Review: Catching the Departed: Too much of a banana

Ambreen Momin reviews Catching the Departed by Kulpreet Yadav for Kitaab

Kulpreet Yadav, Catching the DepartedIn the opening of Kulpreet Yadav’s third novel, Andy Karan expresses his appreciation for his favourite fruit – “Easy to eat, a banana wasn’t time consuming.” Much like the humble banana, Catching the Departed is an easy, quick read.

The book is shortlisted for the Hachette-DNA ‘Hunt for the next bestseller,’ and I can see why: with a delightfully mad villain at the helm of an evil conspiracy, the main storyline is entertaining indeed. In terms of the plot, Yadav combines the quick pace of English crime fiction with a good splash of masala – romance, action, a good versus evil showdown, and tragedy. There are enough twists and turns to keep the reader involved and guessing until the end – helped along by Yadav’s clean, fluid writing.  

The grandiose Bollywood-esque nature of the plot carries the novel, but I have to hope that Yadav will spare more thought to his characters in the future. Yadav’s talent is inherent in the sheer amount of empathy a reader has for the characters that appear only briefly in the novel – it is unfortunate that this empathy does not appear to extend to the protagonist himself.

Andy is not quite a Sherlock Holmes or a James Bond, although he appears to want to be both – he’s more of a Poirot, or an Inspector Clouseau. The ingredients are there: an ex-military man, a hard-boiled investigative journalist – but the only real skill we see in Departed is military-style tactical execution. As an investigative journalist, he is a bit of a failure: information tends to find him instead of the other way around, and his sources have a nasty habit of ending up dead.

Although he is positioned as a killing machine, a sleuth, and a lady killer, Andy’s investigation is haphazard and flawed, leading him to discover nearly nothing for himself. There are times when he appears almost inhuman – soaking in the loss of life around him without really reflecting or allowing it to change him at all. Even on the romance front, the seemingly suave Andy only manages to attract his over-the-hill ex-model boss.

That brings me to what was by far the biggest disappointment in the novel: Monica, the aforementioned over-the-hill, ex-model boss.

Presented with all the right ingredients for a femme fatale, Monica proves to be a lacklustre, soggy dud. Her origin story is fantastic: a woman discarded by the superficial modelling industry, who claws her way back to relevancy through cold, hard, and occasionally unethical journalism. She is an intuitive, savvy, modern Indian woman, who understands fully that her beauty is only one tool in the arsenal at her disposal, and that in order to get what she wants, she must take it for herself.

As the plot progresses, Monica proves her brains, figuring out who the evil mastermind behind the crimes is long before Andy does. She even opts to carry out her own investigation concurrent to Andy’s to make sure that she finds the truth.

For all intents and purposes, Monica is the true hero of Departed. But somehow, her brain switches off when Andy enters the picture. The difference between her personality away from Andy and with him is drastic and jarring. It almost feels as if someone suggested to Yadav that Departed needed a romantic subplot, and Yadav re-wrote only the scenes in which Andy and Monica are together to make it happen, instead of re-gearing Monica’s character altogether. The romance is unnaturally tacked onto an otherwise decent whodunit – ultimately killing off the most real, engaging, well-rounded character.

Aside from the characters, Yadav’s Catching the Departed is a promising step forward for Indian crime fiction in English. Yadav spins together the dramatic flair of Bollywood and the fast-paced crime thriller to make a surprisingly good tale.