounding makes you (at least it made me) feel like his frustrated junior, Padam, who chafes at the older officer’s stolid ways.
That little quibble apart, this is quite the perfect summer read; certainly pick it up if you are planning to laze on a hammock on a sunny afternoon. Wait, pick it up even if you are not.