Crime in India: Kiss of Salt by Smita Bhattacharya (2019)

…the notion of love endures most things, even abuse….

Heliconia Lane is a peculiar patch of heaven at Valsolem, an unexplored and pristine beach of Goa. There are only three houses on that lane: Casa De Primavera or House of Spring where the Castelino family lives: Zabel and Filip with their son, Anton. The second one, Constellation, houses the Salgaonkar family: Rakhi and Varun with their children, Gaurav and Vidisha. In the third house, Sea Swept, lives Paritosh Nandkarni with his Iranian wife, Farideh. The neighbours are attached to each other and often have parties and get-togethers. Paritosh’s niece, Darya, visits her uncle during the summer vacations and grows attached to the neighbourhood.

However, the gaiety that Heliconia enjoys disappears the day Farideh disappears. On the day of her birthday while the others wait for Farideh to arrive at the shack where Paritosh has thrown a party for her, Farideh becomes so late that a concerned Paritosh goes looking for her. He finds his house in a mess, blood spots, ransacked cupboards and drawers, missing money and jewellery…and no Farideh. Everybody panics, some rushing off to the police station, some looking for Farideh. Little Anton – who was attached to Farideh, since his own mother Zabel never took adequate care of him as she was forever grieving over her dead first-born, Xavier – adds to the confusion by claiming that he saw a man brutally pushing Farideh into a car. He has convulsions and is taken to the hospital. The police investigate but nothing comes off it and Farideh is presumed to be dead though Paritosh keeps on waiting for his wife to return.

When the main events of the novel take place, the year is 2009. Twenty two years after his wife’s disappearance, Paritosh has passed away. His brother sufferes a hear attack at the time of the cremation and thus asks his daughter, Darya, to clean up the house of her uncle: keep what is worth keeping and throw away the junk. Darya, in order to escape from an abusive relationship, is more than willing. She wants some time for herself and what better place than Haliconia Lane where she had spent some of the best times of her childhood. However, Haliconia Lane is not the fun place of her memories any longer. Zabel and Filip have grown old and are estranged from their son, Anton. The Salgaonkar couple is dead too: victims of a freak downing accident. Their children Vidisha and Gaurav are at loggerheads with Gaurav becoming a jail bird. All the old anchors of Darya, it seems, are afloat. Even more shocking to her, however, are the secrets that the home of her uncle reveals. Slowly, Darya becomes convinced that there is something rotten at the heart of Haliconia Lane, something that goes back to her aunt’s disappearance (murder?). And what role does her new neighbour and bookshop owner, Aaron, plays in this? And why is she so attracted towards Francis who works in the same bookshop?

This was a good atmospheric read with the right amount of tension and revelation. Darya is a likeable heroine with her own set of problems though I didn’t much enjoy her reveling in her power over others during the ‘confession’ scenes. I could understand why she was behaving in that manner but it seemed just a wee bit too ruthless. I hadn’t heard of the series or the author before but after this, I feel like reading the other two in the series.

*

First Line: She watched him arrange the books on the table.

First Published: 2019

Series: Darya Nandkarni’s Misadventures#1

Other Opinions: The Lily Cafe

4 thoughts on “Crime in India: Kiss of Salt by Smita Bhattacharya (2019)

  1. This one really appeals to me, Neeru. It sounds as though it has a solid sense of atmosphere and some interesting characters. And that’s an interesting question to ponder: what happens when you try to go home again, so to speak. The mystery intrigues me, too. I’m glad you enjoyed this one.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting to see a contemporary crime novel set in India that’s written by an author who lives in India – generally speaking the ones I’ve come across before have been written by Brits or ex-pat Indians. Must see if I can fit this in sometime…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I too haven’t read much of contemporary literature of India. It seems the crime scene is doing well, some of the blurbs that I have read do seem interesting. I’d love to see your reaction to it, if you read it.

      Liked by 1 person

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