Article: Tamil Nadu idol thefts give author creative spark

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Photo credit: Deccan Chronicle

The journalist and author Divya Kumar has come out with a thriller ‘The Shrine of Death’. The book had a vibrant launch on Friday in the city.

The protagonist is a young woman, Prabha Sinha who is an IT professional in Chennai who is plunged into the netherworld of idol theft, murder and betrayal. Things start happening after she receives a mysterious phone call one night from her old friend Sneha Pillai. She seeks the help of Jai Vadehra, a troubled young man with a tragic past. She also seeks the help of the gorgeous DSP Gerard Ratnaraj of the Idol Wing, CID to whom she is irretrievably drawn towards. As the story unravels, she keeps on finding answers. Their search takes them from Chennai’s newsrooms and universities to the abandoned sepulchral shrine of a Chola queen in the heartland of Tamil Nadu.

The author took almost three and half years to finish the story. And since idol thefts had become common, especially after the robbery of 2008 by an international ring of idol thieves, she finds a cool focus point for the book.

“The story is purely an out and out entertainer with some romance, some paranormal elements”, said the author while explaining the subject matter of the book on the occasion of its launch. She hopes that people would enjoy the book picking it up on the airport or reading on a journey or while curling up by the poolside in the summer. A sequel to ‘The Shrine of Death’ is already in the process, according to the debut author.

The original article appeared here in the Deccan Chronicle.

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Book signing at Odyssey Bookstore, Adyar, Chennai!

Look! It’s finally on the shelves . Was so happy to see my book stacked up in one of my favorite bookstores in the city yesterday — couldn’t leave without signing a few copies! Doubly excited to be on the Chennai authors rack 

 

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Article: Of Chennai, idol theft and a crime-thriller

A journalist becomes a debutante author with the launch of the novel The Shrine of Death

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My book and I… at the launch 🙂 Photo credit: Shuchi Kapoor @girlinthegalli

A few years ago, reportage of the Chennai police department exposing a series of idol thefts planted an idea in the mind of journalist Divya Kumar. That transformed her into a debutante author with The Shrine of Death, a racy crime-thriller novel on the idol theft theme, set in Chennai.

At the launch of her book on Friday, Ms. Kumar, spoke of how much she enjoyed writing about places like Kamarajar Salai and T. Nagar.

“I grew up in the Middle East and went on to study in the U.S. But during my stint as a journalist with The Hindu for six years, I got to know the city well. Chennai is not getting featured enough [in mainstream popular fiction]. There is too much of Mumbai and Delhi; we need more of Chennai,” she said.

Best laboratory

In conversation with novelist and playwright Shreekumar Varma, she reminisced about her time with The Hindu and said the job was a fascinating one indeed, giving her opportunities to meet different people and taking her several places.

“It was like learning from the best laboratory. It helped me go from I-want-to-be-a-writer to being a writer,” she added.

Mukund Padmanabhan, Editor, The Hindu, who launched the book, said, Ms. Kumar lent a certain positivity when she had worked in the paper.

The original article appeared here in The Hindu.

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Article: The curse of empathy

Debutante author Divya Kumar discusses The Shrine of Death on the eve of the book’s launch

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Picture credit: R. Ravindran, The Hindu

Divya Kumar wrote her first story at the age of five, about a fish and a tortoise who were friends. “I think my mother still has it saved somewhere,” she smiles in reminiscence, before moving on to discuss her first published crime thriller, soon to be turned into a trilogy.

The process of writing The Shrine of Death, she says, began in 2012. “I woke up one morning, and the character of Jai, the empath, was just fully formed in my head,” she says, “I didn’t even connect it to the term ‘empath’ back them: I just knew that this was a character who could feel what other people felt.”

“I started reading up online, and found that there are other such cases, and such stories, and it’s clearly something difficult and traumatising. Of course, it’s a bit in the realm of clairvoyance and telepathy – more pseudo-science, really — but it gave the character an interesting psychological profile.” It intrigued her, she says, how such a person would respond in everyday life and how they would be misunderstood by others.

As important as her characters were for this author, the plot went hand in hand, sometimes jostling for equal space along the way. “It started with this character, but was also equally driven by my interest in idol thefts and smuggling rings. Around that time, The Hindu was covering a lot of these idol thefts extensively,” she recalls, “I came across this case of two 800-year-old Nataraja idols that were stolen around 2008: the theft was discovered, and that triggered a series of events which led to the busting of an international smuggling ring. My whole story became a sort of prequel to that. Of course, it’s highly fictionalised.”

The balancing act between the plot and the interplay of characters’ relationships kept her on her toes, she says. It wasn’t even remotely a seamless process when she first sat to write, “There are three key characters: at points, I would be intensely driven by them and I’d write and rewrite their interactions. At other points, I would work very intensely on the plot. That was very different, because the plot was like writing code. You know, when you hit a bug, and you have to rework that…,”the former Computer Science students breaks off with a frustrated shrug.

The first novel has barely been released — and is still going through the initial hiccoughs of logistics and online supply — but Kumar has already moved on to the second book in the series. She’s halfway through, in fact. “The story won’t let me be, I need to finish the trajectory of the characters. I’ve been working on that for the last year.”

The trilogy was not something she had intended, or even seen coming. Kumar had originally begun writing The Shrine of Death purely for pleasure, as a much-needed “me time” exercise in the midst of a busy life. She didn’t even consider getting it published till rave reviews came pouring in from friends and family.

“The process of writing took three and a half years, because it wasn’t something I was doing continuously. When I started, my daughter was just a little over a year old, and I was a full-time mom. I was still writing freelance fairly regularly. So, this was something I would do for myself. The story was in my head, so I would often write late in the night after my daughter fell asleep. On weekends, I would leave her with my husband and go write in a coffee shop. It was just something to enjoy creatively,” she smiles.

The original article appeared here in The Hindu Metroplus.

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Review of ‘The Shrine of Death’

The Hindu’s Literary Review supplement carried the first review of The Shrine of Death!

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Thrillers spun around Indian mythology are a dime a dozen. Pluck out whispered legends about temples or idols and weave them into tales of intrigue and you have a thriller in hand. In this saturated milieu, this book by Divya Kumar manages to stand a tad apart.

Generic title aside, The Shrine of Death does what many of the author’s competitors in the genre either fail to do or just don’t care to do. Divya Kumar pushes her research into the background and focuses instead on the characters, and not just her two protagonists.

She paints a world of journalists, art-mongers, academics and disillusioned IT professionals, and the grand descriptions of nature, architecture and warriors’ physique that usually define this genre give way to observed mannerisms, sensibilities and one-on-one interactions. Superlatives are kept to a minimum. It makes all the difference.

Working women curl up on the couch with their flatmates, swapping ghost stories during powercuts. An old woman going through emotional hell takes the trouble to check in on a troubled youngster. Cousins discuss bikes and careers, and exchange surreptitious glares when being scolded.

None of these moments is essential to the plot. But they do the job of keeping the reader invested — and better ensuring that the page will be turned — than any cliffhanger can. The story seems more real because the people and the situations are relatable, even with the occasional supernatural oddity thrown in.

That’s not to say that The Shrine of Death doesn’t deliver the usual dose of history: it’s just that every single page isn’t dripping with information overload. Kumar gives her readers plenty of space to rack their brains, to try and get ahead of the plot.

The plot revolves around an idol theft, and the hunt for a missing researcher who might have discovered something invaluable. Her colleague and old friend begin searching for her and the mystery soon widens enough to encompass the police and the CBI. Throughout The Shrine of Death, Kumar keeps her ambitions simple and delivers what she promises.

The Shrine of Death; Divya Kumar, Bloomsbury, ₹399

(The original article appeared here.)

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Why ‘The Shrine of Death’?

As the release date of my debut novel, the thriller ‘The Shrine of Death’ (published by Bloomsbury India in April) draws nearer, here is a look at the origin of its title…

When I began writing my book, I knew I wanted to set it in the world of idol theft. The Hindu was, at that time, doing a lot of coverage of the high-profile bust of Manhattan-based art dealer Subhash Kapoor’s international idol smuggling ring. My story very quickly evolved into a sort of prelude to that bust, a highly fictionalized account of the circumstances that lead to the Idol Wing, a small, specialized wing of the state’s CID – the only one of its kind in India – getting wind of Kapoor’s smuggling activities and his associates in Tamil Nadu.

As the characters fell into place, it developed into a story of greed and betrayal, of treachery and murder, of love and loyalty… And yet, yet something was missing. I was searching for something, a missing piece to complete the puzzle. I found it one breezy Chennai evening, at a talk about Chola temples by historian Pradeep Chakravarthy at Ashvita Bistro. Suddenly, in the middle of that pleasant gathering, I was transported to the ancient world of the Cholas, and of Pallipadais, crumbling old sepulchral shrines built centuries ago to worship great Chola kings and queens who had passed on.

I still remember the little shiver that ran down my spine as I heard him talk about them, these temples built over the graves of kings and queens who lived a thousand years ago. Temples that were then handed over to an ancient sect of ascetics who surrounded themselves with death, and smeared their bodies with the ash of cremation grounds. The grandeur of the Chola empire, the incredible art that was born of that time, and the stories of great patrons such as Queen Sembiyan Mahadevi… All of this was already a part of the story I wanted to tell, and now, I had found the final, missing piece: The Shrine of Death.

 

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Pre-order ‘The Shrine of Death’!

The pre-order link for my debut novel, ‘The Shrine of Death’ is up on Amazon.in! And it’s currently available at a 44 per cent discount, so do check it out 🙂

An April 2018 release from Bloomsbury India, ‘The Shrine of Death’ is a fast-paced thriller with a heady mix of crime, mystery, romance and the paranormal. Set in the murky of world of idol-theft, it takes you from Chennai’s newsrooms and universities to the sepulchral shrine of a Chola queen in the heartland of Tamil Nadu, and nothing and no one is what they seem…

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