Reviled playboy, industrialist, son of India’s home minister, and recently acquitted murderer Vicky Rai is shot in cold blood at his own celebration bash, and six suspects are rounded up, all carrying guns. If Agatha Christie wrote a mystery about modern India, it might be something like this, as each of the six suspects is profiled by an investigative journalist. How did they end up at Vicky’s party? Why does each one have a motive to kill him? Why are they all carrying guns? Swarup, author of Q&A (2005), the novel on which Slumdog Millionaire was based, gradually reveals the answers to each of these questions through lengthy and detailed case studies of the suspects: a Bollywood actress, an American tourist from Texas, a tribal member from the Andaman Islands, a corrupt bureaucrat who claims to be Gandhi, a mobile-phone thief from the slums, and Vicky’s own father, an ambitious and ruthless politician.
Charming, atmospheric, and driven equally by character and plot, Six Suspects is bound to be popular with traditional mystery fans and readers of international crime fiction, as well as the legion of Slumdog devotees. Highly recommended. (Starred Review)
From the Publisher
“[A] Bollywood version of the board game Clue with a strain of screwball comedy thrown in...
[A]lthough the story’s geographical span is even bigger than India, the whole thing feels handily confined to the kind of isolated, air-tight setting that Agatha Christie’s readers love. Thanks to such a schematic setup 'Six Suspects' is gleeful, sneaky fun….Mr. Swarup, an Indian diplomat, brings a worldly range of attributes to his potentially simple story. [His] style stays light and playful, preferring to err on the side of broad high jinks rather than high seriousness. A fizzy romp seems to be the main thing he has in mind. Oddly enough, that ambition turns this formulaic-sounding book into a refreshing oddity. It bears no resemblance to any of the cookie-cutter genre books of this season.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“If Agatha Christie wrote a mystery about modern India, it might be something like this….Charming, atmospheric, and driven equally by character and plot, Six Suspects is bound to be popular with traditional mystery fans and readers of international crime fiction, as well as the legion of Slumdog devotees. Highly recommended.”Booklist (Starred Review)
“The author of Q&A (2005), the novel that became the film Slumdog Millionaire, returns with an equally high-concept tale that uses a murder investigation to launch a riotous tour of contemporary India…a teeming, beguiling Indian panorama wrapped in a clever whodunit.”—Kirkus Reviews
"Enriched by the sights and smells of contemporary India, this mystery shows Swarup to be a skillful prose stylist and deft handler of plot, who's likely to win more readers."Library Journal
"The author of Slumdog Millionaire has another blockbuster of a story that begins with a murder, then delves into the lives and motives of the six suspects. The reader becomes intimately involved with each suspect while being treated to an eye-opening account of life in India."Romantic Times BOOKreviews (4 1/2 Stars)
In this outing, the author of Slumdog Millionaire offers us an Indian twist on a classic Agatha Christie conundrum: Who killed a wealthy playboy with many enemies? In this homicide, there are half a dozen gun-toting suspects. This splendidly mismatched lineup includes a Bollywood siren with a guilty secret, a corrupt bureaucrat, a would-be mobile-phone mogul, and a Stone Age tribesman on a quest for a magic stone. The diversity of motives and the idiosyncrasies of the suspects make the novel memorable and compelling, but they also offer a gaudy kaleidoscope of the incongruities of contemporary India.
This satirical crime novel from Swarup (Q&A, the basis for Oscar-winner Slumdog Millionaire) opens promisingly, but suffers from the absence of a genuine investigator. Journalist Arun Advani sets the scene by describing the circumstances of the killing of industrialist Vicky Rai, shot to death at his farmhouse near Delhi, at a party celebrating his acquittal for a particularly callous murder. In the crime's immediate aftermath, the authorities find six guests with firearms among the more than 300 in attendance. They include a Bollywood megastar, a corrupt former politician who may be possessed by the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi, and Larry Page, an unbelievably stupid American constantly mistaken for his more famous namesake (the cocreator of Google). Alternating flashbacks among the six suspects build to multiple false endings. While there are some funny moments, this is likely to please neither traditional mystery fans nor readers interested in contemporary India. (July)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
In this neatly constructed mystery, Indian author Swarup (whose 2005 novel, Q&A, was made into the film Slumdog Millionaire) provides a vivid portrait of his country and its culture. The premise is simple: after 32-year-old industrialist Vivek "Vicky" Rai ("the poster boy for sleaze") is acquitted of a much-witnessed murder, he's shot and killed at a party. The six suspects are the partygoers found to be armed: a retired bureaucrat who's sporadically possessed by Mahatma Gandhi, a famous Bollywood actress, an Onge native sent to retrieve a sacred relic, a poor cell-phone thief, a Texan seeking his mail-order bride, and Vicky's own power-hungry politician father. Background pieces about each suspect paint a picture of flagrant corruption, murder, and betrayal, as well as compassion and love, as the suspects' lives occasionally intersect. Revelations in the closing pages incite the population to call for much-needed reforms. Still, as the truth is revealed in layers, like the peeling of an onion, it's also clear that plus ça change.... VERDICT Enriched by the sights and smells of contemporary India, this mystery shows Swarup to be a skillful prose stylist and deft handler of plot, who's likely to win more readers. [Library marketing.]—Michele Leber, Arlington, VA
The author of Q&A (2005), the novel that became the film Slumdog Millionaire, returns with an equally high-concept tale that uses a murder investigation to launch a riotous tour of contemporary India. After several years of legal proceedings, Vivek (Vicky) Rai is finally acquitted of a murder he undoubtedly committed. His father Jagannath, Home Minister of Uttar Pradash, throws him the party to end all parties-at which Vicky is shot dead. The Delhi police identify six suspects: corrupt womanizer Mohan Kumar; Shabnam Saxena, a sizzling actress Vicky had been pursuing; Hollywood adult-film producer Rick Myers; cell-phone thief Munna Mobile; Eketi Onge, member of a vanishing tribe from an island in the Bay of Bengal; and Jagannath Rai himself. As their back stories reveal, each had a powerful motive for wanting Vicky dead. But those back stories serve mainly as pretexts for a series of fantastical adventures that have little to do with the question of who killed Vicky. Munna, whose experiences most closely recall those of Ram in Q&A, hurtles from rags to riches, from impossible love to intolerable pressure. Tribesman Eketi, pursuing a totemic stone stolen from his people, is by turns befriended and exploited by a series of heartless manipulators before finding his ideal in Munna's sister Champi. An American Candide (later linked to the murder investigation) flies to India in search of his mail-order bride, gets fleeced and ensnared in terrorism, then is placed in the Witness Protection Program. Shabnam Saxena grooms a destitute supplicant to be her professional double, with predictable results (think All About Eve with a vengeance). And the ruthless public officials of Uttar Pradash struggleto outdo each other in their zestful search for more money and power. Along the way, a hundred walk-on characters flare to vivid life, then vanish in the rearview mirror to make way for others equally memorable. Despite some inevitable repetition and a gimmicky frame, a teeming, beguiling Indian panorama wrapped in a clever whodunit.
Read an Excerpt
The Bare Truth
Arun Advani’s column, 25 March
SIX GUNS AND A MURDER
Not all deaths are equal. There’s a caste system even in murder. The stabbing of an impoverished rickshaw-puller is nothing more than a statistic, buried in the inside pages of the newspaper. But the murder of a celebrity instantly becomes headline news. Because the rich and famous rarely get murdered. They lead five-star lives and, unless they overdose on cocaine or meet with a freak accident, generally die a five-star death at a nice grey age, having augmented both lineage and lucre.
That is why the murder of Vivek ‘Vicky’ Rai, the thirty-two-year-old owner of the Rai Group of Industries and son of the Home Minister of Uttar Pradesh, has been dominating the news for the past two days.
In my long and chequered career as an investigative journalist I have carried out many exposés, from corruption in high places to pesticides in cola bottles. My revelations have brought down governments and closed down multinationals. In the process, I have seen human greed, malice and depravity at very close quarters. But nothing has revolted me more than the saga of Vicky Rai. He was the poster boy for sleaze in this country. For over a decade I tracked his life and crimes, like a moth drawn irresistibly to the flame. It was a morbid fascination, akin to watching a horror film. You know something terrible is going to transpire, and so you sit transfixed, holding your breath, waiting for the inevitable to happen. I received dire warnings and death threats. Attempts were made to get me fired from this paper. I survived. Vicky Rai didn’t.
By now the facts of his murder are as well known as the latest twists in the soap operas on TV. He was shot dead last Sunday at 12.05 a.m. by an unknown assailant at his farmhouse in Mehrauli, on the outskirts of Delhi. According to the forensic report, he died of a single lacerating wound to his heart made by a bullet fired at point-blank range. The bullet pierced his chest, passed cleanly through his heart, exited from his back and became lodged in the wooden bar. Death is believed to have been instantaneous.
Vicky Rai had enemies, for sure. There were many who hated his arrogance, his playboy lifestyle, his utter contempt for the law. He built an industrial empire from scratch. And no one can build an industrial empire in India without cutting corners. Readers of this column will recall my reports detailing how Vicky Rai engaged in insider trading at the stock market, defrauded investors of their dividends, bribed officials and cheated on his corporate tax. Still, he didn’t get caught, always managing to exploit some loophole or other to stay out of reach of the law.
It was an art he had perfected at a very young age. He was only seventeen the first time he was hauled up in court. A friend of his father had given him a swanky new BMW, the five series, on his birthday. He took it out for a spin with three of his buddies. They had a noisy and boisterous celebration at a hip pub. While driving back at three a.m. through thick fog, Vicky Rai mowed down six homeless vagrants who were sleeping on a pavement. He was stopped at a police checkpoint and found to be completely sozzled. A case of rash and negligent driving was lodged against him. But by the time the case came to trial, all family members of the deceased had been purchased. No witnesses could recall seeing a BMW that night. All they could remember was a truck, with Gujarat licence plates. Vicky Rai received a lecture from the judge on the dangers of drink-driving and a full acquittal.
Three years later, he was in court again charged with hunting and killing two black bucks in a wildlife sanctuary in Rajasthan. He professed he didn’t know they were a protected species. He thought it funny that a country that could not protect brides from being burnt for dowry and young girls from being picked up for prostitution should prosecute people for killing deer. But the law is the law. So he was arrested and had to stay in jail for two weeks before he managed to obtain bail. We all know what happened next. The only eye witness, Kishore – the forest ranger who was driving the open jeep – died six months later in mysterious circumstances. The case dragged on for a couple of years but ended, predictably, in Vicky Rai’s acquittal.
Given these antecedents, it was surely only a matter of time before he graduated to open murder. It happened seven years ago, on a hot summer night, at Mango, the trendy restaurant on the Delhi–Jaipur highway, where he was throwing a big bash to celebrate his twenty-fifth birthday. The party began at nine p.m. and carried on well past midnight. A live band was belting out the latest hits, imported liquor was flowing and Vicky Rai’s guests – an assortment of senior government officials, socialites, current and former girlfriends, a few people from the film industry and a couple of sports celebrities – were having a good time. Vicky had a drink too many. At around two a.m. he staggered to the bar and asked for another shot of tequila from the bartender, a pretty young woman dressed in a white T-shirt and denim jeans. She was Ruby Gill, a doctoral student at Delhi University who worked part-time at Mango to support her family.
‘I’m sorry, I can’t give you another drink, Sir. The bar is now closed,’ she told him.
‘I know, sweetie.’ He flashed his best smile. ‘But I want just one last drink and then we can all go home.’
‘I am sorry, Sir. The bar is closed. We have to follow regulations,’ she said, rather firmly this time.
‘F**k your regulations,’ Vicky snarled at her. ‘Don’t you know who I am?’
‘No, Sir, and I don’t care. The rules are the same for everyone. You will not get another drink.’
Vicky Rai flew into a rage. ‘You bloody bitch!’ he screamed and whipped out a revolver from his suit pocket. ‘This will teach you a lesson!’ He fired at her twice, shooting her in the face and the neck, in the presence of at least fifty guests. Ruby Gill dropped dead and Mango descended into bedlam. A friend of Vicky’s reportedly grabbed his arm, led him out to his Mercedes and drove him away from the restaurant. Fifteen days later, Vicky Rai was arrested in Lucknow, brought before a magistrate, and managed yet again to obtain bail.
A murder over the mere refusal of a drink shook the conscience of the nation. The combination of Vicky Rai’s notoriety and Ruby Gill’s beauty ensured that the case stayed in the headlines for weeks to come. Then summer passed into autumn, and we moved on to new stories. When the case finally came to trial, the ballistics report said that the two bullets had been fired from two different guns. The murder weapon had inexplicably ‘disappeared’ from the police strong-room where it was being stored. Six witnesses, who claimed they had seen Vicky Rai pull the gun, retracted their statements. After a trial lasting five years, Vicky Rai received a full acquittal just over a month ago, on 15 February. To celebrate the verdict he threw a party at his Mehrauli farmhouse. And that is where he met his end.
Some will call this poetic justice. But the police call it an IPC Section 302 crime – culpable homicide amounting to murder – and have launched a nationwide search for the killer. The Police Commissioner is personally supervising the investigation, spurred, no doubt, by anxiety that the promised sinecure of the Lieutenant Governorship of Delhi (reported six weeks ago in this column) will vanish into thin air should he fail to crack this case.
His diligence has yielded good results. My sources tell me that six suspects are being held on suspicion of murdering Vicky Rai. Apparently Sub-Inspector Vijay Yadav was on traffic-control duty at the farmhouse when the killing occurred. He immediately sealed off the premises and ordered the frisking of each and every one of the three-hundred-odd guests, waiters, gate-crashers and hangers-on there at the time. The place was practically bristling with weaponry. During the search, six individuals were discovered to have guns in their possession, and were detained. I am sure they must have protested. After all, simply carrying a gun is not an offence, provided you have an arms licence. But when you take a gun to a party at which the host gets shot, you automatically become a suspect.
The suspects are a motley lot, a curious mélange of the bad, the beautiful and the ugly. There is Mohan Kumar, the former Chief Secretary of Uttar Pradesh, whose reputation for corruption and womanizing is unparalleled in the annals of the Indian Administrative Service. The second is a dim-witted American who claims to be a Hollywood producer. Spicing up the mix is the well-known actress Shabnam Saxena, with whom Vicky Rai was infatuated, if the gossip in the film magazines is to be believed. There is even a jet-black, five-footnothing tribal from some dusty village in Jharkhand who is being interrogated at arm’s length for fear that he might be one of the dreaded Naxalites who infest that state. Suspect number five is an unemployed graduate named Munna with a lucrative sideline as a mobile-phone thief. And completing the line-up is Mr Jagannath Rai himself, the Home Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Vicky Rai’s dad. Could a father stoop any lower?
The six guns recovered are equally assorted. There is a British Webley & Scott, an Austrian Glock, a German Walther PPK, an Italian Beretta, a Chinese Black Star pistol and a locally made improvised revolver known as a katta. The police appear to be convinced that the murder weapon is one of these six and are awaiting the ballistics report to match bullet to gun and pinpoint the culprit.
Barkha Das interviewed me yesterday on her TV show. ‘You devoted much of your career to exposing the misdeeds of Vicky Rai and castigating him in your column. What do you plan to do now that he is dead?’ she asked me.
‘Find his killer,’ I replied.
‘What for?’ she wanted to know. ‘Aren’t you happy Vicky Rai is dead?’
‘No,’ I said, ‘because my crusade was never against Vicky Rai. It was against the system which permits the rich and powerful to believe that they are above the law. Vicky Rai was only a visible symptom of the malaise that has infected our society. If justice is really blind, then Vicky Rai’s killer deserves to be brought to account just as much as Vicky Rai did.’
And I say this again to my readers. I am going to track down Vicky Rai’s murderer. A true investigative journalist cannot be swayed by his personal prejudices. He must follow the cold logic of reason till the very end, no matter where and who it leads to. He must remain an impartial professional seeking only the bare truth.
Murder may be messy, but truth is messier. Tying up loose ends will be difficult, I know. The life histories of all six suspects will need to be combed. Motives will have to be established. Evidence will need to be collated. And only then will we discover the real culprit.
Which of these six will it be? The bureaucrat or the bimbo? The foreigner or the tribal? The big fish or the small fry?
All I can tell my readers at this point in time is – watch this space.
Excerpted from Six Suspects by Vikas Swarup
Copyright © 2008 by Vikas Swarup
Published in 2008 by St. Martin’s Press
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher