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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!

shrine of death-R1 (Final)

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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