A novel is an attempt to experience life through the imagination of an artist. A common man experiences life more or less as disjointed concatenation of events, bereft of a scheme, meaning, purpose, color, and substance. It is the imagination of an artist which imparts pain and passion, humor and emptiness, moral sheen and absurdity to life.
John Gardener said , “ A novel is a vivid and continuous dream.” It is a stretching of a myth in myriad directions, a search for the meaning of life forever eluding the grasp of the novelist, yet scintillating enough of a challenge to forever engage him in its pursuit.
A detective novel is a literary genre of a particular kind. A narrowed, specialized novel, which serves its followers with the release of adrenaline through their spines with a whodunit and saturates their senses with entertainment and euphoria of action. Though its canvas is usually limited, it can still be a work of art. It is through the lens of this possibility we will judge Dr. Mitra’s work.
A Very Insipid Passion starts with the mystery of Dr. Bloorwise’s past. What has he done to be depressed? While we are fathoming an answer to this question, we are thrown into the main mystery of the book, the death of Anton Alva. On the face of it, the death of a young man should not ruffle a hair on the head of a New Yorker, where murders form the constant backdrop of a glittering but dehumanized life. Even with the glitter of a woman committing the murder in the story, it would not make too many heads turn toward it in real life. But the author, who is very conscious of having to deliver the prizes of a detective novel, makes the mystery tangible by adding a number of human relationships and twists of the situations in the murder tangle, to make it interesting and entertaining. All this savvy plotting and delicious writing gets suddenly choked and turns to a mystery-composed-by-a-menu when Dabnor Champion, the dashing, charismatic millionaire is dragged into the plot into a multifarious role of a brilliant plotter, easy murderer, with a wide range of hungers. After the ambitious push of Dabnor in the Anton murder, the work loses its sophisticated charm and artistic demeanor. Dabnor Champion becomes the hero of small thrillers, with enough psychological contours and virile panache of a modern successful man to become heroic, in spite of his evil soul. Dr. Mitra has tried to put the best of macabre psychology and sick smartness of a modern man to entertain the reader. The plot even creates a sexual relationship between Dabnor and his son. This is the epitome of sensationalism.
The concomitant work of four detectives – Halley Willard, Sandy Bloorwoise, Dobbellia Smith, and Dr. Martin – to solve the Anton case is most interesting and intriguing. It is to the writer’s credit that he creates a many-sided puzzle to keep the reader alert and entertained.
Throughout the book the narrative is polished, light, well-paced, and witty – a fabric studded with brilliant nuggets, working in staccato to embellish the whole. Most of the book is in dialogs, which are credible and give it pace and human touch.
Characterizations of Dobbelila Smith, Sandy Bloorwoise, and Halley Willard are excellent work, but at times smothered by overwork. Dr.Martin is the most obscure of the characters. The most ersatz people are Gregorina and Eve Ryder – both women. Conversations are charming and very human. (Dr. Mitra seems to have done more for single-malt whisky than any concerted effort by its trade-group to promote the product.)
Overall, the work is a finely wrought iron sculpture, with its main strong and graceful trunk, its sinewy spiraling branches. Some structures are overdone, some details are manipulative. It comes across as a wholesome first-work of a talented writer, who is cut out to do higher-level work than the present effort. Dr. Mitra should wield his brush on a wider canvas, the novel – a detective novel under-tests his talents.
Read the book for its charm, entertainment, and fine prose.