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Witty murder mystery: Club you to death

EducationWorld January 2022 | Books Magazine


Club you to death
Anuja Chauhan
Harper collins india
Pages 432

Anuja Chauhan’s new novel is set around a seemingly simple murder perpetrated in the Delhi Turf Club, a space for a privileged set who believe that they are the glamourous last standing people who will protect Delhi from falling at the hands of what they term to be the “ills of modernity”.

The Club has an intricate system of rules set in an even more intricately mapped area populated by members who subscribe to the power and luxury that comes with a membership card. As the novel progresses, however, one realises that the mapping of the Club is more about cordoning off people into clean-cut divisions of members and nonmembers and less about the actual place which the Club inhabits.

There is trouble brewing from the first moment when the reader is invited to the Club. There are beautiful, competent women, suspicious husbands, silent almost invisible but watchful staff, bored, adventurous youngsters, and even the odd rebel who wants to escape from the suffocating timehonoured, family-bound club membership. Regardless, the club members all love rumour and gossip as much as they love keeping their own secrets close to themselves. But people notice. And there are grave consequences.

On a typical morning, when the ladies walk to the Zumba class, they find to their great astonishment, that their handsome trainer is dead, crushed by the very gym equipment which gave him access to the otherwise off-limits club.

Enter ACP Bhavani who lives by an entirely different set of rules — slow, almost lethargic in his actions but also alert and observant. If the novel is amusingly Zoya Akhtar’s Dil Dhadakne Do meets Agatha Christie, then Bhavani is the desi answer to Poirot.

Yet, Chauhan manages to create a detective who while paying homage to “the little grey cells” of Poirot, is entirely novel and unique. Impassive, seemingly agreeing with everyone, Bhavani is able to cleverly co-opt club members as friends and also, softly but certainly, make them spill their secrets. With sharpness of wit and intelligence, Bhavani understands the power play behind the social soirees and rumourmongering but works according to his own ideals and beliefs, standing up even against his own superiors in his characteristically smooth style.

The DTC’s monopoly over its space crumbles as people begin to move in from the margins, creating a permeability that is deemed to be dangerous by club members but as the novel progresses, there are worse dangers.

Secrets are uncovered and the club’s history reveals shocking secrets under its foundations, literally at times. There are fingers pointing in all directions and everything looks like a clue and a red herring at the same time. Chauhan deftly creates a plot that flows with ease despite the confusing murder mystery on hand and her strength is her piercing social commentary that lurks behind every dialogue, character and event, as she moves both in and beyond club premises offering different images and facets of Delhi. The unique yet familiar characters excite annoyance rather than admiration but that is part of a satire that promises to unearth intrigues masked by pretty flowers, parties and decorative initiatives.

And the intrigues don’t disappoint. From a suspicious romance to political conspiracies to imaginary ghosts, there is something for everyone.

Chauhan keeps us interested with her sharp writing peppered with changing points-of-view and conversations that take place off-stage, so to speak. One knows more than the detective at any point of time. But can one zero in on a murderer from the suspicious lot of people?

Unlike most detective fiction, Club You to Death has enough people with sufficient motive that makes it difficult to figure out who the murderer could be. New information turns up regularly to throw the reader (and the many self-proclaimed detectives that populate the club) off-track at every turn of the plot. From threatening letters that appear on windshields to text messages and exchanges one has access to, Chauhan plays with the textual quality of the novel to add mystery to murder. She does so with consistent humour, sass and wit, as cleverly as the antics of ACP Bhavani, so that when the murderer is finally exposed the reader can sit back with satisfaction at the clear way the pieces fall into place.

Anuja Chauhan is the author of bestselling novels The Zoya Factor, Battle for Bittora, Those Pricey Thakur Girls, The House that BJ Built and Baaz. Her novels have been picked up for movie production post their huge popularity with readers. Club You to Death is her latest novel which marks her spot in the whodunit genre by paying homage to an Agatha Christie style plot within a glittery Delhi setting.

ZAHRA RIZVI(Book Review)

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