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Kiss of Salt

by Smita Bhattacharya

Rating: *****

Darya Nandkarni travels back to Heliconia Lane in South Goa to help sort the effects of her late Uncle Paritosh. Despite the beautiful setting, nothing appears quite the same, including the residents. Returning and associating with the two other families in the lane reminds Darya of the strange disappearance of Paritosh’s wife, Farideh, twenty years ago. When it becomes obvious that her Uncle was murdered, Darya turns sleuth in an attempt to get to the bottom of the mysteries of Heliconia Lane…

I thought Kiss of Salt was a really accomplished, enjoyable read. The entire book simmers with atmospheric foreboding which is heightened by the heat and beauty of the setting. There is a constant creeping feeling of imminent threat, and rising tension. All of the characters in the novel have issues in some way and all are involved in oddly unsettling incidents in typically classic whodunnit style. The narrative cleverly builds layer upon layer of half-truths and suspicions and at times during the novel, any one of the main characters is a suspect. As is often the case, the true culprit is hiding in plain sight. The prose is really quite beautiful; considered and descriptive with a slightly old-fashioned feel to both the form and the words which really works with the genre. Kiss of Salt is structured in such a skilful and consummate way that it is hard to believe that this is a debut; for a traditional mystery/thriller it is brilliantly constructed with so many elements used to good effect. There are plenty of twists and dead-ends; all of which are credible and nicely woven into the main plot.

The characters are well-realised; standouts were Filip and Vidisha. Darya is a complex personality who carries the novel well. There is a real impression of her developing into the role of detective and giving herself a personal sense of purpose and worth, which she sorely needed. This cleverly sets up further mysteries for her to possibly solve. The setting of Heliconia Lane and the three houses therein function as character themselves; the descriptive imagery of each of the three adds personality and dimension so that as a reader, you can really visualise the environment as though you were walking through it. This familiarity is quite a key element when whodunnits are set within confined areas and Ms Bhattacharya is careful to ensure that the reader has that important awareness of place.

A very well-written, beautifully crafted and engrossing mystery thriller. Highly recommended.

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