Book Review by Namrata
Title: She Stoops to Kill — Stories of Crime and Passion
Editor: Preeti Gill
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books
Date of Publication: 2019
She Stoops to Kill is a collection of crime stories written by some of the most illustrious women writers of India. A chanced discussion at Guwahati airport between Preeti Gill and the featured authors about the rising crime rates featured in daily newspapers matured into an anthology of murder stories.
Preeti Gill is a renowned name in the literary circles, having worked in the publishing industry for more than two decades now. She has donned various hats during this period, ranging from being a writer, commissioning editor, rights manager, script writer, researcher and is now, an independent editor and literary agent.
This collection brings together a heady combination of renowned authors like Paro Anand, Venita Coelho, Uddipana Goswami, Manjula Padmanabhan, Janice Pariat, Mitra Phukan, Pratyaksha and Bulbul Sharma. Interestingly, each one of them is a stalwart in their own merit, having written award-winning titles but none had ever written crime or mystery. As the editor, Preeti Gill mentions in the introduction, “The writers I chose for this anthology don’t usually write crime, and much less murder, but once they decided to take this on I was absolutely stunned by the variety, the enthusiasm, the imaginative detail and also the macabre bloodiness of their stories.”
The eight stories featured herein, each murkier than the other, are hair raising and spine chilling till the end. Though some of the endings are predictable, that doesn’t take away anything from their unrivalled storylines. While the stories are of crime and passion, the murders are confined to the domestic sphere. Each writer has killed off a spouse, partner, sibling, child, lover (ex, spurned, jilted) or partner.
The first story, ‘Poison in the Paan’ by Mitra Phukan seemed like an extension of Gulzar’s critically acclaimed film Libaas which was, unfortunately, never released in India. Phukan’s story seems to take off from where Gulzar’s story concludes in the cult classic. While reading the story, I could imagine famed actors — Shabana Azmi, Raj Babbar and Naseeruddin Shah — in the role of the three primary characters of the story. Despite having murder at its core, reading this one was enlivening.
For me, Manjula Padmanabhan’s ‘Serial Killer’ was the goriest read. Every page gave me goosebumps with its abysmal imagery. I usually prefer reading at night, but with this story, I had to break that chain and finish this story during the day. The manner in which Padmanabhan has captured the minute nuances of what goes in a serial killer’s mind is remarkable with language that is rich and layered.
‘My entire life has been one of extreme, exquisite deliberation. I have no choice: after all, I do not want to be found out.’
Janice Pariat’s ‘The Nurse’ was the surprise package in this collection. Having loved her previous works, I was really looking forward to her story and she didn’t disappoint at all. The brilliant twist towards the end of the story reminded me of O’Henry and his now well-known twist-in-a-tale style of writing. She has a way with words, one that strikes a chord with the reader almost instantaneously and transports you to another world.
‘It felt cosmic, like a connection to something deep in the universe that gave life and took it away. It spread, like the veins of a city, seen from a light at night. Unstoppable, and eventually incurable.’
While Venita Coelho’s ‘Sister’ talks about dual existence bar dancers have to battle with, Uddipana Goswami’s ‘Beloved of Flowers’ deals with teen-pregnancy in a never-before-seen manner. ‘Ginny Kalra, I loved you’ by Pratyaksha is one story with so many twists! Till the very end there is no remotest possibility of guessing the murderer. The last two stories, A ‘Murder in the wedding season’ by Bulbul Sharma and ‘And then he said’ by Paro Anand, were dark and chilling. Deeply reminiscent of some of the Crime Patrol (a TV show based on real life crime incidents) episodes I remember watching not many years ago, these stories show the menacing reality of our society exceptionally well.
While the stories are meant to be entertaining, one cannot rule out their plausibleness. And that, is perhaps the saddest part. On the other hand, it is uplifting to read stories revolving around women characters who are strong, independent, opinionated and unapologetically honest about being their true selves. At one glance they may seem like an extension of every Indian woman and all of a sudden, they turn into someone we all aspire to be. Prabeena, Heera, Banno Bua, Kuxumpriya are some unforgettable characters, whom the reader will remember long after they have read their stories.
Traversing across the length and breadth of the country, these stories take us through scenic locales in India and give us a glimpse of life there, as it is. From conspiring to execution, this collection is par excellence. With riveting characters, taut narration and lucid writing, the stories are exhilarating. What makes this all the more fascinating is the fact that this is the first attempt by the authors in writing crime and they have done a stellar job at it.
Namrata is a lost wanderer who loves travelling the length and breadth of the world. She lives amidst sepia toned walls, fuchsia curtains, fairy lights and shelves full of books. When not buried between the pages of a book, she loves blowing soap bubbles. A published author she enjoys capturing the magic of life in her words and is always in pursuit of a new country and a new story. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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