Eat Your Heart Out, 007
Surender Mohan Pathak has long been the undisputed emperor of Hindi crime fiction. But for his latest novel, Diamonds Are for All, the author himself penned an English version to be published simultaneously. It’s the 11th novel featuring one of Pathak’s most successful characters, Jeet Singh, and the king of crime once again delivers the goods—evoking a world that rarely makes the pages of so-called “Indian writing in English”.
Self-conscious about his poor education and average appearance, Jeet Singh has had a seemingly never-ending affair with betrayals, both in love and on the job. Of course, his profession is slightly unorthodox. An expert safecracker, he has been involved with all manner of clients, sometimes under pressure, sometimes due to his personal helplessness. He’s made the hit lists of several underworld kingpins. He has escaped death by a whisker at least a dozen times. And in order to save his own life, he has killed on nearly as many occasions. At the opening of Diamonds Are for All, though, he’s working as a cabbie to try and stay away from the world of crime.
As the title suggests, the plot revolves around stolen diamonds. One night, a passenger fleeing goons gets into Jeet Singh’s cab. He soon leaps out of the moving taxi, but only after giving Singh a briefcase the goons are after—and entrusting him with the task of delivering it.
The mysterious passenger turns up dead by the railway tracks the next morning. And when Singh tries to deliver the briefcase to the address the man gave him, he discovers that the girl who lived there has also been murdered. Inside the case are diamonds worth hundreds of millions—with several different gangs of thugs hot on their trail.
The fast-plotted tale of Jeet Singh’s attempts to get rid of the goons and the stones without getting himself killed is easy to finish in a sitting. But Pathak’s lively portrayal of Mumbai’s underbelly—right down to his utterly convincing use of Mumbai’s tapori dialect—makes the book more than a simple page-turner. Every character fits perfectly, leaving little space for anything unnecessary or unwarranted. By writing it in English, Pathak may well force the country’s snootier readers to reconsider their flawed opinion that Indian genre fiction lacks a master on the level of Georges Simenon or Elmore Leonard.