The three of them are the true loves of my life and they don’t figure in any order of preference. Each one of them has played an equally important part in my growth as a writer and a human being. In my own way I have paid a tribute to all three of them in my first attempt to write a detective fiction novel. I have to admit nothing gives me more pleasure when friends and acquaintances mention to me that they couldn’t guess who the murderer was until the revelation in the end. I never forget to thank the three goddesses of the murder mystery genre for showing me the way whenever this happens.
Like most people of my generation, Agatha Christie came first. I was 11 when I found my mother reading ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles.’ I was hooked to the mystery series of Enid Blyton during those days and anything to do with the magic word immediately caught my fancy. Some negotiations around doing well in the half yearly examinations followed before I was allowed to read my first adult detective fiction. I have cherished her books ever since. Searching and finding them, at first in the school library and the paisa lending libraries in Bistupur, the market area of Jamshedpur, and then graduating to other spaces where I could locate them. Shortly after I started reading books by Christie, my parents took me along for dinner to one of their friend’s home. Their book shelf had ‘Cat among the pigeons.’ I stood in front of that book shelf and ogled at the book for so long, that the hostess took it out for me and told me I could keep it. My parents were very embarrassed and my mother gave me a tight slap when we returned. So I have even read a Christie after earning it for a slap.
I bought some of them too, accumulating loose change that my parents would have left strewn around the house. There was no concept of pocket money in my house and in any case my parents were too poor to give us money for indulgences. Just feeding, clothing and educating five of us must have been difficult. The only one with a book budget in the house was my mother who would buy two books every year when we made the annual three day train trip to Kerala with a stopover at Madras. One book she will buy while going and one during the return journey. She had an eclectic taste in reading that ranged from Irving Stone to Irving Wallace, Jane Austen to Daphne Du Maurier. Detective fiction figured rarely on her reading list and when it did, it was always Agatha Christie. By the time I had passed out of college, I had read all the murder mysteries Christie had written.
I have never been tempted to read any of the romances she wrote under a pseudonym. It would have spoilt her for me. Miss Marple provided enough romance in my life and in my book there is a character bearing a physical resemblance to my fictitious heartthrob.
P D James happened next. I was working by then and living in Kolkata. An official trip to Chennai led me to an office that was located next to Landmark. After the meeting, I strolled into the shop. Before that day, I didn’t even know such a large book store existed in India. This was early 90s and I had got my first credit card. I went crazy with it and bought a dozen books. ‘Devices and Desires’ was one of them, acquainting me for the first time with her detective Adam Dalgliesh. Fans of Dalgliesh would scoff at me for saying this, but I really believe he is a bit like me. He broods all the time and writes poetry. Come on, I also do that.
Apart from Dalgliesh, James has another female detective. She is okay but the strongest female character James has sketched is Phillipa, the protagonist in her marvellous work ‘Innocent Blood.’ This one is on my list of 10 favourite books of all times and I have often wondered why it never got its literary due. Yes, there are a couple of murders in it and Dalgliesh makes a cursory appearance at the end, but for most parts the book dwells on the fascinating relationship Phillipa shares with her mother. It was only after I finished writing ‘Let Her Rest Now’ and was going through the first proofs that it occurred to me that my book also had a significant strand that was all about Neha’s relationship with her mother.
Ruth Rendell introduced herself to me in British Library, a few years after I got married. I started with a Wexford- ‘A New Lease of Death’ and was somewhat impressed by this ugly detective who enjoyed unconditional love and devotion from his beautiful wife. I guess I was hoping for the same thing in my life. However, it was in her avatar as Barbara Vine, that I have most cherished Rendell. All the books, she has written as Vine, enjoy a special place in my heart. Especially the first, she wrote under the pseudonym, ‘A Dark Adapted Eye, ’ I have read some half a dozen times.
Vine’s protagonists are usually women and of course there is no doubt in my mind, that Neha is my protagonist because I have been privileged enough to read all the books Rendell has written as Vine and all of them usually have a young woman as a protagonist.
‘Let Her Rest Now’ is a shrine I have constructed for these three goddesses of detective fiction.
(‘Let Her Rest Now’ by Vijay Nair is now available at all leading book stores and online)
Vijay Nair is the author of Let Her Rest (fiction, Hachette India, 2012), The Boss Is Not Your Friend (non-fiction, Hachette India, 2011), Master Of Life Skills (fiction, Harper Collins India, 2006) and The Gloomy Rabbit and other plays (Drone Quill, 2003). His essays have been included in international anthologies. A recipient of the Fulbright Senior Research Grant and the Charles Wallace Award, Vijay lives in Bangalore with his wife and son and can be reached at email@example.com