Anand Ranganathan’s murder mystery has arrived in a totally glamorous package. It starts on a lovely night, a magical dinner and death coming home without warning.


For writers of mystery, murder thrillers, the biggest challenge is to keep the grip from start to finish. Many start well but falter midway. But those who retain the grip throughout know how to weave the magic, they retain the suspense right till the end. And this is where Anand Ranganathan scores over the rest with his Soufflé that has hit the stands from the house of Penguin.
So, let’s recreate the suspense.
Ranganathan tells us about one strange incident that rocked Mumbai—India’s financial capital and home to Bollywood—one night when a seasoned tycoon Mihir Kothari orders soufflé and takes a slice and within seconds, gasps for breath and collapses on the table. He is dead, Mumbai is shocked. Like all things that happen after someone is found dead, everyone scampers, and eventually seeks the CCTV footage for some definitive proof. And within minutes all fingers point at celebrity chef Rajiv Mehra, he curated the soufflé, so—claim many—he must be the murder. For the cops, it is an open-and-shut case. Pesky television reporters rush with their whirring cameras and breaking headlines fill Mumbai.
And then the drama unfolds.
The cops are all over the scene of the death. They are all hinting at Mehra. So read the lines from the book.
“You think this is funny, Mr. Mehra? There are hundreds of witnesses who saw you trying to slip out from behind the curtain after watching Mihir Kothari die a gruesome death. Hundreds more saw you in the lobby as we were taking you to the police station.” Kothari is no pushover person, he is a top tycoon who flies in private jets, limousines waiting for him at the airport.
So what’s happening here? Did the chef try to disappear after the crime and even attempt a suicide by slitting his wrist and tying his belt around his neck? Or was there someone in his room who tied the belt around his neck and slashed his wrist before escaping from the window. So it means someone tried to kill Mehra when he had entered his room to pick up the medicines before going to the police station. Why would anyone kill the celebrity chef? Multiple layers of mystery are piling up already.
Let’s get further into the book as Mehra, now in hospital, watches Mihir’s cremation at the Colaba crematorium, he can see Mihir’s wife Subhadra weeping, breaking down into a paroxysm of sobbing.
Soufflé explores life, love, and the passions that encourage and motivate people to do unexpected and impossible things. Ranganathan’s steaming output grows more gripping as the story unfolds through its many layers.
Rajiv knows his time is up, Apte is in his room and is carrying a warrant. His handset and belongings have been confiscated, he will now head to the notorious Arthur Road Jail, described by many as India’s worst hellhole. He will eat jail food of burnt chapatis and foul dal. There is no crunchy pork shoulder with tangy mostarda fruits. Let’s get some more gripping words here. “What is your last wish? The (jail) superintendent had enquired gently and politely. The officers and guards have unmistakably gone soft on Rajiv ever since he was handed the capital punishment by the judge. He has been shifted to another ward, with spacious, independent cells and clean, attached toilets. The death row inmates get a fresh change every morning. There is a cooler in every cell. It is a world away from the cramped, filthy, dangerous, almost unlivable conditions of the general prison ward.”
So what does it mean? What will eventually happen to Rajiv?
I should not be dissecting the whole book here, then no one will pick it from the shelves of bookstores. But the suspense element impressed me to no end, it has been a satisfying experience. A strange death at a luxurious party where the chef—who curated the menu—leaves many questions unanswered. You are obviously craving for more. This is where Ranganathan, the writer and not the television debater or scientist, scores very well. His murder mystery has arrived in a totally glamorous package. It starts on a lovely night, a magical dinner and death coming home without warning.
The book is zippy, playing like a fast-paced mix of a Sicily or a Manhattan murder mystery. The drama unfolds around the book’s multiple characters. Ranganathan has written it in a manner that the book reads as if it is seamlessly coasting on autopilot.
So let me get back to the essence of the book, and not write the whole book here. The book has an interesting sort of appeal, if turned into a movie—there are many filmmakers looking for murder mysteries in Mumbai—it will be a pleasure to watch. You cannot take the characters’ knowledge for granted, throughout the book they are playing up to their quintessential types but in a way that the gripping mystery remains throughout. The language is free-flowing and also free of showboating opportunities.
It has all the news, and also loads of juice. It was the tagline of a magazine that is almost dead. And this is where Ranganathan succeeds. Once again, do not blame me for writing more about how the book finally ends. I am reviewing a mystery murder novel, let some mystery stay.
I will only pick up the last line of the book. “Rajiv knows what he has to do. He runs.”
So, if you are in Delhi, go to Bahrisons or CMYK stores, in Mumbai your destination is Crossword book joints. And in Kolkata the Oxford store.