Popular writer Kiran Manral’s latest novel is a thriller called Missing, Presumed Dead. It is about Aisha, a wife and a mother, who goes missing. She has a history of being “mentally” fragile although it is not very clear if it is a genetic inheritance from her mother or a bit of manipulation on her husband, Prithvi’s, part to keep Aisha heavily sedated. But this is not all the inheritance that Aisha has to contend with—it is also the very real fact of the property and other immoveable assets she stands to gain from her parents. A possible reason why Prithvi does not abandon her completely though he would rather spend days away from his family with a travel bag always ready in the boot of his car. He has also moved the family to a remote hill station in northern India, ostensibly for the protection of Aisha. It is not a happy marriage and Aisha remains very stressed. It is not made any easier for her husband and their two children by her OCD for maintaining cleanliness at home. Aisha’s place in the home is taken by her illegitimate half-sister, Heer, who had unexpectedly materialised at her Aisha’s doorstep. Coincidentally it happened a couple of days before Aisha’s mysterious disappearance. This is where the plot thickens.
Missing Presumed, Dead is a rivetting thriller for most parts of the novel particularly when it grapples with the puzzle of Aisha and Heer’s story and how Prithvi gets embroiled in it too. Kiran Manral’s strength has been mostly writing romance novels with inevitably the women characters etched very well. These are her strengths. She understands the space they inhabit beautifully, how the silences of women communicate far more than it seems and how they negotiate spaces continuously every single day. She also understand the romance novel space very well with the perfect lightness of touch, moving the plot smartly without overdoing it with details but focused solely on the romancing couple. Transiting to writing thrillers ( and this is not her first thriller), Kiran Manral has got the right pace in plot movement, the characters are far from flat and are easily imagined in the flesh and blood, and though there are details in the novel to build suspense they are not entirely sufficient. Thrillers tend to be packed with tiny, tiny details that it is impossible to understand the plot if every little sentence is not read and understood. It is like a large canvas with tiny details etched in. Writers of thrillers leave little to the imagination and ensure that every detail in the room/space inhabited by the protagonist is described as is their interaction with other charcters. Also much of the fast paced plot is conversation driven. Parts of this are true for Missing Presumed, Dead making it captivating to read but something is still lacking. Perhaps if Missing Presumed, Dead had been a short story it would have been a fine example of crime fiction. Be that as it may it is still a good read for it is a confident step in the direction of seeing Kiran Manral blossom as a crime fiction writer.
2 October 2018