When your favourite Indian writer announces a new book, a timer automatically starts ticking at the back of your brain, counting down the days to its release. That this book was not a romance novel but a ‘bloody good’ one, wrapped up in a murder mystery, was the excitement I simply couldn’t handle.
“You know how a Chocolava cake collapses and oozes molten chocolate when you just touch it with a spoon? Ya, suddenly that was me every time you even looked in my direction.”
The posh, hundred-and-eighty-year old Delhi Turf Club lies in the heart of Lutyens’ Delhi whose members are all pickled-in-privilege Dilliwallahs. When a hunky personal trainer is found asphyxiated to death under an overloaded barbell on the eve of the club elections, it is first thought to be a freak accident. But soon, it becomes clear that one of the members of the DTC is a cold-blooded killer.
As the capital bristles with speculation and conspiracy theories, Crime Branch veteran ACP Bhavani Singh is appointed to investigate the case. Together with his able deputies – ex-lovers Akash ‘Kashi’ Dogra, hottie crusader for human rights, and Bambi Todi, wealthy girl-about-town – ACP Bhavani sets out to solve a crime that seems to be an open-and-shut case, but turns out to have roots as deep and spreading as those of New Delhi’s famous Neem trees.
If you’re familiar with Anuja Chauhan’s writing, chances are you’ve read at least one of her earlier novels set in New Delhi. Having lived here all my life, I find myself with little to like and much to hate about this polluted, congested, claustrophobic well. And yet, when Chauhan describes it, I can’t help fall in love with its majestic character all over again.
The already controversial thirty acres of prime land on Aurangzeb Road come under intense media scrutiny when, on the morning following Sunday’s Annual Bumper Tambola, the dead body of one Leo Matthew is discovered on the bench press by a couple of fifty-something Zumba buddies.
With old established Delhiites being the club’s patrons, including members of the armed forces, civil services, politicians, lawyers, and businessmen, the police chief tasks ACP Bhavani Singh to handle the case in his steady, mature style.
The ACP is a fit, soldierly man nearing sixty; his calm demeanour legendary for making even the most notorious criminals spill their guts to him. Assisted by Inspector Padam Kumar, who would rather use his time to bring his search for the perfect wife to fruition, ACP Singh sets up temporary base at the DTC.
“ACP Bhavani rolled up, cute as a cheeku and keen as a cheel, and I was rattled.”
The key suspect appears to be Mukesh ‘Mukki’ Khurana who came to blows with Leo at the Tambola, in full public view, over the middle line worth Ten Lakhs. That he is husband to Mrs. Urvashi Khurana, Padma Shri, first time candidate for the post of club president, and allegedly having an affair with Leo, only makes his motive stronger. With the elections now postponed until the police investigation is complete, Devendar Bhatti, ex-Home Secretary of the Government of India and the current club president is eager to have this case wrapped up quickly to save the club’s reputation.
My favourite part of reading Chauhan’s books is her uproariously witty writing. She doesn’t even need to swing the rope. She lassoes you straight away with the first sentence and pulls you all the way to the end. I don’t make notes in my books so, while I read, I kept snapping pictures of pages, paragraphs and lines that had me cackling. (This folder now takes up sizeable space on my phone.)
ACP Singh is a calm, agreeable man, or so it appears on the surface. Tease away a few layers and you find him to be a shrewd, analytical investigator. Being the father of two daughters also makes him a staunch supporter of women’s rights. His interactions with Inspector PK – he with his mental shade card calibrated from Ajay Devgn to Alia Bhatt – who struts around as if he were God himself, are supremely entertaining.
Then there is Lt. Gen. (Behra) Mehra, Mrs. Khurana’s opponent, who has been rallying around town in a bid to win so he can stop her from ripping out the kitchen garden planted in the memory of his dear departed wife. For decades, he and Bhatti have been taking turns to be president but Mrs. Khurana, with her righteous, cost cutting agenda is all set to foil their game.
Amidst the club politics and interrogations, Kashi and Bambi provide internal club access to the investigating team. With intense history behind them, their on-again-off-again friendly-romance appears to be taking a new direction. The writer makes her trademark toe-curling romance such an inherent part of this murder case, it becomes impossible to classify separate genres for this book. Then again, the romance is a key reason for picking up her books and she exceeds expectations by bringing a fresh perspective to this love story.
The crime thriller element is a first for Chauhan which she executes brilliantly. Multiple suspects, hidden motives, and shocking stories of blackmail have you running around in circles to guess the killer whom she wraps in layers of puzzles and ties up in a neat little bow at the end. Whoever said a romance writer can’t write a crime thriller should read this book and eat their words.
All the support characters are an absolute delight. So many of them to love, to hate, and to judge, be it Zumba buddies Cookie Katoch and Ro Aggarwal, the Ghia-Lauki gang from TVVS, Inspector PK, and the entire Dogra family, although why I seem to like Brig. Balbir Dogra the most remains a mystery to me. He and Mala-D make the cutest couple.
Of course, I’m not going to deny I have a huge crush on Kashi Dogra but even he seems to be overshadowed by ACP Bhavani Singh. If you ask me, the ACP is clearly the star of this book. So much so that he deserves a series in his honour. Imagine the possibility of him solving thrilling murder mysteries tied to tingling romances in Anuja Chauhan’s unique settings. I’m already getting goosebumps and can only hope the author is reading this.
If you were wondering whether to pick up this cozy mystery, I hope this review has convinced you that there are more than enough reasons to want to add this book to your TBR’s top-shelf.
Side-splitting witty, inherently sharp and pulsating, with a dash of political satire, the only thing saving you from biting your nails down to nothing will be the priceless entertainment that will have you ROFLing shamelessly.
Club You to Death by Anuja Chauhan. Published on 26th February 2021 by HarperCollins India. This review copy courtesy of Harper Collins India.
Book 13 of 2021.
Aquamarine Flavours Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟.
Available on Amazon*.
The bench press is made from a bar of dark chocolate while the barbells are made with waffy sticks and muffins, glued together with melted chocolate.
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