Written by N Murali — Nothing hits the spot quite like a quick and brutal hardboiled novella, especially when it’s one that takes us on a journey to a new, dark and seedy city. Images of India we see in the West are dominated by the spiritual and the dirty – yoga and child trafficking, holy cows and chaotic traffic. His Night Begins barely touches on the spiritual, but has a lot to say about the dirty side of India.
Virat Nariman is a contract killer. Remorseless and clinical, he has a strict code of ethics; no women or children, only truly evil men. His work is always performed with immaculate care, and can never be traced back to him. His clients know him and know he is the best. He has a bloodthirsty desire to kill, which he manages to control and channel into his work… that is, until his daughter’s headless corpse is found in a dumpster in Indraprastha.
Indraprastha is the name of a city from Indian folklore, but Murali’s Indraprastha, full of colour, noise and chaos, could be any modern Indian city. The discovery of Virat’s daughter’s body in a dumpster sends him underground, in a search of any links in a long chain leading to the top of a sex-trafficking ring, operating across the border between India and Nepal. He carries out a job in exchange for information leading him to the bottom of the food chain, then he slowly works his way up, killing everyone between him and the people who killed his daughter.
Unknown to Virat, another young girl has been taken by the same group. Gulab Sharma is a 17-year-old out with her mother celebrating success in her exams when a couple of low-level criminals steal her and sell her to the trafficking ring Virat is chasing. As Gulab is sold up the pipeline, her movements are unwittingly shadowed by Virat in his pursuit for the people who killed his daughter.
In amongst all the killing there is little room for character development, but what character development Murali includes is subtle and sets you anticipating further novels in the series. Virat’s relationship with his ex-wife, a social activist whose NGO provides shelter for victims of sexual slavery, is understandably complex. His relationship with his girlfriend Nirmala is more straight-forward, but there is some foreshadowing towards the end of the novella suggesting more will come from this.
N Murali is the crime writing pseudonym of multi-genre author Nikesh Murali, an Indian-born writer currently living in Australia. His experience across genres shows in the subtle characterisation and tense action scenes. Murali’s Australian connection sometimes comes through in the choice of words, with Australian turns-of-phrase mingling with Indian words and place names to create an intriguing international pastiche. The sparse characterisation and quick pace of this novella left me wanting more, which may be a tactic to set up the beginning of the Virat Nariman series, but still felt slightly unsatisfying. Hopefully more novels in this series will develop these characters further, and retain this novella’s quick pace and brutal energy.
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CFL Rating: 4 Stars