The Killing Conundrum

Last week had been quite an ordeal to me. No weekend outing in a while and I was feeling I was going to die of boredom and overthinking. The extra two days’ leave was not in the cards and it felt like bonus to my already piled up misery. And I was not feeling quite right after having a nasty row with one of my few closest friends, or to be precise, one of the handful of people that have survived the test of time, and well, me. Then I had to put up with forced conversations with a few people whose guts I hate to the core. The one person who could make me feel better was away too, so I was feeling like a ticking time bomb. I had two options lying before me. Option one, procrastinate and feel miserable. Option two, utilise the time and feel miserable anyway. I usually feel quite garrulous (inside my head obviously) when I am alone as well as lonely. The words begin to jostle up in my tiny, little head and it gives me a feeling of throbbing pain until I puke them out. One of my most ardent readers (and probably the only one) has aptly pointed out the ‘over drive’ I was on last week.

I don’t know if it attributes to my not-so-perfect, rather messed up childhood, but I have mastered the art of escaping the reality the moment it starts giving me a hard time. So instead of contemplating how I was going to get out of the messed up situation I was currently in I thought of diverting my mind into something more useful. The best way to escape the trouble infested reality? Books. And murders. Lots of it. The gorier the better. And write, or at least try to write, whatever comes in mind. Blabber away.

I finished three books in last fifteen days. Postern of Fate and Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie and The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith. And I have reached only halfway through The Silkworm – the second instalment of the Cormoran Strike series. I don’t know how some people read (or at least talk/claim of reading) 10-20 books in one month. I mean I am a fast reader, but I still can’t (or don’t) inhale through the pages. I need to soak into the surrounding. I need to feel my presence right in the middle of the story. I need to learn and memorise the new words. I need to jot down the quotes that I find so fascinating. And that too I must do while replying to my texts, eating, sleeping, working and apparently surviving the mess that we so dearly call life. I finished reading Sparkling Cyanide in two days and had gone to bed at 3.30 am on a weekday. Then next morning I literally had to drag my body to work and god knows how I managed to survive another day there all exhausted from sleep deprivation.

Coming back to the books I mentioned above, it was quite a journey to the world of murder, mayhem and mystery. Sometimes I can’t help but feel that I might be in love with mayhem way too much. Anyway. Coincidentally (or not so coincidentally) both the authors happen to have the same origin, if not the same background, only separated by a few generations. In fact, they are unarguably two of the most talented and not to mention bankable authors that the United Kingdom has ever produced. I consciously avoided using the term ‘female author’ as it might sound too sexist. But I can’t deny the fact that my weakness towards Agatha Christie and J. K. Rowling are not only because they are kickass authors but also due to the fact that they are women. It was never easy for a woman not only to stand out but also become legendary in a male dominated, patriarchal society and that too with so much poise.

While chasing conspirators, blackmailers and serial killers through the nooks and crannies of London and its suburbs I could not help drawing a mental comparison between the two extraordinary women and the way they painted the pictures of their own versions of London and weaved the cobweb of suspense. Rowling has only written three full-fledged detective novels so far, while Christie is the undisputed queen of mystery of all time. So drawing a comparison might sound utterly foolish and unfair to the geniuses of both the ladies. But I am just a hopeless fangirl swooning over my idols and the intention is nothing but purely inspired by a deep sense of awe and approbation for both.

However, this is not a book review post. Writing review of a Christie novel would be like reviewing the Bible. And The Cuckoo’s Calling is three years old and sufficiently over-analysed already for the benefits of the bookworms. In the first draft of this post I had written that I liked Cormoran Strike. I really did, initially. I liked the fact that he is broken and messed up to the core. I always feel an instant connection to the characters that have been or are going through hell. It makes them more real, more endearing, more terrifyingly and unnervingly attractive. Cormoran's broken relationship, his social awkwardness, his strenuous relationship with his family, his distaste towards the people around him made him more real than any over-romanticised detective hero there ever was. However, halfway through The Silkworm and I can feel the status quo has changed a bit. Cormoran Strike is completely devoid of any sense of humour or wit. His eyes never twinkle. His laugh (rarer than an Amur Leopard) seems unreal. And his agonisingly stuffy life gets on the nerves sometimes. Not to mention he is hairy and big - two attributes in men that make me utterly nauseous. But I am trying not to sound superficial here. Robin, on the other hand, seems more relatable.

The British society has changed a lot since Christie published her first novel – A Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920). And the stark contrast probably felt more evident because I read them back to back. Without a halt. Just like a chain smoker lights his next one from the still burning stub of his previous one. Christie’s detectives are more or less perfect and often larger than life. There is hardly any trouble in their lives. I never took it as a drawback though; life was much simpler back in Christie’s time, I presume. Or perhaps she simply wanted her sleuths to be a little God-like, with a surreal aura surrounding them – the one who towers over all and catches the sinner as nothing escapes his eye.

One line in The Cuckoo’s Calling singularly caught my attention – "But Strike had aspired to this career long before the last needle had entered Leda’s body; long before he had understood that his mother (and every other human) was mortal, and that killings were more than puzzles to be solved." And I had thought that Rowling couldn’t impress me more, not after Harry Potter. That she was maxed out. How silly and na├»ve of me. Then another realisation hit me. Christie always went for the poetic justice; the triumph of good over evil. But she had always maintained an impartial, detached outlook for the one who got killed to begin with. And we, the hungry readers, the suckers of mysteries and whodunits had also begun to grow the same, indifferent attitude before we even knew it ourselves. Death is the most inevitable yet the most grievous blow to us – not to the dead one, but to us, the ones who are left behind. Yet while reading a murder mystery novel we hardly look at those deaths, most of the time premature, as loss. We just accept the inevitability of mortal life and move on with our process of unravelling the mystery. In the end, the revelation exceeds the sin itself. And we no longer feel the pang of melancholy but revel in the joy of reaching the end of our quest. But there lies the genius of Rowling – she somehow makes us feel sorry for not only the deceased but also the people whose life got affected by the sudden death. More than puzzles to be solved. I can't say though I am particularly enjoying the morbid undertone of the story. I always prefer the detached denial in everything. It is rather my loyalty that lies with Rowling and her creation. But she still has a long way to go to reach the level of the ingenuity and finesse of Agatha Christie.