New Delhi | It is a return to familiar turf for writer Ruskin Bond, who revisits the oft-trodden paths of towering mountains and lush green forests in his brand new collection of eight crime stories set in Mussoorie.
Bond, who has spent major part of his life living amidst the hills in a modest cottage in Landour, recreates the old-world atmosphere of the small Himalayan town of the 1960s to pen “Death Under the Deodars: The Adventures of Miss Ripley Bean”.
68-year-old May Ripley-Bean, who features in all eight stories, was an “old Mussoorie friend and neighbour” of Bond, who he says, entertained him “on cold winter evenings with tales of strange happenings in and around the hill station”.
“She did not investigate and bring criminals to justice – but she observed, remembered and recorded. And she had a knack for getting to the heart of the matter,” the 82-year-old author writes in the introduction to the book.
Written in the quintessential Bond style, the stories evoke a sense of nostalgia and render a familiar fireplace warmth from the cozy corners of the fabled Royal hotel, that forms the backdrop of all the narrations.
The motives for the crimes are varied and relatable — almost bordering on the mundane, and in some cases, inspired from real-life incidents.
“Here the motives vary from marital discord to illicit love and manic obsession. Two or three of these stories are loosely based on actual cases, although I have changed the names of those concerned,” he writes.
The tales, however, seem to be too short to build up suspense and create an edge-of-the-seat-experience at the denouement, which invariably seems to arrive before its time.
The twists are narrated in a matter-of-fact way, and fail, as Bond himself admits, to reach “great tragic or poetic heights”.
The brevity of the narrative becomes an even greater stumbling block when Bond dedicates nearly a page or two in every single story, to repeatedly introduce the four characters of Miss Ripley-Bean, her small Tibetan terrier Fluff, the hotel pianist Mr Lobo, and the hotel owner Nandu.
That Miss Ripley-Bean’s father owned the Royal at the time of Independence, “and had sold it to Nandu’s father on the condition that his daughter could live there for the rest of her days,” finds mention in each short story, as does the recipe of her favourite drink ‘creme de menthe’, which she makes herself by mixing a cup of sugar into a full bottle of her favourite gin, with two tablespoons each of peppermint oil and “that green colouring matter that goes into cakes and other poisonous confectionery”.
The repetitions tend to break the flow of the book, which otherwise could have been read in a single sitting.
An outcome of numerous conversations between Bond and his editor Udayan Mitra at Penguin India, the book comes after a long break in the writer’s literary career when he did not pen any fresh content, although many of his older works were adapted and published.
“Death Under the Deodars: The Adventures of Miss-Ripley Bean” hits the stands today.