Reviews: Cut Like Wound

Nair introduces us to a police detective who is commonplace, human, a man one can relate to. Inspector Gowda is 49, going to seed, and often at odds with those around him. Nair weaves a fast paced, engrossing tale of suspense as Gowda and Santosh investigate. More corpses turn up, as do clues, sometimes serendipitous….Even though there is plenty of police procedure (meticulously researched, it appears), this is not an old-fashioned whodunit. And therein lies the strength of Cut Like Wound. It is not just a story of another smart cop on the trail of another serial killer. It is more a story that explores the mind of a killer, even tempts the reader to sympathise. All the time, without letting go of the fact that Gowda is the true protagonist.

- India Today

In Cut Like Wound, Nair retains that same earthiness, in a dramatically different genre. By the author’s own admission, she seeks to push her literary boundaries and that is evident in this new book and its unexpected ‘hero’ — one very likely to be a recurrent character in a future series. The unglamorously named Inspector Borei Gowda literally pops out of the pages at you, and by the finish, is so lifelike that you have his entire appearance and personality mentally mapped out…..The story is an honest yet uncomfortably raw exposé of the underbelly of contemporary Indian life. The title of the book definitely plays on these deep undercuts, wounds that fester till they eat into the very core of our charmed existence.

– Khajeej Times

Nair achieves a pleasing restraint in the key passages, and nowhere does this show more than in a tense climax, which leaves a few things unsaid and doesn't try too hard to tie up every loose strand….I also found this book consistently interesting as a commentary on the lives of the sexually marginalised, on the blurring of gender expectations, and the emotional baggage carried by both men and women in a world of role-playing and self-presentation. The inhabitants of the society depicted here – one that includes posh malls as well as seedy underbellies and much in between – are, to varying degrees, struggling with gender roles and perceptions…n his own way, he [Gowda]is nearly as marginalised as some of the more extreme cases he encounters, and if this book leads to a full-fledged series (as the "Introducing Inspector Gowda" on the cover implies it will) much of its pleasure should come from watching this man patrol the mean streets of his city, dealing with his own urban alienation as well as those of his quarries – and perhaps in wondering how thin that line between mild unrest and full-blown psychosis really is.

– Sunday Guardian

The plotting is tight, the setting is familiar to Indian readers and the characters are rivetting. The Trainspottiest side of Edinburgh couldn’t have hosted Cut Like Wound’s startling scenes of ritual worship or its lively transgenders. Even the venal corporator is believable….A confirmed detective fiction junkie, you hope the author hurries up with the next instalment. It’s torture to wait two years for any man; it’s even worse if he’s as interesting as Inspector Borei Gowda, one of the few fictional characters with whom you’d happily share your stick of Sour Punk.

– Hindustan Times

Cut Like Wound by Anita Nair is a remarkable departure in genre by the much-acclaimed author of books like Lessons in Forgetting, The Better Man and Ladies Coupe. This is a psycho-thriller, and to give due credit to the author, there is adequate suspense to keep readers engrossed throughout. Exposed here is the sleazier side of Bengaluru, in its murky back-lanes. It also offers a close look at the transgender community….Excellent, and hopefully, start of a series of novels featuring Borei Gowda.

– Afternoon Despatch & Courier

A departure from her usual literary fiction, this is the author’s first foray into the literary noir genre. The psychological thriller is soaked in the sights and smells of Bengaluru and introduces quite a few interesting characters, including the hero Inspector Borei Gowda. As usual, Nair’s writing is lucid which makes the reading light and quick.

- Verve

Anyone who lives in India has seen the Po-liss as perpetrators: of ill-will, no sympathy and worse manners. It doesn’t help that before you see their cold eyes, you see their protruding bellies. Now Anita Nair, being a chronicler of the times, gives you both these things in her lead persona, yet she manages to imbue negative characteristics with hope for the future….Until you meet Inspector Borei Gowda. Derivative he may be, but he still manages to shine a light on a might-have-been you wish was: a cop you can trust.

– The Hindu

Nair’s murderer is sinister and the motivations are complex. The setting is Indian and easily relatable. The novel explores the realities of the transgender community and corporation politics with great familiarity. The plot itself unfolds in systemized twists and turns. In the truest traditions of the whodunit, the reader will not only be guessing till the end but will also be left smugly surprised that his guesses were almost correct. Plot wise, therefore, Cut Like Wound is tight and upholds the suspense till the last pages….However, in a crime thriller, it is the climax that either scores the effort or undoes it. And it is in the last pages of Cut Like Wound that the atmosphere of Bangalore’s crime riddled underworld, the gaping abyss between assumption and reality bursts open, and Nair not only clinches the deal but takes home the trophy as well.

– Bookadda.com

he murder is well plotted with the requisite smoke and mirrors to keep the reader guessing. Nair apparently did a lot of research while she was writing the book, to get the police station procedure right. And of course the pace steps up at the end so that you’re left wondering whether Gowda will get there in time…As an introduction to a new detective series and to an established writer’s foray into a new genre, Cut Like Wound sets a gripping pace. One can foresee complications as Inspector Gowda’s life develops along with the crimes he is called in to solve, with or without the active cooperation of his superiors in the police force.

- The Deccan Chronicle

‘Guardian Best Novels released in June: Bangalore, the Silicon Valley of India and its third most populous city, is the setting for novelist Anita Nair's first foray into crime fiction,A Cut-Like Wound (Bitter Lemon Press, £8.99). The plot – a young man who fantasies about being a hijra and commits murder in drag, pursued by a jaded inspector whose discovery of corruption in influential families put the kibosh on his career – is standard fare. However, Nair captures the seedy side of shiny new India vividly, and Inspector Gowda – with his weary self-knowledge; hissecret, wistfully aspirational biker tattoo; his stagnating marriage and his confusion when an old flame re-enters his life – is a welcome addition to the ranks of flawed-but-lovable fictional cops.'

- Guardian

‘Inspector Borei Gowda's constant bucking of the Bangalore police department's political conventions has earned him exile to a sidelined precinct. Still, he has a reputation for incredible investigative skills, and it's those skills that rookie inspector Santosh hopes to absorb. Santosh is in luck; just as he arrives at the precinct, passersby find a body burning in an abandoned car. The autopsy reveals that the man's throat was cut by an unusual, unidentified weapon. When two more bodies turn up with the same wound, Gowda campaigns to investigate the murders as serial killings, upsetting the administration's denial that such killers operate in India. But a senior officer friend secretly hands Gowda unofficial reins, and he and Santosh hunt a killer incongruously connected to both local politics and Bangalore's eunuch subculture. Nair doesn't coddle Western readers, which makes deciphering police and municipal political structures tricky, but those who enjoy international settings will surely enjoy the well-drawn tension between modern and traditional Indian culture, Gowda's steady confidence, and the heady immersion in Bangalore's hidden recesses.'

- Booklist

‘ Anita Nair's excellent new novel is something of a departure from her previous books, with their nuanced, intricate examinations of relationships and social status. Set during Ramadan in the steamy heat of Bangalore, A Cut-like Wound takes the form of a police procedural, with detectives tracking a serial killer through the teeming streets and seedy back alleys of the city. Our hero – if that is the word – is Inspector Borei Gowda, a splendidly grumpy, hard-drinking, deeply flawed character whose chaotic home life includes an absent wife, an estranged son and an enigmatic mistress. Despite his brilliant detective work, Gowda's disdain for authority has led to a posting in a backwater district of Bangalore. He is roused from his apathetic torpor by a series of grisly murders on his patch; seemingly unrelated men whose throats have been cut with a manja – a glass-coated kite string. The author's hypnotic writing plunges us into world at once deeply conservative and daringly transgressive; we are presented with policemen perennially at odds with their own organization, local politicians who mix corruption with paternalistic altruism, and transgendered sex-workers in search of affection and tenderness. Anita Nair has successfully leavened the standard mystery novel with her own brand of character-driven narrative and, if the denouement seems a trifle rushed, this is a minor flaw in a novel that otherwise has much to admire.'

- New Internationalist

‘Another police story in which atmosphere is as important as plot is Anita Nair's A Cut-Like Wound (Bitter Lemon, £8.99) but this time we're facing the murderous heat of Bangalore in August. Inspector Borei Gowda is, on the surface, a typical fictional detective — irascible, hard-drinking and self-destructively at odds with his bosses — until a surprise reunion with his first love reminds him of who he used to be in his student days. Perhaps that's why, while his colleagues believe that the deaths of a few “eunuchs” are not worth wasting police resources on, Gowda is determined to protect the city's oppressed transgender community from a self-hating murderer, no matter how many corrupt politicians he has to make enemies of in the process. Gowda's first case delights — and sometimes shocks — the senses and is a very welcome addition to the still frustratingly small ration of Indian crime fiction now appearing in Britain. ‘

- Morning Star

‘The magazine, SIGHT AND SOUND, voted the movie, VERTIGO, the greatest movie of all time. The title, like the competition, is dubious. But it proves that we are all suckers for stories about identity. Crime fans, as much as anyone, are obsessed by identity. A detective novel is obsessed with the identity of the murderer. In A CUT-LIKE WOUND there is a running debate about who is actually responsible for the investigation. Who is actually the detective? This occurs so often in detective novels for it not to be a coincidence. Identity is important for all. Identity implies not only responsibility but also revelation and explanation. Something is revealed about a character and that means suspicions about others have to be discarded. The past is not properly understood until we have the identity of the murderer. A CUT-LIKE WOUND is a fine crime novel, and identity and its complicated aspects drive the plot, characters and our understanding. In the novel, identity is determined by almost everything – occupation, social class, sex, family, location, history and even the past. Inevitably, relationships are complicated. If identity was obvious, we would not be so vulnerable to deceit. Identity requires role-playing, and often it is the most fragile who are the most effective at assuming artificial identities. In VERTIGO, Madeline may have been an exploited female but she was still able to deceive the detective blessed with masculine power. Critics have jeered at the cliché of the tortured detective. They insist that he is remote from the conformist professional policeman that exists in real life. Gowda in A CUT-LIKE WOUND has the usual wounds - a loveless marriage, a weakness for alcohol and a failed career. But it makes sense that detectives obsessed with the crime should elsewhere lack purpose. As Arthur Conan Doyle understood, identity is too complex to be defined by mere investigative reasoning. Gowda may be typical of the genre but his complicated stuttering relationships are credible and never without interest. The sex scene between Gowda and his old flame, Urmilla, could have been embarrassing. It is not because we want him to find contentment. Similarly, his relationship with his young assistant, Santosh, echoes the morality of a Victorian novel, how the experienced and inexperienced must shape identity in each other. A CUT-LIKE WOUND has a satisfying plot. The clues always lag satisfyingly behind the crimes, and there are plenty of crimes to maintain suspense. The climax, which is well paced over the last thirty pages of the novel, is especially good. In a complicated urban world, where identity is faked, deceit constant and money desperately needed, role-playing and all forms of prostitution prevail. There is much that has to be revealed. The author could have been forgiven for providing a narrow view of the world of criminals and outsider transsexuals. But the city of Bangalore serves as an exotic and complex backdrop. No wonder that Gowda prefers to travel those streets on his Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle. Another reason to find this detective irresistible.'

- Crime Chronicles

‘Anita Nair is a feminist and highly regarded Indian novelist. A Cut-Like Wound is as startling a debut crime novel as you are likely to read this year. Set in Bangalore, it opens with the horrific murder of a young man who worked as a prostitute. The killing is investigated by Inspector Gowda, who is in the midst of his own midlife crisis when he realises he is dealing with a serial killer. This is a troubling novel about men and sexual identity, ending with a shattering and unexpected revelation.‘

-Sunday Times

‘You may think we've been before, and in a way we have – but not, perhaps, in Bangalore. The weary, embattled police detective, the new recruit, the unsympathetic toady of a boss, the corruption, the serial killer ... familiar as these may sound they become quite different in provincial India: more exotic, more extreme. This is not the tourist India (who, after all, goes to Bangalore?) and this top-rate Indian writer shows how it really is. (There is only one non-Indian character, and his is a small part.) Among the thugs, extortionists, whores and transgender workers a cross-dressing killer picks off young men. The police (other than Inspector Gowda) are barely interested, and we get a fascinating introduction to the Indian police force – and to local politics, the Indian Mafia (not known by that name), sexual politics and life in a vibrant if often dangerous city. The rich blend of colours, tastes and smells sweeps you along from Korma to Vindaloo as it were (though these Anglo-Indian variants are disdained here) and, with a hefty side-dish of goddess-worship too, you will be dining here on sumptuous fare.'

–Russell James Crime Time

'I loved this book and was constantly gripped. Anita Nair's writing in some moments has photographic qualities, in others the precision of surgeon's scalpel; and always the great inner warmth of the human heart. Truly astounding writing.'

- Peter James, author of 'Dead Simple' and 'Looking Good Dead'

‘As the month of Ramzan begins around the world, in Bangalore, India a young male heeds the words of the Goddess to cross-dress as a female. He admires his transformation into beautiful Bhuvana before leaving his home to visit the bazaars where he expects to meet true love. A man flirts with Bhuvana until an interloper warns him that the woman he admires is a male in female clothing. Angry as lust turns to disgust he insults the transgender and the interloper. When he recognizes who the transgender is, he panics just before his throat is sliced. Before leaving the killer arranges for a cleanup. Inspector Borei Gowda struggles with his relationships with his wife, son and his former college lover; as well as those on the job including his superior, his peers and his informants, but especially his eager assistant Santosh. Meanwhile Gowda investigates a series of homicides that make no sense to him as they seem like angry crimes of passion yet cleansed by an apparent cool head. This is an intriguing Indian police procedural in which the official serial killing inquiry takes a back seat to the deep look inside the souls of the fully developed lead characters Gowda and Bhuvana; with the latter owning the storyline. Although the tension dramatically lessons as the plot turns inward after a taut suspenseful opening, A Cut-Like Wound is a fresh mystery.'

- The Mystery Gazette

In this exceptional police procedural, Indian author Nair (The Better Man) adds yet another middle-aged, crisis-stricken, and world-weary detective to the contemporary mystery canon. Bangalore's Insp. Borei Gowda is an honest man, his integrity earning him only marginalization within a system increasingly flooded by abandoned investigations and crooked officers solely pursuing the power of the uniform. Gowda's superior would prefer to ignore a series of grisly strangling murders, but that doesn't stop Gowda and his idealistic young assistant, Santosh, from doggedly unraveling a web of political corruption involving a fanatical local official and a subculture of "hijras"—transgender individuals often driven to prostitution in the city's shadowy underbelly. Nair immerses her readers in Bangalore's alluring and sinister mélange of Hindu and Moslem cultures, revealing a people afflicted by the inability to allow unqualified praise for anything or anyone. Complex, psychologically deep characters are a plus.

- Publishers weekly [starred review]

‘Library Journal blog by Liz French about ThrillerFest IX: “We caught up with“Rebus” series author Ian Rankin right after he and a star-filled panel talked about creating iconic characters. He recommended Anita Nair's Bangalore-set police procedural A Cut-Like Wound, which he said contains “eunuchs, trannies, and quite a bit of social criticism".'

- Library Journal








Cut Like Wound






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