The Sea of Innocence by Kishwar Desai
Goa, south India. A beautiful holiday hideaway where hippies and backpackers while away the hours. But beneath the clear blue skies lies a dirty secret…
Simran Singh is desperate for a break and some time away from her busy job as a social worker-come-crime investigator. And so the unspoilt idyll of Goa seems just the place – white beaches, blue seas and no crime.
But when a disturbing video appears on her phone, featuring a young girl being attacked by a group of men, she realises that a darkness festers at the heart of this supposed paradise. And when she discovers out that the girl is Liza Kay, a British teenager who has gone missing, she knows she must act in order to save her.
But first Simran must break through the web of lies and dark connections that flourish on these beaches. Everyone, it seems, knows what has happened to the girl but no one is prepared to say. And when more videos appear, and Simran herself is targeted in order to keep her quiet, the paradise soon becomes a living nightmare.
Before jumping headlong reviewing this thriller by Kishwar Desai, it is necessary to give a little background on the writer and the story.
Kishwar Desai’s Simran Singh books are a series of detective fiction books primarily focussing on gender-based crimes.
I have not read any of the earlier books in the series but
- Witness the Night is a book on female infanticide
- Origins of Love is based on illegal surrogacy and IVF issues
The third book, The Sea of Innocence is loosely based on the infamous rape and murder case of Scarlett Keeling. I am ashamed to admit that when this murder first hit the newspapers, I avidly read all about it, followed the case for a few weeks, hotly debated the various issues with my friends…and then…promptly forgot about it when the next big scandal hit the newspapers.
That’s what I always tend to do.
I am so glad that Kishwar Desai and other such women do not forget as easily. In many ways, this book is less of a mystery/thriller, but a book that seeks to highlight the injustice meted out to rape victims such as Scarlett Keeling. Scarlett never got justice in real life, at least in fiction, there is some hope.
So, with this as the basis of the story…on to the review.
My Review: Even taken as pure fiction, this book is very good. The main character Simran Singh is a strong-minded if rather unrealistically described social-worker cum detective. She is fairly hard-boiled and gutsy, and stubborn to a fault. All good qualities to have if you are facing up to a deadly nexus of corrupt politicians and incompetent police.
When she receives a series of disturbing videos of what may be rape, she is forced to ditch her holiday and get to work trying to find the truth. Unfortunately, nothing seems clear. Nobody seems to care about the rape victim, Lisa Kay. She is missing – presumed dead, but since she is mysteriously spotted here and there, there is no conclusive evidence to say she is dead.
Her sister, Marion is Simran’s major hope, but she isn’t revealing everything she knows. Does she even care about her missing sister? Is she actually colluding with Lisa’s killers? Who is helping Simran mysteriously? All these and other questions are brought up and answered in the rest of the story.
So, the book is thrilling. Definitely. But, it does slow down in the middle. There was a bit too much of repetition of sequences that slowed the pace of the book. In a lot of places, Simran muses on the situation of women in India, and the degeneration of Goa, and these ruminations slow down the pace of the book. Also, I would have liked it very much if Simran figures out the truth on her own. Nearing the end of the book, Simran is still stuck. She has her suspicions, but no evidence, nothing to back up her guesses. It is only with a lot of hand-holding that she is able to solve the case.
All this would still have been fine if the final climax was super-thrilling. Unfortunately, this book stays too close to the facts of the real-life case, and things peter out towards the end. The truth is revealed, but whether the miscreants actually pay for their crimes…that is left to the reader’s imagination.
There is also a rather macabre drug-smuggling angle tied to the story. In my opinion, it was a little unwanted and diverted attention from the actual rape/murder. But after reading some accounts of the Scarlett Kealing case, where drugs played a part, I can understand why Kishwar Desai may have included it in the book.
In spite of all this, I enjoyed the book thoroughly. It is well-written, the descriptions of Goa are true to life, the tension/suspense meter stays high throughout the book. I love the character of Simran Singh and plan to read the first two books in the series.
A good mystery/thriller based in India is hard to find, and this is one of the few gems in the market currently.
Thanks to the publicist for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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