My Harith Athreya Mysteries are a series of murder mysteries that are set in different picturesque places in the vast Indian countryside. These remote, scenic places are spots that visitors don’t always go to.
Here is a blog post I wrote for Pushkin Press about books that left an impression on my with their settings:
A DIRE ISLE, the second Harith Athreya mystery has a real-world setting in Bundelkhand, Central India. It’s a remote spot on the banks of the Betwa River, a stone’s throw from the erstwhile Orchha kingdom. A wedding in the family took me there and supplied me with the setting for this book. Here is how that happened:
CrimeReads has listed A DIRE ISLE among the 10 novels you should read in December 2021. Here is their review:
The second novel in the Harith Athreya series firmly establishes RV Raman as an author on the rise and an impressive force in the world of whodunnits. In A Dire Isle, there’s a mysterious death at an archaeological site near a fabled island in the Betwa River, in Central India. Detective Athreya is called to investigate and encounters a kind of locked-room puzzle mixed in with gothic notes from the beyond. Readers who crave the fair play puzzling of a traditional mystery mixed in with some armchair travel will be richly rewarded.
Here is the first review of the upcoming mystery, A DIRE ISLE. Publishers Weekly review the second Harith Athreya mystery that is set in Orchha in Bundelkhand (Central India).
Raman’s enjoyable sequel to 2020’s A Will to Kill takes private investigator Harith Athreya to an archaeological dig on the banks of the River Betwa in Bundelkhand, India, at the behest of investors in the excavation concerned about financial irregularities. The site is run by the overbearing and unpopular Mrs. Markaan, who has a reputation for taking credit for work done by junior archaeologists on her team. Legend has it that a couple, forbidden to marry because one was Hindu and the other Muslim, escaped to a nearby island with a giant mastiff dog and have haunted it ever since. When Mrs. Markaan turns up dead on the island, Athreya must determine whether the death is related to the troubles with the dig’s finances, or if the island’s myths have become real. Raman does a good job weaving in the mystery with a possibility of the supernatural, all while juggling a large cast of characters. A multilayered reveal in the final pages proves satisfying as well. Armchair travelers and fans of traditional mysteries should take note.
A WILL TO KILL was reviewed by The New York Times yesterday. Here is the link and the text.
Thrillers Spiked With Malice and Dread
By Sarah Lyall
Jan. 15, 2021, 12:22 p.m. ET
“There are so many ways to kill,” observes a character in RV Raman’s A WILL TO KILL (Polis, 282 pp., $26), a modern-day take on the classic locked-room murder mystery, transported to a remote mansion high in the hills of southern India. “People drown in rivers, fall down stairs, have heavy objects fall on them, die of suffocation in airless rooms or dungeons, and even get scared to death.”
Here at the possibly haunted Greybrooke Manor in Nilgiris, a dozen guests have gathered at the invitation of Bhaskar Fernandez, an eccentric patriarch whose squabbling extended family is tediously dependent on his largesse. Bhaskar is convinced that someone is trying to kill him and has included on his guest list Harith Athreya, a canny private detective charged with looking into a series of suspicious incidents. To disincentivize any would-be killer, Bhaskar has drawn up two wills allowing for two different possibilities: one if he dies of natural causes, the other in the case of his murder. (Bhaskar is a lover of mysteries and enjoys his little games.)
The roads are rendered impassable by a landslide. The lights go out. Greedy relatives and hangers-on circle like so many piranhas. And before we know it, there is indeed a murder — but instead of Bhaskar, the victim is a guest, an artist with a murky past whose body is found, improbably, slumped in his host’s motorized wheelchair. Who did it? And who killed the second victim, not long after?
There seem to be several crimes going on at once, and a lot to pay attention to: an art scam, a drug ring, the falsification of identities, not to mention a spot of adultery. But Athreya is a fine detective with a curious mind, a cool eye for the chance detail, a skill in synthesizing disparate threads and a talent for resisting the insults of the requisite police officer assigned to the case.
Pleased to see A WILL TO KILL listed alongside some real big names as one of the best traditional mysteries of 2020. That too by Crimereads. Here is the link:
Hello, folks in US and Canada! The American edition of A WILL TO KILL is now out. Available both online and offline. Please support in any way you can. Thanks. Please share!
Here is the link: https://www.amazon.com/Will-Kill-Harith-Athreya/dp/1951709071/
Posted in Author Post
My recent article on Crimereads:
Posted in Author Post
So many of us have grown up on a diet of classic mysteries – be it from the masters like Agatha Christie, Edgar Wallace and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, or from less celebrated writers. There is something endearing about these stories that make us go back and re-read them many decades after they were written. Their settings, the puzzles they pose and the inimitable denouements at the end are nothing short of magical! An old mansion, a lonely valley, swirling mist and a spooky legend combine to evoke memories of one such popular milieu.
For long, one has wanted to read such mysteries set in India and with Indian characters … whodunits with no profanity or sleaze that everyone in the family can enjoy. Unfortunately, they are few and far between.
A Will To Kill represents an attempt to create one such classic Indian mystery. It is a homage to the old masters. What milieu did I create for this mystery? What else? An old mansion with an eerie past, set in a remote valley full of swirling mist!
As the story is set in the present day, one cannot get away from mobile phones and WhatsApp, even in remote hills. So, here is a present-day novel modeled on the mysteries of yesteryear. This is my first domestic whodunit after writing four corporate thrillers.
It’s a rum thing, being a writer. You never know why strangers smile at you. Especially immediately after they discover that you write fiction.
‘See!’ Your vanity digs an elbow into your ribs. ‘He’s smiling! He appreciates you.’
‘Nah!’ rumbles the realist in you, peering over its half-moon reading glasses. ‘He’s just indulging you. See how patronizing his smile is.’
‘Wrong,’ moans the cynic in you, rolling over as it slumbers in a corner. ‘That’s not a smile … it’s a sneer! Can’t you see the scorn in it, for heaven’s sake? He’s laughing at you!’
What with the world and his uncle starting to write, and with no dearth of “publishers” willing to print your stuff, all hues of writing – the good, the bad and the ugly – have flooded bookstores in copious quantities. There are no quality filters. And so, there are writers and writers and writers. No wonder some folks scoff at you.
The result? You never know how people will react when they learn that you too write fiction. Will you be appreciated, patronized or ridiculed?
It has become an occupational hazard of sorts. Unless you are a best-selling name, of course. In which case, they know that you write poorly or write well. For the rest of us, the mystery comes alive each time you meet a stranger and your brother-in-law proudly introduces you as a writer.
‘You write?’ titters a new acquaintance at a wedding for want of anything better to say. ‘Mythology or romance?’ The two genres seem to account for her entire world of books.
‘Neither,’ I say sheepishly. ‘I write crime fiction.’
‘Oh!’ She loses interest and starts looking around with an expression that suggests that she doesn’t want to hang around someone who is involved with crime.
‘Crime!’ says her husband, stepping forward. ‘My nephew writes that too. He’s good at English, you know. He got almost 75% in English in his Class X exam last year. He’s written a story about gangsters and vamps. Gory but titillating stuff!’
I make the right noises. I know where this is heading.
‘Can you edit his story and help him get it published?’ the man goes on. ‘But no stealing his story, okay?’ He punches me playfully in the shoulder. ‘Ha, ha! No offense – that’s just a joke.’
His wife has drifted away. I try to do likewise, but I am pinned between a wall and the man’s ample tummy. I try to tell him that I am a writer, not an editor. That I don’t steal stories. That I don’t write titillating stuff. But he is insistent. A shrewd look comes into his eye as he tries to strike a deal.
‘We can come to an arrangement,’ he whispers. ‘My nephew will share the spoils with you. What say you, eh?’
I somehow wriggle my way out of it. I mumble that gangsters and vamps are not my line. Nor is gore or titillation. I write cleaner stuff, I say with a touch of righteousness – white-collar crime.
‘Financial fraud and that sort of thing?’ he asks.
I nod, eyeing the gap that is opening up between the man and the wall. I might just be able to escape through it.
‘I have an idea for a white-collar crime novel,’ he enthuses. ‘A brilliant idea! You must give me credit in your novel.’
I smile noncommittedly. My attention is on the widening gap. It’s almost large enough for me to slip through.
‘You know these emails you get from Nigeria?’ he asks conspiratorially. ‘The ones that offer to pay you ten million dollars? It’s a fraud! It’s just a ploy to steal your money –’
I bolt through the gap. Escape at last!
I walk around the wedding hall to get away from him, and eventually find a lone chair for a bit of peace and quiet. But that’s not to be. A stranger pulls up a chair and plonks down beside me.
‘I wanted to talk to you about a brilliant idea for a novel,’ he says. ‘You know these emails you get from Nigeria …’
Clearly, being a writer is no unmixed blessing.
For those who take up fiction-writing after toiling for decades in the corporate sector, the peril takes yet another form. Some former colleagues – senior blokes who run companies and stuff – start looking down upon you.
‘Et tu, Brute?’ their silent glances seem to ask as they gaze down their Roman hawk-noses. The look they favour you with isn’t unlike what Caesar might have given Brutus in his final hour. I sense what’s going through their minds.
‘What’s wrong with him?’ they are thinking. ‘Why did he have to go and start writing – fiction of all things? He should have done a start-up or something.’
Having said this, I must admit that it’s not all peril. There is an occasional perk too; especially since I have begun writing about white-collar crime in corporate India.
My ‘corporate thrillers’ (as they are now known) lend me a measure of respectability in corporate circles. And they provide a neutral topic to break the ice with – ‘they are so prescient!’ some say. Even in boardrooms, folks make the time to utter a word or two of appreciation. That’s so welcome after having to flee from lectures on emails from Nigeria!
You also get an occasional call or a message from a CEO or an MD, who has become your friend. The latest one was after the recent sting on media houses by Cobrapost. My latest novel, Conspirator, is about paid media and fake news. It tells the story of how a media house monetizes its influence over readers and viewers.
‘Scary!’ says the friend’s text message. ‘This is exactly like in Conspirator – headlines are indeed for hire! What if the rest of your novel is true too?’
Well, I guess there are some perks too! But I must learn to take the perils with the perks. And to take it on the chin from time to time.
Speaking for myself, I seldom say that I write, and I discourage my relatives from introducing me as a writer. If people discover it by themselves and want to talk, I’m happy to reciprocate.
Otherwise, why open the Pandora’s Box?