When June Warner arrives in India to visit her sister Thalia, a trip to take her mind off her jilted engagement, she is greeted by the bright hot chaos of Mumbai but not her sister. She goes to the YMCA where Thalia is staying, only to find that she is not there.
Convinced that Thalia’s no-show is a sign that she is in danger, June begins a desperate search for her younger sister.
Police Commissioner Oscar D’Costa, scarred by the tragedies of his past, swears he will never again ignore his gut instinct when it comes to a missing girl. And with more and more dead foreign women being found in his precinct, he becomes convinced a conspiracy is at play.
Through the two worlds of American naiveté and Indian chaos, they must find the girl who went missing.
Note: I was provided with a copy of this book from the author for review.
From the opening pages Varkey pulls you into the story with intrigue and mystery with cryptic writing and an unknown figure. From a gripping start he takes you on a journey that demonstrates the love and devotion of a women looking for her missing sister, even when that leads her into the underbelly of Mumbai and into the world of trafficking and murder. The dark opening tone is not sustained however, which is great because the writing, while intriguing, would not be enjoyable to read for the entire story; switching points of view also lightens the tone and provides a fresher aspect which is a good balance.
The descriptions of India are vivid and detailed, capturing the gritty underworld, the busy and crowded city, as well as the isolated and remote areas. Most of the novel takes place in Mumbai, and Varkey explores the chaotic and different lives of those that live there. Using June as an outsider, the culture shock is evident and Varkey uses numerous characters and circumstances to explore the good and bad aspects of the culture.
The mystery of June’s missing sister is the majority of the novel, but it doesn’t drag. The evolving mystery means you are always guessing what will happen and whether Thalia is ok. The descriptions of police work and real time processes creates a sense of reality, and Varkey captures the believability with clues that go nowhere and leads that fizzle out; coupled with personal histories of characters spur on the search and with many side stories and connecting characters, the story is multi-focused and well rounded.
The narrative is fast paced but balanced, and there is an ideal amount of pressure across the entire story giving you the sense that anything could happen at any time. There are varying levels of suspense, and from the first pages to the last there is always something to surprise you. The twists often lead you away from what you expect to happen and keep you continually guessing. I loved that the story always kept you guessing, when you thought something would happen suddenly the story shifted, but it doesn’t shift too far from the initial point, it just tweaks your expectations.
A lot of the emotion and real intensity comes from the characters, both innocent and otherwise. June’s love and concern or her sister comes through the page, and the terrible actions of others and the warped rationalisations add another level. The dark and sinister characters were more disturbing because Varkey gets us inside their head, and the inclusion of events and circumstances so close to reality and close to possibility makes it even more unsettling. Characters like D’Costa offer a surprising perspective. His scepticism conflicting with his sense of duty show how personal histories affect every day actions, and through him an idea of everyday life in Mumbai is explored.
There are a lot of characters to focus on, but each plays a part and each one offers something different, whether to June’s search or to the understanding of the situation. June is a great character, she is slightly naive and lacks confidence but you see her grow through the novel, becomes bolder and more confident. Her uncertainty about being in a strange city and knowing no one is pushed aside by concern for her sister, and as she slowly starts to make ground and finds support you can see her strengthen.
There is a mixture of suspense, mystery, and gritty reality that sustains the intrigue and interest throughout. The characters are real and engaging, their own personal lives are explored that bring a depth and wholeness to the story rather well. The multiple perspectives help this and seeing each character’s involvement and thoughts are an added bonus. For a first novel, Varkey has excelled in creating a story that captures you from the start and takes you on a journey of mystery and uncertainty, never sure where it will end up until the final pages.
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