Witness the Night by Kishwar Desai

Title: Witness the Night
Author: Kishwar Desai

Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / India / Urban-Rural Divide / Infanticide / Murder Mystery / Police Corruption / Social Worker)
Publisher/Publication Date: Penguin (5/29/2012)
Source: The publisher.

Rating: Liked a great deal.
Did I finish?: I did, in a matter of hours.
One-sentence summary: A volunteer social worker is invited to solve the thirteen-person murder of a well-known family in northern India and ascertain whether the massacre's sole survivor -- a young girl -- is a victim or villain.

Do I like the cover?: I do -- it's so beautiful and evokes the character of Durga.

I'm reminded of...: Scandinavian crime fic, Kamala Nair

First line: You asked me to write my thoughts.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy, especially if you like Scandinavian crime fic and want a new locale.

Why did I get this book?: I love fiction set in India.

Review: I inhaled this book in about three hours, unable to stop. The premise is dark and grim: a sixteen year old girl is found bound in her house, surrounded by the poisoned, stabbed, and burned members of her family. As the last one living, the police arrest her for the crime. Simran Singh, a volunteer social worker of sorts, is asked to investigate the girl's participation by an old friend who knows the family, and Simran quickly discovers that the girl's family, and this remote northern Indian town, has many dark secrets to it.

While the story is told by Simran as she goes through her investigation, we the reader are also privy to Durga's diary, notes made at Simran's suggestion. As a result,I was able to figure out the mystery about halfway through the book, but I didn't feel like the story was about solving the mystery as much as it was about watching the way the investigation unfolded -- and how the community responded to the results.  

Both Durga and Simran are wonderful characters, absolutely compelling, and Desai's writing reads effortlessly.  However, this book has some disturbing elements -- infanticide, child abuse, violent cruelty -- but Desai's inclusion isn't meant to be gratuitous.  Knowing that -- and trusting Desai -- I found the end of the book satisfying (I had a gasp-aloud moment at the very last page -- if anyone else reads this, get in touch so I can gossip about it!).

Although this book was written as a stand alone novel, the author was encouraged to write another book featuring Simran and it seems this will become a series.  I'm sort of series-ed out at the moment, but Simran is such a unique character, and Desai's writing wonderful, I know I'm going to find the next book.

Comments

  1. Oh man, Audra, you have a way of making all the books you read sound so incredible, and this one is no exception! I would love to read this one, and will have to look for it when I can. The mystery behind this book really intrigues, as does the enigmatic main character. Thanks for the marvelous review. I think this is one that I would really love.

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    1. I was blown away by this one, Heather -- I'm not swoony about crime fic as a rule but the ambiance and the characters just captivated me -- really amazing. Hard to read at times -- but the story was so good I couldn't stop, no matter how squicked out I was!

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  2. You have definitely made me want to read this, and I don't usually read this genre!

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    1. I know -- I'm rarely this hot-and-heavy for crime fic but Desai really impressed me with her characters and her story -- it was so unique and different from the usual PI/police characterization.

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  3. Wow, sounds great. I haven't heard of it -- and I'm glad to hear there's crime somewhere aside from Scandinavia in books :) Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

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    1. I love world crime fic -- what does that say about me?! ;)

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  4. This sounds fantastic! I'm on such a thriller/crime spree right now, as often happens in the summer. I'll look for this one immediately!

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    1. It's a perfect summer read -- I can't recommend it enough!

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  5. Sounds like one I could gobble up!

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    1. It really is gobble-able -- couldn't stop racing through it!

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  6. You are a really fast reader...I wish I was. : ) Sounds like an interesting book.

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    1. It's probably my only real skill. :) That, and staying up too late to read!

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  7. How do you always find the most wonderful sounding books?! This one is going on the wishlist!

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    1. Fate! A publicist rec'd this to me a long while ago -- and I'm so glad!

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  8. Gracious me, I'm hooked. This sounds incredible. Dagnabbit, I'm going to have to add this one to the shelf, too!

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    1. Natalie -- do it, do it! My wife immediately ripped this from my hands and is loving it.

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  9. Wow, this sounds excellent, but I'm not sure that I have the stomach for it--I really struggle with books involving violent crime, particularly towards women.

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    1. Stephanie -- I know -- I found some of the passages hard to read (same with The Virgin Cure) -- so it's hard for me to say, 'oh, try anyway' BUT it was good and in the end, it paid off (for me) -- so...yeah. Not helpful, I know -- would love to know your thoughts if you do pick it up!

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  10. You have me intrigued. This is not one I've heard before, but I'm going to have to look into now.

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    1. It was so unique and interesting -- do give it a try!

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  11. Wow! You must have really liked this one to have inhaled it so quickly! You are a super fast reader anyone but three hours?? Wow!

    I like the sound of this one.

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    1. Ti -- this one raced so it was impossible to put down!!

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  12. This sounds fascinating. To the to-be-read list I go. Sigh...this thing is never going to get any shorter.

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    1. I know the pain of the ever-growing TBR -- but this one *is* worth adding! ;)

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