By Monideepa Sahu
Title: The Trial of Four
Author: Manjiri Prabhu
Publisher: Bloomsbury India
Price: Rs 399
This intriguing mystery by an Indian author is set entirely in Europe, in the historic city of Salzburg, Austria. The novel brings to life the beauty and rich heritage of an old European city, which serves as a striking backdrop for an exciting intrigue. The three-century-old heart of a princely archbishop is mysteriously stolen from its place of rest. Who would do such a thing, and why? An insane criminal is out to destroy the pillars of the city’s heritage and culture. Re, a photo journalist and psychic, Isabel the beautiful local historian, police chief Stefan and hotelier Dan, who is managing the prestigious high profile Salzburg Global Seminar in the Schloss, are compelled to work together to stop impending disaster. As the threats materialise and mayhem unfolds, they must figure out which of the city’s many historic landmarks will be the next target, and prevent further chaos.
It’s a well-crafted, exciting story that will keep you turning the pages all night long. The mystery and fast-paced action are cleverly plotted. There are deliciously interwoven mysteries within mysteries, leaving readers with never a dull moment. There’s even a mystery from the historic past, coming alive in the present. Renowned theatre director Max Reinhardt once owned the majestic Schloss, a luxurious palace by the lake. Forced to flee the Nazi advance during World War II, he left behind a series of complex clues to an unsolved mystery, a hidden secret. As the hours until the next attacks tick away, our heroes must solve the clues and hand over the hidden treasure to the shadowy perpetrator of the attacks on the city’s landmarks. This is the only hope to halt further destruction.
Isabel’s American husband Justin has vanished, and is suspected to be dead. He has left cryptic messages which connect to the attacks on the city. Is Isabel really an innocent, grieving wife, or does she have a hand in Justin’s murder? Is she truly working to solve the clues and save the city, or is she in league with the enemy?
This novel is great material for a film adaptation, with spectacular settings and nail-biting, edge-of the-seat action. With drones spraying toxic gas, floods from the city’s underground water supply system threatening to engulf the city, an explosion in a famous cathedral filled with praying devotees and tourists, shock waves are threatening the very foundations of a city famed for art, culture and fine living.
The plot and the mystery take readers on a virtual tour of Salzburg, and its history and heritage. It is a delightful bonus to the reading experience. Salzburg in all its beauty, is brought to vivid life. The shimmering lake with its undulating blue-green waves, the surrounding mountains, the magnificent Schloss, a historic palace turned hotel that dazzles “like an eternal bride in glitter and gold”; the vivid descriptions are deftly woven into the action. The Schloss, a focal point of the novel’s action, has its own fascinating history. “Concerts, theatre performances, serenades by the lake; the Schloss had created so many careers, ignited so many affairs – it was the perfect baroque dream.”
The novel at times rises beyond complex mysteries to present a blend of beautiful settings juxtaposed against many facets of subjective realities. “Laughter trickled in from the street, carefree and happy. As if just some hours ago the cathedral had not been almost blown apart, as if the threat to the fourth Pillar was only a frightening dream, as if every ticking minute they were not getting closer to a horrendous conclusion. That was why truth was subjective, reality had such different dimensions and memory was sweet and short.”
The characters are convincingly drawn, with light but firm touches which do not distract from the compelling action. Re, the photographer, journalist and psychic sleuth, has an Indian father and a French mother. As such, there are passing Asian cultural references in the story. Whenever faced with a difficult situation, Re clutches his ‘Om’ pendant, that powerful Hindu symbol, to regain spiritual equilibrium and focus. Since the author is Indian, one may have expected a stronger Indian and Asian connection. However, this does not dilute the overall reading pleasure. Readers can expect the unexpected, and turn the last page with a satisfied smile.
The reviewer is the Fictional Editor of Kitaab