Thriller set around India plus author, Ankush Saikia’s, thoughts on location

18th December 2016

Remember Death by Ankush Saikia, thriller set around India.

thriller set around indiaRemember Death is the second in the Arjun Arora private detective series (the first was Dead Meat – click here for our review…). Arjun is hired to track down Agnes Pereira, an air hostess who is quite possibly involved in murder and theft of a large sum of money. But he soon discovers that the businessman who hired him may well have his own, less than honourable, motives for trying to track her down. Motives that go back years to the disappearance of Munni, an early Bollywood star, in pretty suspicious circumstances.

As with Dead Meat, Arjun’s investigations lead him into the upper echelons of Indian society, and into the murky world of gangsters and other undesirables. The book moves apace to a final, and very frightening, denouement. No more for fear of a spoiler. It is a great and exciting read.

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Delhi

It is, though, for me considerably more than that… It absolutely captures the spirit of India, from the chaotic traffic jams of Delhi to the corrupt police of Manali in the foothills of the Himalayas. The people and places that Ankush describes are vivid and they are real. Arjun is Delhi based, and Delhi is where the story begins. But it soon moves down to Mumbai (still known as Bombay to those who live there), and on to Gorkarna – a temple town on the West Coast south of Goa, before heading back up to Manali and over to Lucknow – and finally returning to Delhi. In TripFiction terms it is a tour de force of exotic locations that capture India wonderfully well. And food is not to be left out! Arjun is an excellent cook (he once thought of opening a restaurant) and we can pick up all sorts of recipe hints from the dishes he prepares for himself. Ankush also describes the eating specialities of the areas that Arjun visits on his travels. All mouth watering stuff, that makes me want to return to the country I was privileged to visit last year!

To a Western reader, Remember Death offers a great read. Yes, it is a really well written and exciting thriller, but it is also an insight into the culture and places of a wonderful country. It is highly recommended.

Tony for the TripFiction team

Over to Ankush…

#TalkingLocationWith… Ankush shares how he goes about researching locale in his new book Remember Death

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Delhi

Location has always been an important factor in my books. I knew even before I wrote Remember Death that I wanted to include in it certain places where I had travelled—like Manali, Ladakh, Gokarna—and also which I wished to visit, such as Lucknow. I also knew that I wanted a Bollywood actress from the halcyon period of the 1960s to be a part of the mystery, which meant Bombay (or Mumbai as it is called today) would figure in it as well. The research, or the attempt to capture the atmosphere of those places, was helped by the fact that I had taken notes while I had earlier visited those places. As for Delhi, Arora’s home base, I had lived and worked there for over a decade, so I was confident of plotting my way around the city—including parts I had to make up.

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A view similar to what Arora sees from his guesthouse in Manali

I first visited Manali about a decade ago, from Delhi. What I remember now about the trip is driving a rickety old Yamaha motorcycle up to the Rohtang pass, eating thin-crust pizza at a place called Il Forno run by an Italian lady, and drinking rum and smoking something the British owner was rolling up at a place called Alchemy Lounge (on the left bank of the Beas; there was a joke about how the Israelis mostly stayed there, on the Left Bank). I had come to know about the Alchemy Lounge from a flyer at a Tibetan restaurant called Chopsticks on the Mall Road in Manali, where I had eaten some passable sushi made with tinned tuna. The restaurant had a small replica of itself behind the counter with a flag that said, “Next time we serve you in Tibet!”. I included all of the above details (and some more) in the detective’s journey. The motorcycle ride up to Rohtang la, and another trip by road from Manali to Leh in Ladakh, and then driving a motorcycle from Leh to the Nubra valley, unfortunately couldn’t be used—there’s only so much of travel that can go into a detective novel.

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Dogs on Kudlee Beach, Gokarna

The part in Gokarna makes up only a little bit of the book, and my editor had even suggested dropping it. But I wanted to use that locale, so I insisted upon it. Like Arora, I too took an auto from the small bus station of the dusty little temple town, where backpackers and pilgrims wandered about, and, like Arora, I was dropped by the autorickshaw driver on a path above a few huts, through which I had to make my way to one of the “tourist” beaches (as opposed to the “Indian” beach where the pilgrims went). Unlike Arora, however, I never met a police inspector wearing dark glasses there; I did however meet a stocky, scar-faced owner of one of the shacks, the person who drinks beer with the inspector in the book.

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Kudlee Beach, Gokarna

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Delhi

Mumbai again was a small part of the book. Unlike Delhi I haven’t spent time enough in Mumbai to know it well, so the details are of the regular sort: old hotel, roadside eatery, dance bar. I never did meet anyone like the well-built client of Arora’s in any of those places, the man whom Arora notices is missing a small finger from one of his hands. Much of the drama and action in a crime writer’s books take place inside his or her head. For the rest of the details, you have to keep your eyes and ears open and take down notes.

One place I couldn’t visit however as I was writing the book (in far-away Shillong) was Lucknow, and in the end I sought inspiration from what James Hadley Chase used to do. His American crime and gangster novels were apparently written with the help of a large US map and a dictionary of American slang—I think he never visited the country. So I went to Google and You Tube to find out about trains going to Lucknow and the roads and monuments and the famous embroidery work of the city. The old courtesan Arora meets there is purely a creation of my imagination. But if you took a train to that ancient city from Delhi, and wandered around, you might come across someone like her.

Thank you so much to Ankush for a wonderful piece about research and travel. You can follow him on Social Media: a great Instagram account, Twitter, FacebookTumblr and via his website. You can buy his books here

Do come and connect with Team TripFiction via Twitter (@tripfiction), Facebook (TripFiction), Instagram (TripFiction) and Pinterest (TripFiction)… and now YouTube

For many more books set in India, just click here!

Photos © Ankush Saikia

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