Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Rhythm of Riddles: Three Byomkesh Bakshi Mysteries

Our Favorite Bengali detective is back, the good people at Puffin have reprinted three of his stories in English for us non Bengalis. The book has a forward by Film director Dibakar Banarjee and has been translated in English from Bengali by Arunava Sinha. As the title suggests the book has three detective stories starring  Byomkesh Bakshi and his faithful sidekick Ajit. Please see Capsule review of the three stories below:

The Rhythm of Riddles aka Paheli Gatha- While Byomkesh is away on business, a man living on the ground floor of their rented accommodation is murdered, Ajit and a few acquaintances are playing bridge on the first floor of the same house and witness a man draped in a brown shawl running away from the scene of the crime, unfortunately Ajit is also wearing a brown shawl and becomes a suspect. When Byomkesh returns he is infuriated on finding out that there has been a murder right under his nose and his best friend is being maliciously accused by the Police, Byomkesh starts investigating and discovers that the victim might have deserved his untimely end.

The name of the story is quite misleading, I was expecting some mystery on a rhyme(like Christie uses in her books) or a series of riddles but turns out the title of the story has nothing to do with the plot. There is nothing to write much about the story it an average run of the mill piece of detective fiction, I think this is the second story I have read where someone has been murdered in the same boarding house as Byomkesh and Ajit. The story uses the same time trick which has been used in a dozen detective novels to give some of the parties involved an iron cast alibi.

Byomkesh and Barada aka Byomkesh O Boroda ব্যোমকেস ও বরদা) - Byomkesh is invited by a police officer to help him investigate a most spooky mystery. A house has been the source of trouble for its current and former resident. Baikuntha Das, the original inhabitant of the house was a goldsmith, he had 51 precious jewels in his possession which he kept somewhere hidden in the house. The poor goldsmith was brutally murdered and the jewels stolen, now the current resident, Kailashbabu, claims that the ghost of Baikuntha Das is haunting him. Byomkesh and Ajit dismiss this as the ravings of a neurotic and decide to pay him a visit, but then the duo discover first hand that Kailashbabu might not be lying.

The best story out of the three in the novel, Saradindu creates a spooky atmosphere and even has Ajit convinced in believing the supernatural, the mystery of how a ghostly face appears outside the second floor window of a two storied building is well explained, but the fact that the police fail too see some very basic clues which Byomkesh and the reader see immediately, does not bode well for the Bengali Police. The other flaw was that Byomkesh hides some clues from the reader. Characterization is not a strong point of Saradindu but he created some good characters here like Baradababu, an occultist.

The Death of Amrito aka Amriter Mrityu (অমৃতের মৃত্যু)- Amrito claims to have seen a ghostly horse in the forbidden forest, his friends tease him and dare him to enter the forest again, the young fool does takes the challenge. He enters the forest but never returns, he is found shot dead through the chest. The village folk are spooked, good thing the Bengali is close at hand, who is investigating a missing arms case and sees a connection with the missing arms and the death of the foolish but innocent Amrito.

A story which has too many faults, starting from the ridiculously weak characterization, to the nonsense plot. The below average job of translating has not helped this story, I wish Sreejata Guha who translated The Menagerie and Picture Imperfect, had translated these three stories. I fear much has been lost in translation but besides that the complete lack of atmosphere, very weak characters and some seemingly impossible things like how the murderer manages to disappear on top of a horse after killing Amrito, without anyone hearing the horse sound too far fetched,  makes this a very weak entry.

I'm rating this 2.5 stars out of 5.

Where can you buy it? homeshop18.com, you can get it for around 150 Rs.


  1. Wikipedia tells me that Satyajit Ray made one of the stories (The Zoo) into a movie. Having enjoyed the Apu Trilogy, I've to see if I can get my hands on this one. I wonder if the author likes the spooky, paranormal bent to his mysteries considering 2/3 are in that vein.

    1. Hi,

      Satyajit Ray was a big fan of Saradindu, and the Zoo is based on one of his best works which is "The Menagerie". I have the works of Satyajit Ray on my TBR pile.

  2. Agreed, the translation is below par. I have the version published by Puffin and the large text and the 'things to think about' section at the end makes me think the edition was intended for 12-14 year old kids.

    Really hoping Ms. Guha translates the rest of the stories and Penguin comes out with an omnibus like they did for the Feluda stories.


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