Young girls are being killed and their hearts removed, and the bodies left lying all over Calcutta. Inspector Pradeep Batabyal and ACP Ashutosh are soon on the trail, but they are not the only police team involved.
The inspector, who is the narrator as well, has secrets of his own to contend with, while the ACP faces opposition from his superiors. The ACP is also having an affair with a married woman whose house has a shrine dedicated to a yogi who is the leader of a religious organisation called Vasant Sena.
Trying to get across a message can be the surest way to kill a good story, and in a crime novel what is paramount is the plot itself. Like Dibakar Banerjee’s movie, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!, which seemed to lose track of the mystery in its attempt to recreate wartime Calcutta, Ritual tends to gloss over the complications of the plot in its preoccupation with what we are told is a sinister right-wing organisation, the Vasant Sena.
The Sena is obviously modelled on the real-life Ananda Marga, a cult-like organisation founded by Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar in 1955, and which became well known after the 1995 Purulia arms drop case. There is even a reference to the infamous Bijon Setu massacre in Calcutta in 1982, a fallout of the tussle between the Marga and the ruling Marxists. Ritual could have done with more on the politics of the conflict between the Left and the Marga/ Sena. The narrative-style story, with its multiple strands, often tends to put the action at a distance.
The book moves along at a fair clip though, and Uttaran Das Gupta, who is also a poet, is good at recreating the atmosphere of a rain-soaked decaying city steeped in history. Ritual is a welcome addition to the Byomkesh Bakshi and Feluda detective series, at least for readers outside Bengal.
The reviewer is the author of The Girl from Nongrim Hills.
Ritual; Uttaran Das Gupta, Pan Macmillan India, ₹350