A few thoughts on Anita Nair's Chain of Custody
Well, when I read Cut Like Wound a few months ago, I liked it enough to want to read the next in the series, which happens to be Chain of Custody. And here we are. Inspector Gowda is back, this time in the midst of an affair he won’t allow himself to feel guilty about. Santosh is recovering from the events of the last book. A new officer has joined the group.
But the main focus of this book is the organization and methods of child trafficking. From makeshift brothels with cupboard-sized partitions for the sex slaves, to the innocuous-seeming recruiters who prowl the town, to the various agents and customers who prop up the trade, and finally to the victims who suffer the worst depravities, Nair captures it all in agonizing detail. We squirm through it, knowing this is all based on research she has done and that it’s all too real. The efforts of Gowda and his crew seem futile next to the bloodthirstiness and implied scale of the operation.
In some sense, this is what makes the whole book single-flavoured instead of a balanced recipe. You’re left only with that sense of horror and shame, as if you just read a non-fiction book on the flesh trade. To make things worse, the investigation into the sordid affair - which was triggered by the kidnapping of Gowda’s maid’s daugher Lalita - seems to always lag behind the culprits. The only way the case is resolved is through a couple of involved parties either surrendering to the police, or being ratted out by victims’ relatives. Which would have happened even if Gowda had not been around. Yes, there is a murder that Gowda solves - but, as the book proceeds, you’re left with not much sympathy for anyone involved, and you care very little for it.
One thing that Nair pulls off really well is the absolute ending - it’s so typically Indian and so realistic, but with a touch of the Gowda magic. I will say nothing nothing more, except to allude to an old Stephen King book, Firestarter, as a touch point.
Once again I have the same complaint with this book that I had with the previous one: no allusions to the gigantic, influential, software industry and the effects it has on the city?
Would I read another of the series? For all its faults, yes, I would. The Bangalore setting brings things alive, Inspector Gowda is fun, and Nair’s writing is smooth as always. The pattern, too, is emerging: if it was the plight of the sexually fluid in the first book, it is child trafficking here. What will she bring up next?