Usha Narayanan has given us a fast paced thriller in ‘The Madras Mangler’. In true whodunit style you only get your answers in the last few pages.
Kat, Moti, Lolita and Minx are four close friends studying at SS Padmaja College. Each of them come from very different backgrounds but in college they find kindred spirits in each other and giggle, chat, live, laugh and support each other. They are young girls enjoying life and living from day to day until the decomposed, strangled bodies of girls start being fished out of the water. Enter Vir, the Criminal Psychologist from the USA who has been called down by his friend Bishnu to help crack the case. Packing a mean punch, he brings his own dark motivations to the bearing of this case.
Even though they know that the murderer is targeting college girls, each of the girls are too wrapped up in their own lives to really take it seriously. Lolita, Moti and Minx are all facing trouble from different quarters due to their actions. A whole plethora of shady characters are stalking each of them separately. The killer is on to them as well, trailing them at every turn. They only realize the true implications of the ‘Mangler’ when a friend of theirs disappears and her battered body is found later.
The book takes us through the trials of their college and personal life; with Bishnu and Vir struggling to come up with some meaningful clues to find the killer who is always one step ahead; it culminates in a desperate chase to save them.
The author’s forte lies in the action packed scenes. Her description of the HATCHET HQ and the conversations on criminal profiling and strategy between Vir and Bishnu are brilliant, as are the menacing ‘asides’ from the murderer which help build up the suspense. The key male characters are well developed as are the four female protagonists. The conversations between the male characters is realistic and sharp, unfortunately I did not find the same attribute in the dialogue between the girls, where I felt the exchange was stilted. Besides every male character at that college were absolute degenerates. Would have also preferred fewer secondary characters, as at times it became a bit confusing keeping up with who they are and their connection to the story.
However, these are really trifling issues when we look at the book as a whole and I am definitely no expert on college life in Chennai. All in all an appealing read that maintains a good pace throughout. I would give it four stars.