The Taj Conspiracy by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar is a ‘desi’ thriller set amid the familiar sights and sounds of India. Here characters eat greasy samosas with their fingers, gorge on mutton kebab and biryani and, when drunk, sing a Bollywood number off-key.In this colourful world, we meet Mughal scholar Mehrunisa Khosa, who, finds herself embroiled in a murder mystery. She suspects that there may be a conspiracy at work to pass off the Taj as an ancient Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva.If her suspicions are true, Mehrunisa knows that the nation will suffer devastating consequences. She must try to discover the twisted mind that wants to tear the country apart and save the Taj.
Manreet’s prose is remarkably evocative. Her descriptions draw heavily on the senses, conjuring images in the reader’s mind. In one instance, Mehrunisa, called in to the police station for questioning, feels nauseous by the odours that assail her there. Served omelette and forced to take a bite out of it, she likens the experience to biting into bread extracted from under an armpit.The size of the chapters is a novelty. Most take up no more than two pages, and there are two chapters that are a single page each. This enables the author to take you to a scene and let you linger just long enough to watch a character take the story forward before moving to another interesting scene. The detailed evocative descriptions, combined with the brevity of the chapters, give you the feeling of watching a film in your head. The short chapters are camera shots, cut and spliced to give you a racy thriller.
Manreet’s ability to keep readers hanging on to multiple skeins of plots and sub-plots without confusing them is to be commended. Despite having to juggle together so many characters, each one complete with a fascinating back story and sub-plot extravagantly fleshed out to perfection, Manreet manages to make them appear real. The duality of each of the characters where, at some time or the other, it seems as though everyone has something to hide, adds to the complexity.The stories-within-stories is another device that Manreet has used skilfully. Professor Kaul’s stories germinate in Mehrunisa’s mind and enable her to make an accurate deduction.
A monument like the Taj could not have stood tall for centuries had its foundations not been deep and strong. The foundations of Manreet’s The Taj Conspiracy lie in the extremely detailed and exhaustive research, a factor that adds hugely to the appeal of the book. Manreet has managed to source unknown nuggets of information about the architecture and history of the Taj, the geography of Agra, as well as the history of Renaissance art and pass it through the sieve of her own imagination before serving us this delightfully exciting thriller.Manreet has done well by Mehrunisa, creating a woman character who is strong, yet self-effacing, intelligent and dogged, spirited and feisty. I look forward to the second part of her trilogy.
— Reviewed by Cynthia Rodrigues
Acrively blogs at Cynthology. As a writer and editor, works for the internal communications team of India’s most ethical corporate group.A devoted wife and mother to 2 lovely kids!