Edited by Altaf Tyrewala — Mumbai, with a population of 20.5 million, is the most humanity-riddled city in India and the fourth most populous in the world. It is the commercial and entertainment capital of India and the nation’s economic powerhouse. One of the world’s top 10 centres of commerce in terms of global financial flow, it generates five per cent of India’s GDP. Areas of extreme wealth sit between areas of extreme poverty.
Historically a peaceful city, the last two decades have seen a dramatic increase in violence. There have been terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists aided by the predominantly Muslim Bombay underworld. Increasing sectarian tensions led to the Hindu-Muslim riots of 1992-93 in which over a thousand people died. All of this makes fertile ground for crime fiction writers and explains why Akashic Books chose it as the next destination of their award-winning Noir series. Here in Mumbai Noir, 14 writers have explored topics like corruption, inequality and terrorism. Maybe one of them will be the next George Pelecanos or David Simon.
Each tale takes place in a different area of the city. In The Romantic Customer by Parimita Vohra, the manager of an internet cafe risks more than just his livelihood when he gets involved with the daughter of a rich businessman. By Two, written by Devashish Makhija, tells the story of twins Rahim and Rahman, who are forced by economic imperative to break the law and share a rickshaw licence. Rahman is startled by his brother’s secret relationship with a prostitute and is left devastated when Rahim is murder by the police investigating a bombing.
Smita Harish Jain’s story, The Body in the Gali, explores Mumbai homosexual culture. A policeman has been found murdered, having been castrated in a eunuch bath house. The description of the gelding process is not something I am likely to forget! In The Watchman, the book’s editor Altaf Tyrewala tells of two security guards and their antagonising wait until the end of their shift after a passing holy man predicts the death of one of the rich residents of their compound.
Tyrewala has put together a fine collection with this book. The brief of the series is definitely met, and after reading Mumbai Noir I felt as though I had learnt something about what makes it such a unique city. One minor criticism would be that in some of these stories the crime or noir element is marginal at best, however each is well written. So if you feel that exchanging some of the crime element in these stories for a fascinating insight into Mumbai culture is a fair trade, then I recommend Mumbai Noir to you.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars