“It was all very well to speak words to comfort to parents, filling them with hope that a child would be traced. But the truth was something else. The statistics were grim. Of ten children who went missing in the state everyday, two remained untraced. in 2012, 617 girls were reported missing. Three hundred and eighty-nine remained untraced. And who knew how many disappearances had not been reported?”
I have waited four years for Chain of Custody, the second book in Anita Nair’s Inspector Gowda series! I read Cut Like Wound, in 2013, and ever since then have been eager for more of Inspector Gowda’s adventures. So as my birthday rolled around this year, I bought myself a copy of the book.
Where I have had to wait so long, Gowda is only seven months away from the events of Cut Like Wound, at the beginning of Chain of Custody. The book opens with Gowda investigating the murder of a lawyer, Dr Sanjay Rathore, and then jumps back in time, to someone named Krishna conning a group of runaway boys. It jumps into the POV of Rekha, a student who has a secret boyfriend who asks her to go out on dates with other men. It stops a while in the mind of Moina, a girl trafficked from Bangladesh, forced to service multiple “clients”. We meet Sharad Pujary, a man devoted to his disabled wife, but who refuses to tell her exactly what he does for a living. And then, after we have met all of them, we go back to Gowda, who discovers that Nandita, his maid’s daughter, has disappeared. How are all these people connected? Where is Nandita, and will she be okay? Who killed Sanjay Rathore? These are the questions that Gowda and the reader, must find answers to.
As with the first book, the solutions are easy. It is the process of arriving at the truth that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat. The book is perfectly paced and it is to Anita Nair’s credit, that even as she writes the fast-paced action scenes brilliantly, so also does she manage take the reader out of the “action”, to a visit to Gowda’s brother’s house, for example, without the attention or the interest of the reader flagging even a little bit! It certainly is an entertaining read, until one begins to realize that not all of this is fiction–some of it may very well be true.
It is at this point that the book becomes social commentary–on the dark underbelly of flashy, progressive cities, on the trafficking of innocence and the pure evil that grows out of greed. The term ‘chain of custody’ refers to the chain of people through which a piece of evidence that is produced in court travels. But here, in this book, it refers to the chain of traffickers who exploit young, innocent boys and girls. There are sections of this book that are very difficult to read, and so I recommend this book with content warnings for physical and sexual abuse of children. However, Nair deftly handles the narration, and never lets the book get too dark or visually threatening, and yet at the same time creates awareness about this urgent and important topic.
As always, Nair’s characters are drawn with perfection. Gowda is the perfect example of a ‘book that should not be judged by its cover.’ His extramarital affair with Urmila and its effects on his relationship with his wife, Mamtha are realistically depicted, and I look forward to seeing this dynamic develop in the future books. His efforts at parenting Roshan will be familiar to parents of teenagers around the world! The team at the police station–Gajendra, Byrappa and Santosh are as entertaining as ever! And with the addition of Ratna (a fantastic female character!) to the team, it feels complete. I also applaud the author for the care with which she draws even minor characters like police informers and police sketch artists. Each character is given the importance they deserve and each character feels like a real person!
I should mention here, that while Chain of Custody can be read as a stand-alone book, it references some of the events in Cut Like Wound, and therefore may act as a spoiler to the first book. I would recommend reading Cut Like Wound first.
I myself, am eagerly waiting for Gowda’s next outing. I just hope I won’t have to wait for long!