Book Review by Koi Kye Lee
Title: No Illusions in Xanadu
Author: Ruby Gupta
Publisher: Bloomsbury India (2019)
No Illusions in Xanadu is a murder mystery novel by Ruby Gupta, a professor working in Dehradun Institute of Technology, India. This is her eighth book, having published seven others comprising of fiction and non-fiction books. No Illusions in Xanadu is the second book in her mystery and crime series featuring a dapper detective, Professor Shantanu Bose.
Life in Mumbai came to a standstill when the handsome, charming and legendary Bollywood superstar Rajvir Kapoor was found dead in his study room. He was shot to death on the 30th floor of his swanky new home, Xanadu, named after the hi-tech home of Mandrake the Magician, one of the first super-heroes of the early twentieth century popularised by comic strips of the same name.
Rajvir’s body was discovered by his domestic help, Rose, who then called his wife Pallavi. A popular television host, Pallavi was at a meeting discussing her new talk show with India TV channel when she was informed of her husband’s death. Masking her shock after the telephone call, Pallavi quickly excused herself and rushed home. As she regained control and composure in her luxury car, Pallavi remained skeptical as she had seen Rajvir alive a few hours ago. Both of them had hosted the grandest party in Xanadu where the country’s elite – celebrities, business associates, family and friends – were in attendance. Xanadu, compared by the author to the Ambani home, was the place to be!
Leading the investigation, Inspector Bhogle revealed that Bollywood’s darling hero was murdered and everyone in the house, especially the family were the prime suspects. The guests too, were not spared and were questioned. The dapper detective Professor Shantanu Bose, first introduced to readers in Gupta’s 2013 book titled A Degree in Death, is a house guest at Xanadu during the time of the murder. An eminent nano-expert with a knack for solving crimes, the professor is forced to join the investigation.
Finding himself in an alien world of the rich and famous, Professor Shantanu starts to uncover skeletons in the family’s closet as he investigates every close associate of the dead actor. During his investigations, he stumbles upon murky secrets kept by the family — Rajvir’s affairs, business dealings, his second family and another love child with a young foreign actress. As the plot intensifies with Pallavi emerging as a prime suspect, a curve ball is thrown into his investigation when the actor’s other son from the actor’s second wife, Chandra Prakash, is found stabbed to death in his room. As he struggles to solve this murder mystery, Professor Shantanu also finds himself irresistibly attracted to the prime suspect. He has to manage a tightrope between solving a murder and handling his emotion.
No Illusions in Xanadu has a simple plot, yet it is filled with twists. The narrative is centred around Professor Shantanu and Inspector Bhogle as the former helps the latter to solve the crime. Even though the story is focused around the actor’s family and closest friends, the writer has included too many unnecessary characters which complicates the clean storyline. Readers may find themselves weaving in and out of the lives of different characters who has no connection with Rajvir in some parts of the book.
Although Professor Shantanu appears to be suave and intelligent, more colour and personality could have been injected into other characters who are suspected of murder. Her knowledge on Mumbai’s social landscape and media industry is commendable. She has also managed to make comparisons between the fictitious home of the actor, Xanadu, and Antilia, India’s business magnate Mukesh Ambani’s controversial home.
No Illusions in Xanadu has a moderate pace and while several parts of the book continues gripping, more focus could have been placed on the professor’s crime solving skills, which seems to be sorely lacking. The strength of this novel lies in Gupta’s ability to humanise the rich and famous and that having money does not equate to happiness.
Koi Kye Lee is a senior journalist with an appetite for current affairs and politics. She has worked in both Malaysia and Singapore. Her first fiction was published in Write Out Loud, a compilation of short stories by young Malaysian writers.
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