Follow Mint Lounge

Latest Issue

Home > How To Lounge> Books > Filter coffee and murder in the Garden City

Filter coffee and murder in the Garden City

Harini Nagendra's 'Murder Under A Red Moon', the latest in her Bangalore Detectives Club series is a well-paced, easy read, with Bengaluru as central to the book as any character

The Seshadri library, now the State Central Library, in Cubbon Park is one of Kaveri’s favourite haunts in Bengaluru.
The Seshadri library, now the State Central Library, in Cubbon Park is one of Kaveri’s favourite haunts in Bengaluru. (Istockphoto)

Classic murder mysteries may reserve the big reveal for the last 10 pages but it is never really a surprise. The charm of these stories, instead, lies in the characterisation, period settings and descriptions of relationships, and with her Bangalore Detectives Club series, Harini Nagendra has got all three down perfectly.

With The Bangalore Detectives Club last year, Nagendra introduced us to Kaveri Murthy, an irrepressible 19-year-old with a love for maths and an innate sense of justice who had just moved from Mysore (now Mysuru) to Bangalore (now Bengaluru) to live with her physician husband and peremptory mother-in-law. Bored by the restrictions in her new home in 1920s Bangalore, Kaveri jumps right in when she finds herself at the scene of a murder during a dinner party. She soon realises that the main suspect, a sex worker named Mala, is being framed and works to clear her name.

In the just-released sequel, Murder Under A Red Moon, the warm-hearted Kaveri has grown more assured, not just solving a murder but also deepening her roots in the city, making friends and beginning a women’s study circle, while continuing to solve mysteries. This time, her hyper-critical mother-in-law is the one who begs her to take on the case, which involves embezzlement at a relative’s mill and the murder of the mill owner.

Also read: The parallel worlds of Mridula Garg’s women

Kaveri doesn’t just take down the murderer but also busts a cocaine smuggling ring and helps free a group of exploited widows. Filter coffee and food are central to the telling, with characters often discussing murder while eating vadas, upittu or coconut burfi. The twists are predictable and the trail of red herrings long and wide but the danger and anticipation, when it finally arrives, feels real.

Nagendra, an urban ecologist whose earlier books include Nature In The City: Bengaluru In The Past, Present And Future (2016) and Cities And Canopies (2019), has a demonstrated love for Bengaluru and an intimate knowledge of its history and traditions, both of which are evident. In Nature…, Nagendra wrote about the city’s evolution from the sixth century to the present day, while Cities… captured the relationships between residents and urban ecology. It’s clear that her academic work informs her descriptions of colonial Bangalore, from the shops and clubs to the social hierarchy. We meet fictionalised versions of inspirational women of the era, including Kalyanamma, who ran a women’s magazine, Saraswati, on her own, and Coffeepudi Sakamma, probably the only woman then to set up and run a coffee business.


'Murder Under A Red Moon', by Harini Nagendra, Hachette India, 289 pages,  <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>499.
'Murder Under A Red Moon', by Harini Nagendra, Hachette India, 289 pages, 499.

The city is as central as any character to the book, and for a reader familiar with Bengaluru, there is a sense that little has changed at the heart of the city, though its borders have been stretched beyond anything Kaveri could have imagined when she raced through its streets on foot and in her Ford in 1921.

Set in the same year as Sujata Massey’s Perveen Mistry series of murder mysteries, which feature Bombay’s (Mumbai's) first female solicitor, Nagendra’s novels also touch on everyday caste discrimination, class differences, gender inequality and women’s rights, and make references to the nascent freedom struggle. Kaveri may not be as self-sufficient as Perveen, who almost always finds herself playing a lone hand and is also responsible for bringing in billable hours as a partner in her father’s law firm, but she’s just as intrepid and fearless. Perveen tangles with far more sinister characters, and, as a divorced Parsi woman with a career and reputation to build in an inflexible, male-dominated world, finds herself slamming into, and stymied by, patriarchy more often.

Also read: For Manav Kaul, travel and writing go together

In the more genteel world of The Bangalore Detectives Club, everyone from Kaveri’s husband, Ramu, to the local inspector of police, Ismail, to the women in the sandalwood-smoke filled room of a godman are allies or, at the very least, well-wishers of the city’s “first lady detective”. By the end of Red Moon, even Kaveri’s mother-in-law, who begins with openly hostile comments about Kaveri, is toasting “to the next case”.

Nagendra’s mysteries are well-paced, easy, entertaining reads, making the further adventures of Kaveri Murthy and her wide circle of ever-helpful friends and family something to look forward to.


Next Story