13 January, 2018
Five men are on their way to a hill station, where Ramola, a fading movie star, waits to make an announcement that will change their lives forever — reads the jacket of A Closetful of Skeletons. Uhuh. Is it something like Sunset Boulevard (film), we thought.
The similarities are there — the protagonist is a fading star, and the book serves some delicious gossip, the insecurities and cut-throat competition that prevails in the film world. But Ramola, unlike Norma (the ageing star in Sunset Boulevard) doesn’t live under any illusion that she is going to make a grand come-back. She is happy with the world she has created in Ramsar, a hill-station in up north, pursuing other interests, living a secluded, but not a lonely life.
But her past does have a presence in her present. Ramola has written her autobiography — ‘exposé’ being the right term. And, she has invited five men, from her past, to celebrate her new project. However, the men get jittery when they hear about the book. They have got everything to lose if their exploits become public knowledge. No wonder then that two days after the announcement of the book, Ramola is found murdered.
This opens up the trail of whos, whys and hows with ASP Tim Thapa and Colonel Acharya trying to outwit the killer/s. In the process, they figure out the enigmatic persona of Ramola, who is described variously by her detractors as ‘hard as nails’, ‘cold’, ‘calculating’ and ‘selfish’.
For a thriller mystery to click with the readers, it has to be fast-paced and a page turner. A Closetful of Skeletons is a page-turner, but the pace lags a bit when the author tries to set up a scene too lavishly. And, yet when the climax comes, the reader is in for a surprise. All our guesswork results in a naught. The credit is due to the author, whose first attempt at writing a thriller, gets a thumbs up.
A Closetful of Mystery
Sunday, 08 April 2018 | AMRITA VARMA | in Agenda
This balanced murder mystery keeps the rational wheels in the reader’s head churning without overly violent or graphic description, says AMRITA VARMA
A good murder mystery, on a cold winter night, with a cup of warm coffee and your mind buzzing with visions and images of stories untold, is pure bliss, if one has experienced it. This particular one does justice to that experience without being aggressively graphic and violent in its expression. The novel itself travels from the fast — paced cinematic visions of the lives of the who’s who of Bollywood with all its masala, moving to life in a cottage of an idyllic village in the Himalayas with its laid back peaceful surroundings. The protagonist, Ramola, who is an immensely successful actress, carries the story through her relative struggle in the film industry from her liaisons with men and brushes with the casting couch, to her shift to limelight and then to a life of relative recluse which she has enjoyed immensely in the recent past.
One gets a fantastic experience of the beauty and serenity of life in the hills and its slow pace where leisurely pursuits are the order of the day. Coming back to Mumbai, the characters are presented in the first few chapters one after another. The psychological make up, frustrations, tensions, emotional associations and their expectations with the protagonist can be sensed which are further re instated through the novel. Meanwhile, in the hamlet of Ramsar, Ramola has been writing an autobiography with the help of a young journalist who resides with her. They plan a launch of sorts by inviting each of the characters that have been an integral part of her story to her 40th birthday party in the hills. To add to it is an audience of the local judge, retired army officer, doctor, policeman/ detective and their families who are the local neighbours and the servants in all their ji hazoori, hard work, alcoholic abandon and careless gossip. The stage is set for murder. Let the games begin.
What is interesting is the relative ease with which Podder flows from one character to another and binds the mystery where not only can one experience what each entity is going through internally, but also its external manifestations in their behavior while keeping the secret of the possible murderer/s under strict lock and key. One seems to go through a parallel detective game along with the colonel and the detective/ policeman who play the part of the Sherlock — Watson duo in its classic style with aplomb. As it happens in the hills, one finds beautiful depictions of everyday life, the walks through the hills, those lovely, homely cottages with flowering creepers on walls and the surrounding cottages with their inhabitants sitting in their gardens basking in the sun and the views and idle talk which exists in places where there is less to do and more time to kill. The entire novel is peppered with such visuals and it is commendable how Podder has built the story gradually weaving it with these detailed panoramic depictions so much so that the reader actually feels transported there and one can feel the crisp mountain air and the chirping of the birds!
While the novel runs in a racy manner like a Doyle novel with intrigue around every bend, the familiar idyllic countryside plays well with the contradictions between time and space. There is too much excitement for a hill town, which in a humourous way, gives something to the local people living there to do and think about while all the city dwellers who have thronged the hills for their various vested reasons enjoy the bounties of nature and rest, ironically around the stage where the murder is set! In doing so, the characters though very realistic, gain strains of a comic identity through their respective circumstances and actions. Unlike the typical murder mystery, the narrative here is robust yet gently brought out and has certain lightness to it. The final darkness of a brutal murder is not felt in a block of black but in its greys and gets buried under the subtler, grander circumstances that come into play where somewhere one finds the circumstances of the characters lives justifying the means and the final actions. In the end it seems like a play of life and circumstances which force and bring about the final tragedy with the people as pawns of a grander plan by destiny itself.
There is a sense to all the drama and chaos as the successive meetings and partings happen within the visual narrative of the novel that one is constantly catching up to. One can feel the inner drama and thoughts of the characters in a startlingly clear manner and this lends itself to a premonition that something is not right even though all seems to be on the verge of coming back together with one happy band of friends coming together and making merry till sundown. As the novel progresses towards its final act the progression of time and events fastens, a classic tool, which Podder uses with dexterity and one waits with baited breath though one is not totally aware of when will the deed happen and who exactly would have done it.
Podder just about manages to get the reader engrossed in peeling the layers of the characters and looking back in memory constantly, while mapping the change of events as they run through the novel, as active participants rather than a passive disassociated observer, which is a feat in itself to be applauded. Tanushree’s style of writing is to be credited for her understanding of the land, its people, cultural subtleties and the many humourous and interesting idiosyncrasies it brings with it that she exploits to the fullest. Her writing is gentle and fluid, and reveals events by changing pace when required yet is not obscure or verbose.
If one wants to really experience a classic murder mystery which is not so much a gory splash on the wall as it is the warp and weave of lives of people in all their vagaries and dynamism and the fascinating circumstances that delivers the final plot ending in a masterstroke with great flourish, you don’t want to miss picking up this one!
Book Review: Tanushree Podder’s ‘A Closetful of Skeletons’February 28, 2018
By Rimli Bhattacharya
Title: A Closetful of Skeletons
Author: Tanushree Podder
Publisher: Harper Black, 2017.
Those who are interested in suspense and detective novels and are also ardent readers of such novels would love Tanushree Podder’s A Closetful of Skeletons, which offers a chilling mystery for you to solve.
The story revolves around Ramola – a stunning forty-year-old actress, who suddenly withdraws from public life at the peak of her glory in the Bollywood film industry. She becomes a recluse and starts to live in a picturesque hilly town called Ramsar. Among her neighbors are retired couples, including a colonel, a judge, a doctor and also a professor. Ramola lives in Charmwood Cottage for which she has actually paid a large sum from her savings, when she decided to retire and turn ascetic. Her only companions are her gardener, a cook, and a domestic-help. She leads an idyllic life without incident, when she decides to write her autobiography. During her strolls around the neighbourhood, she bumps into Tia, who has also arrived in Ramsar to cope with heartbreak and is in need of a sabbatical. Ramola and Tia share a common bond of desolation and soon become confidantes to each other. Since Tia wants to write a novel and Ramola her memoir, the two of them decide to collaborate on Ramola’s memoir.
The twist in this gripping novel comes, when Ramola decides to invite several men from her life for her birthday party and make a strange announcement. Some of the men are well-known and some are small-time casual lovers. They include a top notch film director, a politician, a fading actor, an underworld don, and a Casanova. She invites them personally to her birthday party with the promise of an important announcement. The director, politician, and the don, though initially reluctant, cannot get over Ramola, whom they had loved once upon a time. They are equally curious to know about the announcement and arrive at Ramsar to attend her birthday bash. The actor and the gigolo sound more than happy and immediately agree to meet Ramola with hopes to catch up with her again as well as thinking if there might be a chance to regain their own stardom with her influence.
On the night of her birthday party, she announces that she will soon publish her tell-all memoir. On hearing this, each of those men tries to dissuade her and Ramola is dragged back into the deception and chicanery she thought she had left behind. Mita Ghosh, reviewing this novel for The Hindu, writes that Ramola has a “nasty surprise in store for these men, some of whom had been instrumental in her celluloid success, but had also exploited her cruelly: at the party, she announces her plans of publishing her memoir, a no-holds-barred exposé featuring them. Hackles are raised, fear is generated and murder is inevitable.” Ultimately, Ramola is murdered and after a few days the lifeless body of Tia is also discovered.
For the next few days, the police as well as Colonel Arjun H Acharya, who is helping the police, are on their toes, trying to solve the two murders.
Ramola’s life has not been squeaky clean and the novel highlights this from the first chapter on. The novel also projects the lives of several actresses and other women. Women are often objects of lust to men, to be used and thrown away, and this novel is bound to touch a raw nerve in any woman, who has had a similar past. For the men who have flirted with and bedded several women but have never loved, this novel will be a surprise to them as well.
The author, Tanushree Podder, revealed, in an earlier interview, that she had this idea for Ramola’s character after reading a newspaper report. Podder said that writing a novel in any genre can be a challenging process. She believes that detective fiction offers a real challenge because one has to make sure that the crime is believable and the readers don’t discover the murderer too early in the book. On why she had chosen a character like Ramola who had some grey areas open to the interpretation of readers, she said in the interview “All human beings have grey areas. No one is totally white or black. Ramola is a Bollywood star, who worked her way up to the top of the ladder through various machinations. With no sugar daddies.”
A Closetful of Skeletons does not root for the central character. The reader’s empathy is born out of identification with Ramola’s internal struggles. In her tweet chat with the portal, Women’s Web, Podder revealed that she created Ramola’s character with the belief that readers become invested in a story only if they can identify with a character. Ramola is a woman whom people would love to hate, while empathizing with her. Inspired by female characters like Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, Margaret Mitchell’s Scarlett O’Hara and Melanie Hamilton Wilkes, this novel is a perfect read. Just like Ramola’s neighbor, the retired army officer Arjun H. Acharya, the reader might also try to solve the crime as they read it.
The book is unputdownable. As a reader, I kept turning the pages to know who killed the movie star. The plot is sharp and the storytelling is racy. I was hooked until the very end. The novel is the author’s first tryst with crime fiction and she deserves a big thumbs up for it.
A Closetful of Skeletons is available on Amazon India and Flipkart. Do watch the trailer of the gripping novel here.
Rimli Bhattacharya completed Mechanical Engineering from National Institute of Technology. After obtaining an MBA, she worked in the corporate sector. Rimli is a trained Indian classical dancer, based out of Mumbai, India. She tweets at: @rimli76
Posted on February 10, 2018 by Anup
When I was in middle school, I discovered, among many others, two books in my Dad’s library. One was Arthur Conan Doyle’s, the other was Agatha Christie’s. May be because Agatha Christie’s book was a bit old, and Sherlock Holmes had a better cover, I read the Sherlock Holmes. Holmes and Watson became an instant hit with me, and I devoured all the short stories and the novels written by Arthur Conan Doyle. Thereafter, in those years, there was a serial on Doordarshan “Karamchand Jasoos” played by Pankaj Kapoor that captivated me with the who-dun-it framework, besides the humour in it. Later on the character of Byomkesh Bakshi held some interest and thereafter my interest in the who-dun-its waned.
Tanushree Podder, the author of “A Closetful of Skeletons” is not new to me. Few years back, I had read “Boots, Belts, Berets”, a fictionalised YA novel based on real incidents in the National Defence Academy. Definitely, if one has an army background, source material on a book of teen trainee officers would come easily. What I found interesting, that despite being a woman, she was well able to bring forth the milieu, emotions and incidents of an all boys bastion, and weave through the story, and at the same time, being honest about all the travails that existed in the hallowed institution by painting a realistic picture in the story. That was a refreshing change from all things jingoistically-patriotic whenever the word defence-services are mentioned or as projected by different medias of India.
Given that, and that she writes different genres, I was curious how a writer who has written historical fiction and campus YA, would deal with a who-dun-it murder mystery. I had thought the electronic copy would arrive from the publisher, but surprised and delighted when I received the copy direct from author’s email. Initially, I was a bit reluctant as the title of the book suggested something gory or horror. I usually avoid reading anything crime or horror containing grisly details. But I was relieved that this book has nothing like that. And I was again my school-self reading the book.
The book deals with an ex-bollywood superstar actress, Ramola, who has retired to seclusion in a remote hill town. The story starts rolling when she calls her different ex-friends after many years and invites them for her birthday, and tells them that she has an important announcement to make. The announcement happens to be a memoir she has been writing that has the potential of exposing their no-bars-held-secrets. And at the event, “masks slipped, emotions surfaced, body language and facial expressions revealed what the brain would have liked to conceal”. Perhaps this is what the “closetful” is all about, not the real skeletons. And after the birthday, when all the bigshots were in the sleepy hill town, the actress is found murdered. The who-dun-it starts thereafter.
In, English books written in Indian settings, its inevitable that dialogues in local language creeps in. Many authors are not able to deal with this aspect properly. However in this case the author manages it pretty well, not just the local language, but even at times French snippets, and the reader, even when not privy to the language would not find themselves out of bearing. Besides, the way, so many different characters are managed adroitly is remarkable. The author has a flow with the language and is a delight to read.
There are two limitation of the book. Firstly, the suspense element, in my view, was introduced too soon. Secondly, some part of the mystery element could have been easily guillotined. The book takes the aspects of the traditional who-dun-it, and intertwines it well with the modern technologies of laptops and video chats, even though the detective reader could think of a few more actions, like if a suspect could get the diaries burnt, why would another, take a longer route of formatting a laptop, and not just throw it to fire? why was the assistant’s laptop not seized in the very first place? wouldn’t it be easier to get deleted data than the formatted one?
The author is an unabashed disciple of Agatha Christie. But, if that was not enough, she leaves no doubt. The cracking investigator, a Colonel, his middle name matches the first name of Poirot. And if that was not enough the Colonel’s wife says at one place, “By the way, I could give you some practical tips to help you solve the murder case. I’ve been reading Agatha Christie lately.”
Needless to say, the author is a gifted one who can deal with different genres with equal ease (though I have not read her historical fiction, which I wish to read some day) Overall, a very good book. Those who are not into hardcore crime books, but more into detective, character building, and world building, then they would find the book a very good one to read and gift.
21 FEBRUARY, 2018
Five men are on their way to a hill station, where Ramola, a fading movie star, waits for them to make an announcement that will change their lives forever. Ramola withdrew from the public eye at the peak of her stardom. Now, surrounded by retired couples spending their twilight years gardening and gossiping, her life is idyllic. Or at least it was, till the night of her birthday party, when she announces that her tell-all memoir will soon be published. The book, documenting her rise to fame, puts each of her ex-lovers’ careers in jeopardy. As each desperate man tries to save himself, Ramola is drawn back into the very web of lies and deception she’d left behind. By the time the party is over, Ramola’s neighbour, retired army officer and amateur sleuth, Colonel Arjun H. Acharya, has found his first murder to solve. A Closetful of Skeletons reels you into a cosy world of fresh mountain air, long-drawn bridge games and bloody murder.
Due to the amazing cover and apt title, the reader begins the book with high expectations which is hardly met. Also, while reading mystery novels we have an innate tendency to compare it with Agatha Christie. Well, if you do not do the same, I Bet you will enjoy this gripping thrilling and tantalizing read. Ramola is the perfect embodiment of a woman with a rounded character, a woman who has had her share of past, present and plans for future - none of which are constant or similar! The present she lives seems quite peaceful and calm, contrasted to her rowdy past that she slowly unveils throughout the novel. And the future? Well. To know that you need to grab a copy here !
The novel is pretty fast paced towards the end and beginning but it does get a bit boring in the middle. Also, apart from Ramola, no other character is rounded and seem very flat. Some improvisation could have given greater dimensions to the novel. However, I was too impressed with the writing style to DNF the book, so I eventually gave it time and voila! I rate the book 4*/5*. I am pretty sure the author is capable of much better work in future.
2018-01-14 Verified purchase
Definitely Recommend This
Finally, after a long time got to read a nice mystery novel. Bought copies of it at the book fair and Amazon, as had heard a lot about it. This book definitely keeps you engaged from the first page to the end, the book has its moments and lives up to the hype. Definitely recommend it to every mystery bug out there looking for something different to read!
A Surprising Find
If you are an avid reader, it is quite possible that you build a certain image of an author and start associating them with certain genres. Tanushree Podder’s latest is that surprise find. Her book A Closet Full of Skeletons is a departure from her other books where at least three of them have the armed forces as the backdrop and two are historical fiction. Knowing fully well that it is a murder mystery (the title does its bit), I picked this up without hesitation. For one, her writing brings a sense of comforting familiarity. Second, her subjects are always thoroughly researched, thus ensuring a delightful read.
A Closetful of skeletons is the story of Ramola a fading star who decides to exit gracefully and move to the hills. Readers are given a glimpse of her brief tryst with the filmwallahs, including a mafia don with filmi connection. The book begins with each one of them receiving a phone invite to her upcoming birthday party where she plans to make an announcement - also connected to them. I will say that is the start of a mystery because along with the characters, it leaves the reader wondering about the announcement and the consequence it holds for each of them.
The hills offer a stark yet pretty contrast. This is where Ramola has made her home and finds some peace and contentment. A group of seniors who meet over gossip, and a game of bridge seem to be the only source of excitement in this sleepy town. Until a murder happens, that is.
On the day of celebration and announcement, Ramola’s two worlds – the erstwhile murky and the present jolly and peaceful – come together on the lawns of her bungalow. A night later she is murdered, which undoubtedly had been provoked by her announcement. What then follows is a thrilling turn of pages that leads to a nail-biting finish.
The characters from both the worlds are etched so well that it is not easy to get muddled up. The writing style is breezy (in fact some choice of words is a delightful find). It’s not easy to ignore the author’s love for travel, where Podder sprinkles the Italian connection quite generously.
With a tight plot, delightful characters, quirky connections and the charmed world of a sleepy mountain town as a backdrop, A Closetful of Skeletons is simply a treat for that lazy weekend afternoon.
It's such a fun read! The interplay between characters and the plot is excellent. I finished it in a day!
It's not exactly Agatha Christie level in the sense that the writing is much more modern but the atmosphere in the book and the closed-door suspense will delight all Christie lovers like me.
I was born in hills, so as I came ...
I was born in hills, so as I came across this book it felt that, "Wow, hills". A book having a urban touch alongwith a traditional style. Satirical. Innovative way of penning.
Enjoyed reading about Ramola's life
Enjoyed reading about Ramola's life. Spent time tracing and figuring out the murderer along with Colonel. The journey was every bit enjoyable as thrilling. Good Xmas read.
Great holiday read. It is fast paced and well-detailed. Would definitely recommend to all murder mystery enthusiasts.
25 December 2017
Format: Paperback| Verified Purchase
A riveting read!
Customer Review5.0 out of 5 starsA great accompaniment for a winter afternoon!
By Kalpana on December 25, 2017
Format: Kindle Edition
A suspense story that goes well with your cup of hot tea and a wintry afternoon; with an interesting twist towards the end.
As the story unfolds, the author takes you through the tiny sleepy town of Ramsar and the lives of its myriad inhabitants. If you love idyllic towns with natural settings, you are bound to fall in love with Ramsar. I know, I did.
Ramola, a former film star is one of the more recent residents of this town. She has a few skeletons in her cupboard and they in turn, have their own. So, when there is a danger of these skeletons tumbling out, she gets killed and the whodunnit begins.
Get ready to spend some time in a sleepy hill-town, chasing killers and clues, all from the comfort of your room.
Five men are on their way to a hill station, where Ramola, a fading movie star, waits for them to make an announcement that will change their lives forever. Ramola withdrew from the public eye at the peak of her stardom. Now, surrounded by retired couples spending their twilight years gardening and gossiping, her life is idyllic. Or at least it was, till the night of her birthday party, when she announces that her tell-all memoir will soon be published. The book, documenting her rise to fame, puts each of her ex-lovers' careers in jeopardy. As each desperate man tries to save himself, Ramola is drawn back into the very web of lies and deception she'd left behind. By the time the party is over, Ramola's neighbour, retired army officer and amateur sleuth, Colonel Arjun H. Acharya, has found his first murder to solve. A Closetful of Skeletons reels you into a cosy world of fresh mountain air, long-drawn bridge games and bloody murder.
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