Knowing that an Indian author, who resides in Singapore, has written a crime novel set in Mumbai, it is only natural that some readers would expect a work that sheds new light on old perspectives and something that might defy standard expectations because of the clashing cultural sensibilities. What they might not anticipate—but clearly should—is that in addition to that, they are about to experience a novel that feels both fresh and unexpected, while still holding true to the tenets of the genre. At least that is what will happen for those who decide to pick up The Blue Bar by Damyanti Biswas.
The miasma of shifting time allows The Blue Bar to beat to its own drum. Readers learn that in 2002, Tara Mondal—a struggling bar dancer—has accepted a strange assignment from one of the establishment’s clients. Tara is supposed to wear a blue sequined dress to the local train station, allow the crowd to see her, and then vanish from sight. Only problem is that after completing this task, Tara is never seen again.
In present day, Inspector Arnav Singh Rajput—who was once Tara’s lover—has never come to terms with her disappearance, when he suddenly has much bigger concerns: a serial killer targeting women around Mumbai. At various scenes a scattering of blue sequins is discovered by investigators and Arnav can’t help but link this clue back to his missing love. Is it possible that the same case will allow Arnav to uncover the serial killer stalking Mumbai festivals and also uncover the mystery behind Tara’s disappearance?
The Blue Bar is a very “Indian” book, which is what we want when we ask that authors write books that are authentic to their experiences. Readers unfamiliar with this locale, the customs, and the culture, will need to get up to speed quickly, but if they allow themselves to absorb the ambience presented on the page, it won’t be long before they are consumed by the action. Damyanti Biswas knows this may be challenging, so she often has Arnav reiterate important facts and developments in the case. This actually helps readers who may struggle with keeping everything in mind, while also juggling unfamiliar names, foreign words, and the serpentine plotline.
Gritty imagery and raw, unfiltered language place The Blue Bar squarely in the noir tradition, but Damyanti Biswas balances this with glimpses of the glamourous side of Mumbai society. Readers are given a view of that city that feels authentic, with both verve and vitality to spare. With shifting points of view from Tara and Arnav’s perspectives, readers watch as the various threads intertwine to expose the corruption and violence that bubble just below Mumbai’s surface. There is another point of view that is occasionally deployed, but readers need to experience that for themselves.
With The Blue Bar, Damyanti Biswas has staked her claim on Mumbai as a setting for gripping crime fiction. Readers will eagerly await their next trip to India with this talented author as their guide.
Disclaimer: A prinr galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the author. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.