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Book review: The CEO Who Lost His Head

Turn the pages for gossip on the media world, but not the fiction

The CEO Who Lost His Head: By Aditya Sinha, Pan Macmillan, 265 pages, Rs299.
The CEO Who Lost His Head: By Aditya Sinha, Pan Macmillan, 265 pages, Rs299.

When a former newspaper editor turns to writing crime fiction, it is fair to expect a tale of gossip, politics and murder surrounding a media firm. Aditya Sinha, who used to helm the DNA in Mumbai, has done just that with The CEO Who Lost His Head.

Buster Das, the CEO of Morning Analysis, seemingly a reference to Sinha’s former newspaper, is found with his head bashed in. Inspector Sandesh Solvekar and sub-inspector Mona Ramteke from the Mumbai police begin to investigate, but find their (separate) personal and professional lives intermingling along the way. This is the basic plot but the book, which starts on a promising note, begins to unravel along the way.

Mostly, this is because Sinha doesn’t know when to stop gossiping about Mumbai’s media world. It doesn’t take even a cursory Google search to spot the real-life models for many of the characters vilified in this book, including the murdered Das, referred to mostly as Bastard. One of the few positive characters working at the newspaper is the editor, Rocky Borkotoky, who speaks truth to power and has a particular axe to grind with Sonia Gandhi (no prizes for guessing who he is based on). The constant vilification of real-life characters with whom Sinha seems to have a personal vendetta leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Since the book is set up as a farce on the workings of a newspaper, there are numerous characters ready with a wisecrack at every turn; it is another matter that many of them don’t land the way the author intends them to. There is a disturbingly lax attitude on display towards cases of sexual harassment in the workplace. Morning Analysis seems to be an institution where interns, secretaries and other women employees are routinely groped or worse by people in positions of power, their complaints not taken seriously. The vice-president of HR tells the police that he spent a lot of time “calming women down in the Ad Sales and Marketing departments" as both the murdered CEO and his predecessor had a “glad eye". There is a feeble attempt to address this at the end of the book, but it is just not enough.

The primary expectation a reader has from a book marketed as a whodunnit (and with Surender Mohan Pathak’s blurb on the cover) is a thrilling mystery where the hunt for the killer takes you into dangerous territory. That is far from the case here. The detectives’ investigation is limited to Q&A sessions with people who may be said to have a grudge towards Das. There is no attempt to check their alibis or even to cross-question them too much if they display connections in high places. The identity of the killer comes as a surprise only to the characters in this story, not to the reader.

It would be churlish to write a review without pointing out the few positives in this story. The banter between the two detectives, especially Ramteke’s references to the many books she reads, is mostly enjoyable. Ramteke is also queer and Dalit, both unfortunately rare in Indian English writing. Her interactions with her parents as well as with a potential love interest are the best parts of this book.

Sinha ends the book on a pretty definitive note, so a sequel seems unlikely. But fewer real-life inspirations and more Ramtekes may make for a better book next time.

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