Magazine 2013
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
RH, VOL. 3 JULY 2013  
‘Body of Evidence’: The New Breed Of  
Indian Crime Fiction Writers – Cares And Concerns  
Jayashree Palit  
In recent times there has been quite a deluge of Indian crime fiction writers and the paper  
attempts to analyze this trend in contemporary Indian English Writing focusing on detective fiction or  
whodunits in particular. More specifically the paper will take up for detailed study the following novels:  
Kiran Mamal’s ‘The Reluctant Detective’ Aditya Sudharshan’s ‘A Nice Quiet Holiday’ Smita Jain’s “Piggies  
on the Railway’ Kalpana Swaminathan’s ‘Monochrome Madonna’ & Madhulika Liddle’s ‘The Englishman’s  
Cameo’. The paper will trace, briefly, the genesis of crime fiction writing in India. It will also touch on the  
perennial problem of literary snobbery which demeans crime fiction. More importantly, the paper will  
examine the cares and concerns that plague the writing of this new breed of Indian crime fiction writers.  
Is there a questioning of the traditional modes of writing detective stories? Have the Indian writer’s been  
able to find their own voice as they experiment with the genre? Are these novels able to do what the new  
breed of international authors are attempting namely shed light on the social problems of India including  
poverty, inequality, discrimination, injustice, violence against women? Are there books about social  
justice, “Whydunits” or just “time pass” “whodunits”? These are the questions that this paper will take up  
and attempt to answer through an analysis of selected writers of crime fiction.  
Keywords - Crime Fiction, Detective Fiction, Whodunits, Experiment, Genre.  
The danger that may really threaten crime fiction is that soon there will be more writers than readers”  
Jacques Burzun American Educator.  
Bruzun need not have worried. Crime fiction continues to enthrall. It is termed as the current hottest  
genre globally. Of course foreign writers dominate the market. Many readers brought up on perennial favorites  
like Agatha Christie, Arthur Connan Doyle, P.D. James and now exposed to Stieg Larsson, Ian Rankin and  
others often raise pertinent questions about the Indian literary scene. “Why has Indian writing in English not  
thrown up any good detective story?” Why has no one thought of using modern India with all its contradictions  
as a backdrop to a riveting crime story?”  
The truth is that there is at present quite a deluge of Indian crime fiction writers and the paper attempts  
to analyze this trend in contemporary Indian English Writing focusing on detective fiction or whodunits in  
The main thrust of the paper is to analyse the ideological role that these writers seem to have appropriated  
for themselves and how this role is shaping the dominant public discourse. A central argument of this paper is  
that the majority of the writers selected for study namely Kiran Manrals’ The Reluctant Detective (2011), Smita  
Jain’s Piggies on the Railway (2010), Kalpana Swaminathan’s The Monochrome Madonna (2010), Madhulika  
Liddles The Englishman’s Cameo (2009) and Anandani Rukmani’s A Mysterious Death at Sainik Farm (2012) play  
a crucial ideological role in legitimating neo-liberal capitalism in contemporary India, pro consumer, pro-  
choice, pro-market. This conclusion is drawn after looking at both form and content of the texts taken up for  
study and also keeping in mind questions like who is writing, for whom, why and, more importantly, who are the  
publishers. There seems little doubt that the shift in India’s economic policy in favour of globalization has  
accompanied a shift in the way popular novels are being written, produced, published and consumed.  
The paper has restricted itself to women writers with special focus on Manral, Jain and Liddle and has  
also tried to link the ideological agenda of India’s project of globalization with other issues like the appropriation  
of the women’s movement or notions of feminism and the attempt at constructing the normative Indian man and  
The paper is deeply indebted to Maitrayee Choudhury sociologist, (Chaudhuri 2001, 2010) for focusing  
on the above mentioned issues as well as highlighting the commercial imperatives that drive the publishing  
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
RH, VOL. 3 JULY 2013  
industry. Today texts are more and more being regarded as ‘products’ that need to be commercially viable and  
writers as ‘brands’ that will ensure the assembly line production of such products.  
The point to be noted at the start is that while the writers are consciously writing within a western literary  
tradition of ‘whodunits” or whydunits as the case may be there is no attempt to really adhere to any set rules or  
formulas. Writer Smita Jain seems to voice the opinion of most writers of this genre when she says. “The only  
rules are there are no rules. Having said that, yes, one does try to adhere to the don’ts more strictly than the  
dos. For instance, an evil twin is a strict no-no in modern crime fiction, so one tries to avoid that. Also the butler  
must never do it.” (Chibber, 2012) Jain is of course referring to the strong upper class consciousness of the  
British writers of this genre.  
What is interesting is how Indian writers have succeeded in the simultaneous creation of a new consuming  
Indian “middle” class in a globalized economy and a reorientation of the salient issues taken up.  
There is a marked absence of Indian men and women who are poor and battered, tribal and peasant,  
working class and Dalit from those texts. What we have instead are upper middle class characters, rich and  
successful, page 3 and Bollywood personalities. Even the historical coffee sipping Muzaffar Jang is an aristocrat  
attempting to defend a fellow aristocrat. This is true of almost all the texts taken up for study. Kanan Mehra is a  
thirty five year old housewife maker married to a successful corporate honcho and invited to parties whose  
guest lists includes superstars like Suhaan Khan.  
Smita Jain’s book has twenty eight year old Kasthuri Kumar who has resigned from the IPS and is now a  
private detective whose clients include Kaustav Kapoor head of Blazer Films. Kalpana Swaminathan’s world is  
populated by more middle class characters of suburban Mumbai while Rukmani Anandani sticks to the world of  
industrial patriarchs and their family feuds.  
A strong sense of social responsibility also lies at the root of this genre. True this sense has at its roots a  
strong desire to preserve the status quo but as noted critic. Ray D Browne has observed that all detective  
fiction writers share to one degree or another, a strong concern with the hero and his / her role in society  
Brownie 1986, 5).  
While all of the above is in keeping with the demands of the genre the banishment of the poor and the  
marginalized and social issues in most of these works seems to be symptomatic of a bigger ideological project  
to erase them from public discourse.  
Even more challenging is the construction, or at least an attempt to construct through this genre a new  
normative Indian man and woman. The plethora of women writers (This paper mentions five but there are many  
more out there in the market) pays homage to the greater visibility of women and the fact that it is no longer  
possible to ignore women but it also creates an area of discomfiture. What is problematic is the dissemination  
of a concept of selfhood defined by choice of consumption. This is especially true of ‘The Reluctant Detective’,  
Piggies on The Railway’ and ‘The Monochrome Madonna’. The unbridled individualism of characters like  
Kasthuri Kumar, Kanan Mehra Sitara, Ramona etc. alters the parameters under which Indian women have operated.  
The women characters are bold, rich and a far cry from their sexually sanitized sisters of earlier years. Kasthuri  
Kumar has several sexual partners, the novel revels in lesbian relationships, adultery and close encounters with  
eunuchs. There is a manic obsession with clothes, make up and other accessories in almost every novel. Kiran  
Manrals’ opening chapter is almost wholly about wardrobe choices and weight issues that seem to be the most  
pressing problem that women in India face.  
Kasthuri Kumar fantasies about receiving a Nobel Prize wearing a shimming red gown by Valentino with  
black Fendi peep toes. Mention is made of receiving the Booker Prize in an aquamarine grown by Sabyasachi  
and blonde highlights in her hair. While one does not deny that all these aspects are very much a part of  
woman’s life what is of concern is that the more contentious social issues are erased. Even the murders are not  
related to any social concerns though women are the victims in almost all the novels. Also disquieting is the  
strange undercutting of the image of the female detectives by the writers. Kiran Manral’s strange blending of  
chick lit and the whodunit genre spliced with humor gets both the murder and the detective from any seriousness.  
In fact it is often difficult to recall that two individuals have been killed quite brutally. There is too much of humor  
of the chick lit kind. The Bollywood extravaganza just, takes over Smita Jain’s entire novel and the detective  
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
RH, VOL. 3 JULY 2013  
Kasthuri Kumar’s reason for resigning from the IPS is just so bizarre. While posted in Chhattisgarh “she ran out  
of the house naked firing a gun”. It appears that the writers who project the women as bold self composed  
career women are also doing their best to undercut this very image.  
This genre is itself a western construct and this obvious borrowing of the western ideological apparatus  
raises a lot of issues. The imagined or should one say imaginary middle class is strangely devoid of any  
divisions (ethnic, religious, caste) that plague India. It is a cosmopolitan world populated by characters from all  
corners of India who are united by one common identity. They are splurgers and enhancers, a new Indian  
middle class that parties hard and is unconcerned about what is happening in the world around them.  
Murder is a symptom of the negative side of human beings and society but the women detectives are  
more concerned with swooning & fainting over the men they encounter.  
I tore my eyes away from his yummylicous dimples and gathered myself together. ‘What can I do for you?’  
Apart from the obvious, sprang to mind. He smiled sardonically, like he could actually see the graphic  
images in my head. I blushed.(Jain, 3).  
This is just one example from many indicative that the female gaze has come to stay ‘Scandals, gossip,  
sensationalism abound in the plots. The events are very close to real life happenings. Innuendoes abound and  
the names used also seem to suggest use of real life persons. Sameer Khan, Suhaan Khan and the entire  
Bollywood paraphernalia in Jain and Manral’s novels are suggestive of the same. The materialism and greed  
that drive the murders are in a strange way the driving forces of the novels. Money is the motive entertainment  
the method. The writers pull out all the stops. There is enough shock value, blood and gore in the novels to  
titillate the new middle class.  
Noted writer Ashok Banker calls there novels trash which is harsh. Some are good. Both Jain and Mannal  
hold our interest Anandani’s and Madhulika Liddles’ novels are extremely well written. The historical setting in  
Liddle’s novel, is for the large part, an attempt to differentiate it from other writers. The ideology remains the  
To conclude one can say that this paper challenges the dominant perception that popular literature  
especially detective fiction is apparently non-ideological and apolitical. The authors are writing entertainment  
and that is good. Nobody doubts that. What is disturbing is that in the process of doing so writers are consciously  
or unconsciously are perpetuating an agenda that glorifies that as an end in itself.  
Anandani, Rukmani: A Mysterious Death at Sainik Farms, New Delhi, Rupa Publications. Prwale Ltd. 2012.  
Brownie, Ray B. Heroes and Humanities Detective Fiction and Culture. Ohio, Bowling Green State University  
Popular Press 1986. Print.  
Chaudhuri, Maitrayee. ‘Feminism’ in Print Media’ India Journal of Gender Studies http:/ijg.sagepub.cumi/  
cgi/content/abstract7/2/263. Web.  
Chaudhuri, Maitrayee. Gender and Advertisements: The Rhetoric of Globalisation. The Women’s Studies  
International Forum, Vol. 24, No.3/4 pp 373-385 2001 Print.  
Chaudhuri, Maitrayee. India : Media And Its Transformed Public Indian Sociology, 44, 1 &2 : 57-58, Los  
Angeles / London/ New Delhi/ Singapore / Washington DC : Sage Publications. 2010. Print  
Chibber, Mini Anthirad. The Hindu Life & Style - Metropolis – Whodunit? Mhtml:file://G:/Detective/ The  
Hindu Life & Style-Metropolis Whodunit.mht 17/08/2012. Web.  
Jain, Smita. Piggies on The Railway. Chennai : Westland Ltd 2012 Print.  
Liddle, Madhulika. The Englishman’s Cameo. Noida : Hachette India 2009. Print  
Manral, Kiran. The Reluctant Detective. Chennai : Westland Ltd 2011. Print.  
Swaminathan, Kalpana. The Monochrome Madonna. New Delhi : Penguin Books 2010 Print