If, like me, you’ve grown up on a staple diet of Nancy Drews, Hardy Boys, The Famous Five and The Five Find Outers, you are a sucker for a good whodunit for life! As an adult you would have graduated to the Doyle’s, the Brown’s and the Christie’s and many others. Whatever be the progression of your mystery reads- this genre would make the cut in your monthly bibliophile budget till today!
It is heartening to see an increasing number of Indian writers warming up to mystery and intrigue writing (not so earlier!) which is a slippery genre to write (and market!)- the loose ends to tie, making it believable, staying far from being predictable and avoiding it being a drag to name a few hurdles in writing one! Latest in the list is Manjiri Prabhu’s, The Trail of Four, Bloomsbury which, might remind you of Dan Brown, but in a good way. Prabhu’s choice of location is the historic city, Salzburg, Austria (Watch the Book trailer) with the centre of the plot being the Schloss. The atmosphere of architectural marvels of the city lends itself beautifully to the intrigues of the yore, and hidden secrets of the past. The background itself is enticing –a theatre director, Max Reinhardt as the story is mapped – disappears to escape Nazi oppression on the day he rolls out an intriguing game for his friends! Interesting haan! This very game when caught much later, in the present by the one who’s hunted in the story forms the landscape of the novel. The first blow is as dramatic as the background- theft of the Archbishop heart is enshrined in the Schloss. It befalls on the Half-French and Half Indian intuitive investigator, Re Parker and the reluctant Isabel, who is caught up in joining dots around her American husband's disappearance, to unlock the trail of four and restore the town’s energy by protecting the four pillars of the historic town! Prabhu deftly weaves in the ticking clock as a Global seminar hosting looms upon the building in a matter of days!
The technique of decoding clues, coupled with the time constraint and the age old intrigue angle gives the whole novel an un-putdownable flavour! What rolls out next is a picture postcard tour of the city’s best monuments, historical trivia and an imagined Go Pro camera’s swift movements as two sleuths scoop out the clues and diffuse the situation as the sand trickles in the hour-glass! The urgency is well conveyed and the tentativeness in decrypting the clues heightened effectively. The writer’s detailed descriptions are a delight to read and the tale is spun nimbly. She goads the reader to rack her brain, get swept in the troughs and peaks of her Austrian composition, not before rising to a crescendo to a thundering encore and the quintessential saving of the city- which is the protagonist of this 361 pager!
PS: Prabhu divides her book into sections christened after the four elements of life –and Indian cultural influence coupled with Re’s belief in the energies of the people and places makes this book truly international!
The Trail of Four