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      Anita Nair: CHAIN OF CUSTODY.       

Price: £7.99 Pages: 288 ISBN: 9781908524744

Bitter Lemon Press

         

Chain Of Custody is a good title for this story about the trafficking of children in India.  The practice of using children as a commodity and a means to make money is an obvious perversion of custody.  Chain Of Custody is the second novel by Anita Nair to feature Bangalore policeman Inspector Gowda.  In the previous novel, A Cut Like Wound, the identities of the characters were distorted by poverty and the desperate measures that had to be taken to survive.  Chain Of Custody can be read as a stand-alone novel but the appreciation of the tale is refined if it is read after reading A Cut Like Wound.  Both novels explore a complicated society where serious and decent attempts to address problems coexist alongside indifference and hypocrisy.

 

Inspector Gowda returns in a much darker tale than before.  Chain Of Custody contains a couple of scenes that describe a twelve year old girl suffering anal rape.  The only friend of the victim is a young boy.  He is forced to watch the abuse.  The presence of the boy adds poignancy to tragedy.  Anita Nair has a light and straightforward prose style.  The sensationalism of the hardboiled thriller feels like self-indulgent poverty tourism after reading Chain Of Custody.   The book also has alternative dramas, the domestic conflict in the comfortable home of Inspector Gowda and the treatment of kidnapped children on the streets.  This mixture may temper the brutal nature of the events being investigated but the comparison adds weight to the book.  Exploited children endure agony and privation while the middle classes brood about why their affluence does not bring happiness.

 

Chain Of Custody is a good thriller and it has a denouement that will surprise many. The identity of the murderer is not just important to the criminal mystery but also the theme of the book.  A key question for the reader is the extent to which we are all culpable in the custody of others.  We excuse our role in the wholesale failure of society to protect children and women by insisting that only our own families and their financial needs are important.  We are all part of the chain that is referred to in the title of the book.  It is too easy for the comfortable to pretend that selfishness is ambition and responsibility, a loyalty to personal destiny.  The poor are also selfish and immoral but they are struggling to stay alive, 

 

There are plenty of surprises in the plot and the story has sudden turns, as if the number of victims is greater than the crimes committed.  This feels realistic.  Poverty not only robs, it demands compound interest.  Nair also presents a good range of characters.  Her hero Inspector Gowda is male but she understands him well.  His complicated life also allows for two interesting and worthwhile female characters.  Both the women in the life of Gowda have their mysteries.  Not everything is explained in Chain Of Custody, and there is scope for surprises in future books as Inspector Gowda continues to not just dig in the underbelly of Indian society but love and betray the women in his life.

 

By Howard Jackson.