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   Anita Nair: A Cut-Like Wound.

       Bitter Lemon Press £8.99.

 

The magazine, SIGHT AND SOUND, voted the movie, VERTIGO, the greatest movie of all time.  The title, like the competition, is dubious.  But it proves that we are all suckers for stories about identity.  Crime fans, as much as anyone, are obsessed by identity.  A detective novel is obsessed with the identity of the murderer.  In A CUT-LIKE WOUND there is a running debate about who is actually responsible for the investigation.  Who is actually the detective?  This occurs so often in detective novels for it not to be a coincidence.  Identity is important for all.  Identity implies not only responsibility but also revelation and explanation.  Something is revealed about a character and that means suspicions about others have to be discarded.  The past is not properly understood until we have the identity of the murderer.

A CUT-LIKE WOUND is a fine crime novel, and identity and its complicated aspects drive the plot, characters and our understanding.  In the novel, identity is determined by almost everything – occupation, social class, sex, family, location, history and even the past.   Inevitably, relationships are complicated.  If identity was obvious, we would not be so vulnerable to deceit.  Identity requires role-playing, and often it is the most fragile who are the most effective at assuming artificial identities.  In VERTIGO, Madeline may have been an exploited female but she was still able to deceive the detective blessed with masculine power.  Critics have jeered at the cliché of the tortured detective.  They insist that he is remote from the conformist professional policeman that exists in real life.  Gowda in A CUT-LIKE WOUND has the usual wounds - a loveless marriage, a weakness for alcohol and a failed career.  But it makes sense that detectives obsessed with the crime should elsewhere lack purpose.  As Arthur Conan Doyle understood, identity is too complex to be defined by mere investigative reasoning.  Gowda may be typical of the genre but his complicated stuttering relationships are credible and never without interest.   The sex scene between Gowda and his old flame, Urmilla, could have been embarrassing. It is not because we want him to find contentment.   Similarly, his relationship with his young assistant, Santosh, echoes the morality of a Victorian novel, how the experienced and inexperienced must shape identity in each other.

A CUT-LIKE WOUND has a satisfying plot.  The clues always lag satisfyingly behind the crimes, and there are plenty of crimes to maintain suspense.  The climax, which is well paced over the last thirty pages of the novel, is especially good.   In a complicated urban world, where identity is faked, deceit constant and money desperately needed, role-playing and all forms of prostitution prevail.  There is much that has to be revealed.  The author could have been forgiven for providing a narrow view of the world of criminals and outsider transsexuals.  But the city of Bangalore serves as an exotic and complex backdrop.  No wonder that Gowda prefers to travel those streets on his Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle.  Another reason to find this detective irresistible.

By Howard Jackson.