Saturday, September 23, 2023

Soufflé, by Anand Ranganathan—Review

Soufflé, by Anand Ranganathan

At under 200 pages, Anand Ranganathan’s fiction thriller-mystery novel is an ideal read on a Delhi-Mumbai or Bangalore-Delhi plane ride. The book starts off in India’s business capital, Mumbai, where, at a lavish party at a luxury hotel, business tycoon Mihir Kothari takes a spoonful of Michelin star chef Rajiv Mehra’s soufflé and drops dead. The police find Rajiv in his hotel room’s bathroom, barely alive after what looks like an attempted suicide. CCTV footage shows him adding what is later confirmed to be cyanide from a vial to the soufflé marked for Mihir Kothari. An open-and-shut case, with a speedy trial and a death sentence guaranteed. Except he is not guilty. He cannot be guilty. Could he? Is he?  

And if he is not guilty, then who is the murderer, and will the real killer be unmasked and brought to justice? What will happen to Rajiv Mehra? What about the Kothari family? Do they have nothing to hide? Why is the police eager to close the case and bring it to a successful prosecution and guilty verdict? 

Many a fiction tale begin strong and then peter off. After a tantalizing start, often the middle is ponderous and the ending cliched. One gets the feeling of having been at the receiving end of a bait-and-switch. Not so with Soufflé. The pace is taut, the story keeps moving forward, the dialog is mostly crisp. The twists are unpredictable and while you, as the reader, sense something’s coming at you, the twist still takes you by surprise. An accident and renewed hope at a temple, a trip to the immortal city of Kashi add a most Indian colour to the story’s palette. 

The primary characters, in the space of this short book, get distinctive personalities. If this were to be turned into a TV series, one can imagine the delicious possibilities of exploring their side stories. In a book like these, these are neither needed nor added. Anand is neither in love with his protagonists, nor is he, in a manner of speaking, afraid to ‘murder his darlings’—as the oft-repeated piece of writing advice, macabre as it is, goes. 

 As far as fiction novels that weave a murder mystery with elements of a racy thriller, splicing in bits of contemporary geo-politics go, Soufflé is a spectacular success. It has a breathless start and a striking twist in the tale, with a tantalizing hint of a sequel. One hopes he writes one, soon.

Book Details:

  • Publisher: Penguin
  • Published: Jan 2023
  • Pages: 192

This review was first published in First Post on 20th August, 2023.

© 2023, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.