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Book Review: The Bangalore Detectives Club by Harini Nagendra

Book cover of The Bangalore Detectives Club by Harini Nagendra on an iPad screen. It is set on a floral beaded mat with a candle and a glass bottle with a plant stem with leaves

The Bangalore Detectives Club by Harini Nagendra is one of those soft mystery books that take you on a journey while investigating a crime. It is the first instalment of the Kaveri and Ramu mysteries set in pre-Independence India. The reader gets an inkling of the socio-political situation around the time, providing an interesting background for the story to evolve in.

Harini Nagendra

Harini Nagendra is a professor of ecology at Azim Premji University. She writes on issues of nature and sustainability and has published works of non-fiction on the topic of sustainability in urban areas. The Bangalore Detectives Club is her first work of fiction.

The Bangalore Detectives Club: Sleuthing in a Sari

Our newly-wed heroine Kaveri is new to the big city. However, her curiosity and love for learning make her stand apart from most women around her. At a dinner party she attends with her husband Ramu, she witnesses an altercation that has led to a murder. When a poor, vulnerable woman becomes a suspect, Kaveri puts her inquisitiveness to good use to get her name cleared. But then, another innocent woman is imprisoned because of her low standing in the social hierarchy. 

Another woman discarded by society for failing to live up to its standards of ‘good womanhood’.

Kaveri becomes impatient with the slow progress of the official investigation and decides to take matters into her own hands. Her husband, Ramu, and Inspector Ismail support her as she talks to women who would only confide in another woman. 

Slowly, Kaveri gains confidence and establishes a circle of women friends that defies the set societal norms based on caste, class and gender.

The soft suspense of The Bangalore Detectives Club was a good change from the dark reality of crime fiction. It fluctuated between a good mystery and predictability. There weren’t a lot of twists and turns. It doesn’t take much to guess the culprit, although the narrative is good enough to keep you engaged.

I am conflicted about the ending of the book. The issue of mental illness could have been handled with more sensitivity, even if we consider the general practice of the era it is written in.

Since the story starts off hinting at a completely different crime, I’m guessing that the next installment of the series will deal with that. Otherwise the first few pages seemed pointless.

Pre-Independence India

Throughout the book, there are hints at the political situation and the sentiments of native residents during the British Raj. Although the author chooses not to delve into the details of life under the British, her contempt is evident through her characters. Of course, not everything is painted with a negative brush stroke. Everyone White is not evil. 

Kaveri notices the dichotomy between the Englishman Robert’s behaviour with his colleagues as compared to his behaviour with his house staff whom he orders around as they do not deserve respect. However, I find this behaviour to be true in many Indian households even today.

The lives of women in The Bangalore Detectives Club

Women’s dreams were only as big as their husbands’ egos would permit them to be.

The Bangalore Detectives Club talks about the many social practices and taboos that were prevalent at the time. For example, Kaveri is married when she’s barely out of her teenage years and that too is late for that era as most of her friends have been married much before. Fortunately for her, her husband Ramu proves to be a progressive man who adores his wife and she can continue to study for her exams.

Ironically, the men in her life, Ramu and her father encourage her quest for knowledge and education; while the women in her life, her mother and mother-in-law, try to bind her to homely duties and see an educated, free-thinking woman as a burden.

On the other hand, the Englishwoman who seems to be more educated and have more freedom than Indian women languished at home only attending frivolous parties and minding her children.

The Bangalore Detectives Club by Harini Nagendra is the perfect holiday read. If you’re into hardcore crime and thriller books, then you might want to give this book a miss. However, if you like some social drama and background to go along with a bit of intrigue, then I would recommend you add it to your reading list.

Verdict: Read

Note: Some links are part of an affiliate program, which means that if you click on a link and buy something, I might receive a percentage of the sale, at no extra cost to you. 

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