She Detectives to Conquer: A New Murder Mystery Set in 1920s Bangalore

Few murder mysteries involve an element of time travel. Harini Nagendra’s debut novel offers mystery, bits of history, even some heirloom recipes. Bangalore Detectives Club (Hachette; May 2022), the first in a proposed series, is set in the Bangalore of a century ago.

“I wanted to write a character-driven mystery, where understanding psychology, personality, and setting dominated over technological solutions, and where old-school detective skills could be showcased,” Nagendra said. . She therefore set her series in the 1920s, a time when the science of fingerprints was still being refined.

At the heart of the book is Kaveri Murthy, a 19-year-old housewife who lives with her husband Ramu Murthy, a doctor, and his family. Murthy is a kind but independent soul who goes swimming in her sari, breaks caste norms, and studies in secret (her stepmother disapproves of her interest in math). Around her, the struggle for independence from British colonial rule intensifies. Society changes. Women are graduates. Murthy is a woman whose young mind is driven by these ideas.

Then, at a dinner party held at a members-only club, Murthy comes across the body of a local pimp who was murdered in one of the gardens. When she discovers that a vulnerable woman is framed for the crime, Murthy becomes determined to exonerate her and find the real killer.

Harini Nagendra, 50, is director of the Azim Premji University Research Center and heads the university’s Center on Climate Change and Sustainability. This is his fourth book; the other three were works of non-fiction centered on the trees and biospheres of Bengaluru and other cities.

When she turned to fiction, she says, she decided to tell a woman-centered story. “The book is not just about one woman; it is also about the sisterhood of women, the communities they form and the way they support each other. It has always fascinated me,” Nagendra said. “Writing a diverse set of female characters helped me showcase this diversity of experiences that made up the Indian or ‘native’ part of colonial Bangalore.”

The “hometown” also comes to life in his novel. “The cantonment area, with its tiled and monkey roofs, rain trees and gulmohurs, is visually stunning,” Nagendra said. “But the Indian quarters of old Bangalore, with their busy, messy and charming streets, are much more interesting to me.”

There are even heirloom recipes added, as Murthy learns to cook for her husband in between his research. A dry dish called palya beans is her go-to recipe when she is working on a mystery or math problem and is pressed for time. His bisi bele hulianna (spiced lentil rice) is a hit with doctors and their families when they come for lunch.

The real challenge, says Nagendra, was using her imagination to embellish the scaffolding of facts she gathered during her research.


Read an excerpt from the book here

“I looked at a number of old black and white photographs of different places for inspiration, then closed my eyes to try and imagine what the city looked like in three-dimensional color; read old letters and autobiographical accounts to understand how people lived; and studied old maps to understand the routes Ramu and Kaveri would have taken as they traveled through Bangalore in the 1920s to find the killer,” she said.

His research revealed some interesting details. Lal Bagh, Bengaluru Botanical Gardens, for example, housed an active zoo at the time. “I found a story in the archives that describes a litter of baby tigers being suckled by a stray dog. I incorporated that into my book because it was too fascinating not to,” she said. declared.

Some areas were more difficult than others for Nagendra to imagine. The Bowring Hospital, for example, where Ramu Murthy works. “What happened in a UK hospital that catered to a mixed population? I had to piece together snippets of information from the archives, but of course I still can’t be sure.

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