The cover blares bright lights, big city, mysterious women and plenty of mirchi. After that movie-posterish promise though, the first few pages seem a bit dry.
Bhattacharyya starts off with a hard slice of reality. Protagonist Reema Ray discusses all that's wrong with her life, the gritty and far-from-glamorous Calcutta Crime-Fighters' Club makes an entrance, and it's clear this is no blonde Barb Wire we're meeting. Yes, Reema kickboxes to keep fit and tosses back the margaritas with the best of them, but she's struggling to pay the bills and be taken seriously as a private detective.
Things pick up after Bhattacharyya adds a pinch of romance and heats things up with a mysterious death and an abduction. The book gets the Calcutta (not Kolkata, please note) atmosphere bang-on, with Reema Ray equally at home in fancy Southern Avenue apartments or rattling incense-filled cabs.
Reema's ex-boyfriend's wife (the same woman Amit dumped Reema for) is abducted and he turns to her for help. Her family's antipathy to Amit complicates matters, forcing her to keep her investigation secret. At the same time, Reema has walked into a possible murder, via her alternate life as food writer for a glamour magazine. So there's enough action to keep things on the boil, especially when the mysterious and charming Shayak Gupta is added to the mix. A man who can find a cab in a Calcutta downpour, as Reema figures, is not likely to be more than meets the eye.
The actual detection by comparison is not stellar, especially since the cast of characters- and therefore the possible culprits- remains limited. Some of the key details that help Reema crack her cases are about as subtle as a Calcutta traffic jam. While it's true there's not much of contemporary Indian detective writing to choose from, Bhattacharyya definitely needs to up the mystery quotient to keep her readers coming back for more. She gets points though for the sheer energy of the book and the protagonist. Girl detective, score! Finally, a modern, working-girl protagonist who's emancipated enough to dispense with talk of bra straps and cigarettes, and get on with the job. I'm ready for my second helping of Reema Ray, please.