Crime and punishment in India
Vikas Swarup’s Six Suspects is not an ordinary murder mystery. Vicky Rai is as awful a reprobate as an author could create—“the poster boy for sleaze in this country.” Insider trading, defrauding investors, bribery and tax evasion are just the beginning. He lacks any remorse for having run down six people while drunkenly driving the swanky BMW his father gave him for a birthday present. As a follow-up, he kills two bucks on a wildlife sanctuary. Finally, in a crowded bar, he shoots a beautiful bartender named Ruby Gill point-blank in the face, angry that she wouldn’t serve him another drink after closing time.
If there’s anything Vicky excels at, it’s escaping punishment. After a five-year trial, he’s found not guilty of this grotesque crime. But while celebrating his acquittal at a blowout bash, he is shot to death. The police seal the scene and search all the guests, identifying six suspects, each of whom is carrying a different gun.
And it’s here that Swarup’s story takes off. Not only does he reject the standard structure for a crime novel, there is also no traditional detective or brave hero to be found. Rather than planting clues and flashing red herrings, he tells the tale of each of the suspects—a career bureaucrat suffering from split personality disorder (half the time he believes he’s Mahatma Gandhi), a scary-naïve American tourist who’s come to India thinking he’s getting a mail-order bride, a cell phone thief, a tribesman from the Andaman Islands, a sexy Bollywood actress, and Vicky’s own father.
Swarup has taken an ambitious step with this book, and it’s a fascinating and complex read, as well as a journey through diverse views of modern India. Rich with culture, this novel should not be left out of any holidaymaker’s suitcase.
Tasha Alexander is the author of And Only to Deceive. Her latest novel, Tears of Pearl, will be published in September.