By Gautam Acharya. Grade: B
Reviewed by Arun.
A thriller from Indian author Gautam Acharya is a first of its kind for me. The title of the book – The Magician Who Lost His Wallet – turns out to be a misnomer. There is no magician in this story which is set in Bengal. A seemingly white-collared crime leads to a murder and the mystery revolves around the identity and disappearance of both the murderer and the victim.
The story is told mostly in first person through various characters. The first few pages keep you engrossed and you turn the pages furiously. As the plot thickens, credibility is stretched a bit and the climax leaves a few loose ends untied.
Debu Haldar is ready to grasp at anything that offers some excitement to his mundane life. One day, while at a multiplex, he finds a lost wallet. When he tries to return it, the owner disappears in front of him in a way that defies logical explanation. Two days later, from a newspaper article and a business card found inside the wallet, he learns that the owner of the wallet is actually a fugitive from the law. More sinister facts emerge, and Debu gets a chance to fulfil one of his childhood ambitions – to get to the bottom of a devious crime. Only two people stand between him and his dream: a brutal psychopath with an extraordinary scheme, and a mild-mannered intellectual who is also trying to unravel the mystery before anyone else
The protagonist, Debu Haldar, is endearingly down to earth and this wannabe detective’s attempt at solving the mystery of the disappearing act is an interesting take by the author. The way the investigation unravels and the working of the police is well written with engaging detail. While Debu fumbles along, it is his neighbor who turns Sherlock Holmes and makes the crucial breakthroughs. Most of the characters and the setting of the crime is also quite realistic but the infusion of the local Bengali flavour is noticably missing. Moreover, the neighbor’s character and his motives are not well fleshed out. The gratuitous help that he offers for Debu to live his dream of being a sleuth and his genius is more baffling than unraveling. The motives of the perpetrators of the crime are also dubious. The hallucinations of the perpetrator towards the end is incongruous and begs more questions. The author attempts to inject some levity to the situations in the form of a pesky brother-in-law of Debu but it doesn’t quite add up.
The crime while being covered by all the newspapers and the TV channels and getting plenty of attention is shown to be investigated at the level of an Inspector, which is rather implausible. The police are always shown to be two steps behind the bumbling sleuth and his genius neighbor.
For a novel that claims to be a psycho thriller it would only be more appropriate that it dwells into the minds of the seemingly innocuous middle class unemployed people and reflect upon what drives them to murder. The questions about why and how someone with no apparent criminal background would meticulously plan and kill in cold blood begs an answer. Keeping in mind that this is a debut, it is commendable the way author built up the characters, but methinks he left the work quite unfinished.
The book is a thriller mystery in its own right but the ‘psycho’ part needs more meat in there. I have finished the book in a single sitting and at 186 pages it is a breeze. I should mention that my teenaged daughter though was not bothered by the loose ends and other details and she was quite thrilled after reading the book.