By Rimli Bhattacharya
Title: A Closetful of Skeletons
Author: Tanushree Podder
Publisher: Harper Black, 2017.
Those who are interested in suspense and detective novels and are also ardent readers of such novels would love Tanushree Podder’s A Closetful of Skeletons, which offers a chilling mystery for you to solve.
The story revolves around Ramola – a stunning forty-year-old actress, who suddenly withdraws from public life at the peak of her glory in the Bollywood film industry. She becomes a recluse and starts to live in a picturesque hilly town called Ramsar. Among her neighbors are retired couples, including a colonel, a judge, a doctor and also a professor. Ramola lives in Charmwood Cottage for which she has actually paid a large sum from her savings, when she decided to retire and turn ascetic. Her only companions are her gardener, a cook, and a domestic-help. She leads an idyllic life without incident, when she decides to write her autobiography. During her strolls around the neighbourhood, she bumps into Tia, who has also arrived in Ramsar to cope with heartbreak and is in need of a sabbatical. Ramola and Tia share a common bond of desolation and soon become confidantes to each other. Since Tia wants to write a novel and Ramola her memoir, the two of them decide to collaborate on Ramola’s memoir.
The twist in this gripping novel comes, when Ramola decides to invite several men from her life for her birthday party and make a strange announcement. Some of the men are well-known and some are small-time casual lovers. They include a top notch film director, a politician, a fading actor, an underworld don, and a Casanova. She invites them personally to her birthday party with the promise of an important announcement. The director, politician, and the don, though initially reluctant, cannot get over Ramola, whom they had loved once upon a time. They are equally curious to know about the announcement and arrive at Ramsar to attend her birthday bash. The actor and the gigolo sound more than happy and immediately agree to meet Ramola with hopes to catch up with her again as well as thinking if there might be a chance to regain their own stardom with her influence.
On the night of her birthday party, she announces that she will soon publish her tell-all memoir. On hearing this, each of those men tries to dissuade her and Ramola is dragged back into the deception and chicanery she thought she had left behind. Mita Ghosh, reviewing this novel for The Hindu, writes that Ramola has a “nasty surprise in store for these men, some of whom had been instrumental in her celluloid success, but had also exploited her cruelly: at the party, she announces her plans of publishing her memoir, a no-holds-barred exposé featuring them. Hackles are raised, fear is generated and murder is inevitable.” Ultimately, Ramola is murdered and after a few days the lifeless body of Tia is also discovered.
For the next few days, the police as well as Colonel Arjun H Acharya, who is helping the police, are on their toes, trying to solve the two murders.
Ramola’s life has not been squeaky clean and the novel highlights this from the first chapter on. The novel also projects the lives of several actresses and other women. Women are often objects of lust to men, to be used and thrown away, and this novel is bound to touch a raw nerve in any woman, who has had a similar past. For the men who have flirted with and bedded several women but have never loved, this novel will be a surprise to them as well.
The author, Tanushree Podder, revealed, in an earlier interview, that she had this idea for Ramola’s character after reading a newspaper report. Podder said that writing a novel in any genre can be a challenging process. She believes that detective fiction offers a real challenge because one has to make sure that the crime is believable and the readers don’t discover the murderer too early in the book. On why she had chosen a character like Ramola who had some grey areas open to the interpretation of readers, she said in the interview “All human beings have grey areas. No one is totally white or black. Ramola is a Bollywood star, who worked her way up to the top of the ladder through various machinations. With no sugar daddies.”
A Closetful of Skeletons does not root for the central character. The reader’s empathy is born out of identification with Ramola’s internal struggles. In her tweet chat with the portal, Women’s Web, Podder revealed that she created Ramola’s character with the belief that readers become invested in a story only if they can identify with a character. Ramola is a woman whom people would love to hate, while empathizing with her. Inspired by female characters like Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, Margaret Mitchell’s Scarlett O’Hara and Melanie Hamilton Wilkes, this novel is a perfect read. Just like Ramola’s neighbor, the retired army officer Arjun H. Acharya, the reader might also try to solve the crime as they read it.
The book is unputdownable. As a reader, I kept turning the pages to know who killed the movie star. The plot is sharp and the storytelling is racy. I was hooked until the very end. The novel is the author’s first tryst with crime fiction and she deserves a big thumbs up for it.
Rimli Bhattacharya completed Mechanical Engineering from National Institute of Technology. After obtaining an MBA, she worked in the corporate sector. Rimli is a trained Indian classical dancer, based out of Mumbai, India. She tweets at: @rimli76
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