What happens when the glitzy world of moviemaking Bombay meets the gritty conventions of film noir
? With luck, something like this dazzlingly ambitious novel from Canadian journalist Leslie Forbes. "I haven't seen the eunuch in almost four weeks. Ignore what I wrote you before. No need to come here and rescue me," Miranda Sharma writes her sister from Bombay, in a disconcertingly "schizophrenic" postcard that sends Rosalind Bengal across continents and deep into a world where nothing is what it seems. Part Scottish, part Indian, Roz is a crime journalist who can't help following a good lead when it appears, especially when her sister's welfare is at stake. Miranda recently married one of the Indian film industry's most prominent directors, Prosper Sharma, a man who's spent 20 years working on a movie version of The Tempest
and who is rumored to have murdered his first wife. After her postcard, four hijra
--eunuchs or transvestites--are found drowned in an eight week period, one of them with alleged connections to the film industry. Coincidence or not, Roz feels compelled to investigate.
What follows is a most unusual thriller, and not just by virtue of its setting. Crackling with wordplay and allusion, and set against a city that resembles nothing so much as a stage set under construction, the hyper-literate Bombay Ice sports influences ranging from Shakespeare to Sunset Boulevard, chaos theory to Raymond Chandler. In between meditations on alchemy, entropy, and the science of weather, Forbes constructs an intricate story charged with all the tension of the coming monsoon. The result is never less than interesting, even when, as occasionally happens, the book's intellectual concerns threaten to overpower its plot.
From Publishers Weekly
Fans of An Instance of the Fingerpost will find Forbes's debut novel an equally intricate literary thriller suffused with exotic atmosphere. The distinctive element here is not historical but cultural and climatic: the imminent arrival of the monsoon in Bombay, India, is juxtaposed with the escalating tension as protagonist Roz Bengal (aka Rosalind Benegal), a London-based radio producer and filmer of crime videos for TV, races to find a murderer before she and her sister Miranda suffer the consequences. Born in India and named by her pedant father after Shakespeare's heroine (one of many such allusions to the Bard), Roz has returned after a long absence, summoned by a cryptic note from a pregnant Miranda hinting that her husband, famed film producer Prosper Sharma, murdered his first wife, an aging movie star who was proving an impediment to his movie of The Tempest. The death of several hijras (eunuchs who are transvestites) is the first clue to Roz that her brother-in-law is connected to the criminal underworld, to corrupt government officials and to a disreputable forger of coins and antiques. As her investigation proceeds, Roz has opportunities to discourse about the science of weather prediction, the chemical properties of poison, the art of gilding and the technique of lost wax casting, among other esoteric subjects. With her swimmer's shoulders, grunge haircut and insouciant attitude, Roz is a quixotic heroine: reckless and full of bluff and bravado, she is also a two-fisted and indiscriminate drinker and a woman who allows herself to be abused during sex. The reasons for her self-destructive behavior do not become completely clear until the end of the novel, but meanwhile there is plenty of violence and gore (including ritual torture and a bucket of blood), plus betrayals, chases, a striking cobra and lots of red herrings. The drawback to the digression-prone narrative is a loss of tension: the threat of murder almost becomes secondary to the flow of information on the seamy side of the "Bollywood" film industry, the quotidian reality of high-level corruption in government and the wretched lives of India's masses. Yet it's this bombardment of rich detail that makes the story interesting, augmented by Forbes's striking imagery and a progression of colorful and eccentric characters. Major ad/promo; rights sold in Holland, Germany, Italy and Sweden; audio rights to Soundelux Audio. (July) FYI: A Canadian who attended London's Royal College of Art, Forbes is a travel and food writer (A Table in Tuscany) and produces shows for BBC's Radio 4.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.