Tied to Deceit
by Neena H. Brar
Length: 328 Pages
Release date: August 4, 2018
On a drizzly August morning, the inhabitants of the hill town of Sanover, Himachal Pradesh, wake up to the shocking news of the murder of the exquisite, secretive, malicious, and thoroughly immoral Devika Singh.
As Superintendent of Police Vishwanath Sharma begins to sift through the hidden secrets of Devika Singh’s life, it becomes evident that everyone who knew her seems to have a clear-cut motive for killing her.
Faced with the investigation of a crime that appears to have as many suspects as there are motives, Vishwanath Sharma probes the sinister web spun around a tangle of lies and deception.
Praise for Tied to Deceit
“A remarkable whodunit that’s as sharp as it is concise.
Brar enhances her taut murder mystery with an engaging setting that effectively incorporates the local culture. The smart, believable denouement will have readers looking forward to Brar’s next endeavor.”
“A literary mystery saga that includes far more depth and psychological and cultural insights than your typical murder mystery’s scenario.”
-D. Donovan, Midwest Book Review
Dr. Rajinder Bhardwaj, the owner and the head physician at Lifeline Hospital, Sanover, had showered after his brisk morning walk and joined his wife for an early morning tea. Gayatri Bhardwaj sat with her second cup of ginger tea on her favourite old, worn, woven chair on the verandah which overlooked their front garden: a tapestry of blooming carnations, marigolds, roses, and chrysanthemums. She longed for a clear, bright day and the dazzling blue sky of summer.
It was her favourite spot to sit in the mornings; a place from where she could witness the brilliant dawn streaking half of the sky coral; raindrops soaking everything wet during the monsoon; specks of silvery snow falling from the sky during winter. She could take in everything from the serene mountain peaks and the forest to their house—its roof, windowpanes, and the pebbled driveway that snaked its way criss-cross toward the outside big iron gate. She would sit there until Dr. Bhardwaj joined her after his daily ritual of a brisk morning walk.
They had done this for years despite the changing seasons and the changing equation of their marital relationship. They had spent endless mornings of their initial married years there, when their hearts were still giddy with the feeling of young love, and they would talk about everything and nothing. She’d been a bride at barely twenty, young and naive. He’d been ten years her senior, already on the way to establishing himself as a successful physician, the younger son of a landlord aristocratic family with old wealth. He had swept her off her feet then, and was all charm and charisma but then the magic slowly diminished and finally died due to his secret betrayals over time. Thousands of little resentments had replaced the early warmth. But their hearts, although heavy with bitterness and anger at the failed expectations, had gotten used to the solace of each other’s company that often comes with years of living together, and they never stopped performing this morning ritual of their married life.
I received an early release copy of this book in exchange for an honest review; all opinions are my own.
This book is difficult for me to rate. I enjoyed the first half of it immensely. The setting was interesting, and it was nice watch Brar weave Indian culture and words into the story. I liked the idea of a murder mystery with an unsympathetic victim. Devika had wronged so many people that virtually every character was a potential suspect at one point or another.
Some of the major characters were very interesting, particularly Gayatri Bhardwaj, who knows her husband has been carrying on affairs, but reacts with almost indifference, with an astounding level of confidence that none of these mistresses pose any real threat to her marriage.
Brar explores gender issues in the context of Indian culture in the late 60’s or perhaps early 70’s; the exact time frame was never quite clear to me; some dates in the early sixties were mentioned as having been several years prior. The differential treatment of men and women when it comes to sexual misconduct came up time and time again. Class divides were also integral to the story, and Gayatri is again of particular interest in that regard; she expresses how she feels class can be a double-edged sword even for those in a position of privilege, as it distances her from those around her.
There was a lot to enjoy in this book, but the second half started to drag. Vishwanath Sharma spends what feels like an excessive amount of time pursuing one particular suspect, on the cusp of solving the mystery. The actual resolution strikes the right balance of surprising while still being somewhat foreshadowed, but it takes too long to get there. The length itself is not necessarily the problem here; this is not an overly long book. However, the amount of time dedicated to one singular focus rather than vacillating between suspects makes it feel longer.
Brar also seemed very invested in driving home just how horrible Devika was, to the point where it began to feel repetitive and drawn-out. One can only read about what a manipulative snake she was so many times before it becomes boring. Personally, I would have appreciated a bit more nuance in her character. Brar does throw in a few things that seem to be an attempt at doing this, but they come so late in the narrative that they felt shoe-horned into it; something about it seemed to lack authenticity, and the overall impression of Devika does not change. She is very one-dimensional and seems to have no redeeming qualities.
Overall, I enjoyed Tied to Deceit, and it was a fairly solid debut novel. Sharma and his assistant have a Sherlock and Watson-esque relationship which is fun to observe. The cultural issues explored added a lot to the story, and the cast of characters was varied and engaging. Fans of the Sherlock stories or Agatha Christie may find this a worthwhile read!
Neena H. Brar lives in Edmonton, Canada with her husband, two children, a highly energetic German Shepherd, and a lifetime collection of her favorite books.
A hermit at heart, she’s a permissive mother, a reluctant housekeeper, a superb cook, and a hard-core reader.
Tied to Deceit is her debut novel.
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