ANITA Nair says she hasn’t read much crime fiction. But having cut my teeth on Agatha Christie and her ilk, I can truthfully say I enjoy the crime-solving skills and gruffly appealing personality of her very own detective, Borei Gowda. Gowda appeared in 2012 in her first crime fiction novel, Cut Like Wound. And in a fortnight he will reappear in the next in the series, Chain of Custody.
Particularly appealing to me is Gowda’s fallibility, his normalcy. He is cranky, cynical, paunchy (though he’s taken up running now) and not entirely satisfied with his life, but his sleuthing ability – his sixth sense – remains stellar. I asked Nair how she thought up his character and its idiosyncrasies. “From the start, I had a mental image of a policeman called Gowda on a bike (a 500 cc 1991 Bullet). But his character built up gradually. He likes to drink – first, I thought whisky – but later changed to Old Monk rum. As an ex-Josephite of his era, he likes listening to hard rock – he has an urban streak though he isn’t sophisticated. At almost 50, he decides to get a tattoo – a 3-by-5-inch motorbike wheel with wings. It’s his secret joy, one that he hides from his wife. He’s like a young person who hasn’t blossomed fully.”
Distracted by the return of his college sweetheart, Urmila, Gowda rediscovers his lost youth and a frozen part of him comes to life even as he fights to keep his attention on the job. “He’s not a casual philanderer. Just a good man with flaws.” So how does Gowda grow in the new book? “He’s more introspective now. He’s got a wife and a mistress. He isn’t willing to relinquish Urmila who gives him emotional sustenance, yet won’t consider divorce.” His trusty sidekick, Santosh is back from the jaws of death, and there’s a new female sub inspector in the mix.
For Nair, whose primary genre is literary fiction, the switch to crime wasn’t hard. She says Gowda “allows me to make social commentary, and I love that. So in some sense, I’m using literary fiction techniques in crime fiction – literary noir really.” The ‘noir’ here is the dark subject Gowda must grapple with this time – child trafficking – a subject Nair wanted to address. “I wanted to bring a sense of immediacy to the book and since I already had Gowda, I could deal with this subject in a real, tangible way, not from a distance as in literary fiction. The reality of child trafficking is hard to deal with even for the police, so you get a sense of what his character is going through.”
Nair mentally works through the storyline before she starts writing. She explains, “I have a rough structure in my head and know where the story’s heading, but occasionally move things around. The story must be clear, the thoughts completed and loopholes plugged. As a reader, I’d be disappointed by unfinished thou-ghts and irrelevant characters.” There’s nothing unfinished about Inspector Gowda. You’ll soon see.