Kolkata Noir by Tom Vater

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Kolkata Noir explores crime in the city of Calcutta during three different times. And tells a story of unfilled love between two people who have only encountered each other three times in forty years. 

I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily. 

… a tough, fascinating, complicated, often contradictory city with a huge personality, wonderful people, incredible architecture and public spaces and a vibrant art scene.

Tom Vater. Kolkata Noir (Kindle Locations 48-50)
Book Cover Kolkata Noir by Tom Vater

Tom Vater is an editor and writer who loves writing about Asian politics, tourism, minorities, etc. He has published his articles in publications, such as The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Marie Claire, and others. He works as a correspondent for Reise-Know-How and The Daily Telegraph, and he also contributes to the Nikkei Asian Review. 

Tom has published several non-fiction books, including Sacred Skin, Burmese Light, and Cambodia: Journey through the Lad of the Khmer. He also co-authored screenplays like The Most Secret Place on Earth about the CIA covert war in Laos in the sixties. 

Tom is a prolific author and has published four novels. Three as part of the Detective Maier trilogy and The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu in May 2021. Kolkata Noir is his most recently published book, available from 1 July 2021. 

Kolkata Noir – Summary 

Kolkata Noir comprises three novellas, titled in the book as Part 1 to 3. The central theme of the book is crime in Kolkata – the capital of East Bengal in India. People called it Calcutta until 2001. The city is also famous as the city where Mother Teresa has done her charity work. 

Each part takes place twenty years apart.

  • Part 1 takes place in the past (1999) when people still called it Calcutta.
  • Part 2 is present-day Kolkata in 2019.
  • Part 3 takes place in the future (2039). The city is now named Killkata.

Noir is a specific genre, defined by Merriam Webster as: 

– crime fiction featuring hard-boiled cynical characters and bleak sleazy settings.
– having a bleak and darkly cynical quality of the kind associated with hard-boiled crime fiction.

Part 1 – 1999 – Calcutta

Richard Dunlop disappears, and Inspectress Madhurima Mitra enlists Beckers to help find him because he knows him a little from previous conversations.

Abir is a drunk and spends his time at cheap bars. He is brutally killed in a dark alley. There are three suspects in the murder triangle, each with its own motive. But who conspired together? Was it his wife, Paulami Roychowdhury, and her young white lover, Richard Dunlop? Or did Paulami conspire with her brother-in-law, Kishore and promised to marry him?

Abir, who spent his nights in filthy Chinatown music bars, ogling women ten times more tired than herself, was good for nothing but his money.

Tom Vater. Kolkata Noir (Kindle Locations 59-60).

For Inspectress Madhurima Mitra – with the Kolkata Police – her career depends on solving this murder case. Being the niece of the well-known and respected detective Mitra – and a woman – adds even more pressure. Will she and Becker be able to figure out the murder conspiracy and bring the suspects to justice?

Also Read:  Bald is Beautiful by Carola Schmidt

Part 2 – 2019 – Kolkata

Two brothers return to India after losing their mother since they felt closer to her there. To survive, they decide to pull a con on the poor people of Kolkata. Aubrey pretends to be Firangi Baba, a foreign sadhu. His audience is slum kids and middle-class hipsters, who show up to hear about his visions. Magnus, his brother work to increase their audience. 

They soon realise that they can’t make money from the poor and decide to use Audrey’s visions to lure people into believing that he had seen the location of Mother Teresa’s lost riches. But they don’t know that this will make them a target of a ruthless gangster who would like those riches for themselves.

Becker, enlisted by the father of the two boys, meets up again with Inspectress Mitra, and they work together to rescue the boys and return them home. 

Part 3 – 2039 – Killkata

In 2039, the once-proud city, now named Killkata, is slowly drowning. Devi, daughter of Inspectress Madhurima Mitra, contacts Becker, asking him to get her mother out of India. Devi fears for her mother’s safety since the police force has collapsed and has become a target of the goondas and Kali Yug nationalists.

And now there are no plane tickets. They’re no longer sold. The last regular flight out of Kolkata left a month ago. Since then it’s charters, a couple of government specials. Even getting to Delhi isn’t easy. The trains are suspended, and the Ganga is so crowded with makeshift boats, that mobility is getting more and more restricted. West Bengal will soon be cut off from the rest of the world.”

Tom Vater. Kolkata Noir (Kindle Locations 1456-1459)

When Becker arrives in Killkata, he discovers Madhurima didn’t leave because her husband, Emran, has disappeared, and she is still hoping for his return. They find out that Joy, part of a circus at Maidin, is keeping him hostage. They want resources – the new currency of Killkata – in this case, a plane ticket to get out. 

They rescue Emran, and Becker gives his two tickets to Madhurima and Emran, and they leave Becker behind in Killkata. He stays at Madhurima’s property in Darjeeling, which is safe from the flooding in Killkata, and farm the land together with the remaining members of the circus. 

What did I like? 

A city of contrasts

Kolkata Noir is a book focusing on crime in the city of Kolkata, from past to future. The author let us experience the city at three different times – 1999, 2019, and 2039. 

Even though Calcutta in 1999 still holds some of its former glory, we can already see the contrast between the areas where members from the different social caste’ lives. 

Kolkata in 2019 is a place of despair and poverty, where the rich have all the privileges, and there is no protection for the poor. 

Killkata in 2039 is a city mostly underwater, but a more significant threat is the crime and Hindu death squads. The author uses clever wordplay in the name (Kill-kata) to refer to this city in its death throes and how the remaining citizen lives in constant fear for their lives.

Also Read:  Blood Dragon by Freddie P Peters

An unfulfilled love

The central characters in all three stories are Inspectress Madhurima Mitra and Becker. When they met in 1999, they both felt an attraction between them. But because of their completed investigation, he can’t stay. 

Becker returns to India in 2019 on an assignment and looks forward to meeting with Madhurima again. It disappoints him to learn that she got married and has a daughter. He suspects that she may have feelings for him. But out of respect for her marriage – he doesn’t pursue it. 

But it’s good to see you too. You have become a man. And I have become a mother. We have to make the best of it.

Tom Vater. Kolkata Noir (Kindle Locations 1135-1136)

In 2039 Becker returns to Killkata to rescue Madhurima and take her to Scotland to her daughter. But when they discover her husband Emran is still alive, it dashes his hope of a future together. This time it is Madhurima who leaves and Becker who stays behind. 

And not so much? 

It would have been helpful if the author included a glossary of typical Indian words to explain cultural terms that some readers may not know.

Should you read Kolkata Noir

The author did a great job of integrating a love story into this gritty crime book. Becker and Madhurima’s lives touch each other every twenty years. But despite the attraction between them, they can never pursue their feelings. 

The author introduces us to the city of Calcutta, in different eras, as well as Indian cultures and customs. 

Readers who enjoy books about India and its culture can also read my review of Why Are You Here, a collection of short stories. Or check out my review of A Time for Violence, an anthology of gritty crime stories. 

A man and woman from different cultures meet sporadically and feel attracted to each other. Due to their individual circumstances, they can’t fulfil their love. Inspectress Madhurima eventually gets married, but Becker does not. In your opinion, is it because he was hoping for a future with Madhurima, unlike as it might seem? We would love to hear from you. Please share with us in the comments.

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Book Info

Language:

English

Print Length:

308 pages

Publication Date:

6 May 2017

Text-to-Speech | Screen Reader | Enhanced Typesetting | Word Wise

Categories: Medical Thrillers

Trigger Warnings: Euthanasia | Marital Violence | Sexual References | Profanity

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I have started reading at the age of four. I can remember how I often read under the covers with a flashlight when I was supposed to sleep.

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