Book Review: Greenlight

“The air was acrid with chemical fumes, the heat intolerable. Men worked in these claustrophobic sheds for close on eighteen hours. And in the huts hidden between the factories, women ran homes, fed children, and sent them out shining into the world because, somehow, it’s got to be done.”

After reading the first five books in the Lalli series, I was only too eager to pick up Greenlight. I expected much of the same–an intriguing question to be answered, and Swaminathan’s beautiful writing. What I got was something unexpected.


Little girls are disappearing from Kandewadi, a slum in Mumbai, and a couple of days later their bodies are left on the doorsteps of their homes, wrapped in newspaper. While the police deals with people trying to hush up the incidents and the media is engaged in digging up as much dirt as possible. Lalli and Savio must do all they can to bring this ghastliness to an end.

Greenlight is very unlike it’s predecessors in that it is a darker, grittier book. Swaminathan’s style is very different here, and I’m glad, because the crimes this book talks about deserve that seriousness. Gone is the slow cooking of the truth over the flame of beautifully descriptive writing. There is a deliberate harshness and roughness to the words and the pace here.

It is a sad sign of our times that when we talk of children disappearing, there is just one obvious conclusion to jump to. Kalpana Swaminathan treats this issue with admirable sensitivity, keeping the reader’s empathy with the victims. However, she does not extend this empathy to the reader, who must find ways to deal with some rather gruesome descriptions. I myself, had an urge to scrub myself and take a bath after reading some sections–that is how violated it made me feel. I would therefore recommend this book with trigger warnings for sexual assault, rape and violence against women and children.

Other than for those unwilling or unable to bear this emotional burden, this is a book that I absolutely recommend reading. I haven’t read anything else in Indian crime fiction like this book. It is a powerful commentary on rape culture, and how such incidents become an opportunity to perform “feminism.” In a sub plot involving Sita, we also see how violence and abuse are not necessarily a physical thing. Swaminathan holds up a mirror to our society, and lays bare the hypocrisy and insensitivity within.

To say anything more would be to give out spoilers. I can only say that when I was done with this book, I was weeping uncontrollably. It was draining and exhausting because it was difficult to accept this as fiction. Greenlight is no cozy mystery; it veers heartrendingly close to reality.

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10 thoughts on “Book Review: Greenlight

  1. I wrote a comment on this post but it seems to have disappeared. I just wanted to say.. Great review. It has trigger violent acts, that gives me nightmares so I might not be able to read it… But you write beautifully I could imagine the book

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This sounds like a tough book. It makes me hope the publisher was clear enough in the synopsis to alert people who cannot read this kind of violence away from this particular book (especially when there are so many in the series). You said the main character is a 12-year-old girl, right? I wonder if the author is trying to have the character and readers grow alongside each other, and she felt that readers would now be old enough to be informed about this kind of violence in the world? Then again, I’m not sure were EVER old enough to know about this kind of violence. I still feel massive horror run through me when I think about the woman in India who was gang raped a few years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The 12 year old was the Flavia de Luce series. This one is the the Lalli series, the one featuring a 60 plus year old retiree from the Mumbai police force. The synopsis doesn’t mention explicitly the violence, which I why I thought I should add the trigger warning here.
      The gang rape incident unfortunately is not a stand alone happening. Women and children, not only in India, but all over the world seem to be at risk more and more. One would think progress would make things better! Even in the USA one hears so many incidents of women and children being victimised 😒

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, darn! I mixed up my series! My apologies. In my review of Hunger, one thing Roxane Gay mentions is that she is so sick of talking about sexual violence against women, and against herself, because she hears it TOO MUCH. It’s pervasive.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m so glad when an author that you’ve enjoyed several books from still manages to surprise you. It’s good to hear that the author deals with these subjects with such sensitivity. I’m not sure I myself would be able to get through this kind of book. Appreciate your thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: From the Wordsmith’s Mouth: A Q&A with Kalpana Swaminathan – thereadingdesk

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