In "Bombay Ice", Leslie Forbes has done something quite unique - she's successfully married a murder mystery with the worlds of film and meteorology, and set the entire story against the backdrop of the city of Bombay. And what's even more amazing is that she's done this with a style and grace that few, if any, of India's homegrown writers could match.
Forbes' primary character is Rosalind Benegal, an anchor with the BBC in London. Her sister, Miranda, is the second wife of famous Bombay film director Prosper Sharma, whose first wife killed herself years ago by leaping off a balcony seven stories above the ground. Now Maya is pregnant, and she's beginning to think that Prosper might have killed his first wife and is now gunning for her. She sends Rosalind a postcard with her suspicions, together with a vague mention of a hijra - a eunuch - who is following her around.
Part-Scottish and part-Indian, Rosalind is the illegitimate child of Maya's father and his Scottish mistress. She hasn't seen Maya in years - but her half-sister's cry for help is enough to make her drop her current assignments and fly to Bombay at once. Once she gets there, she quickly finds that there's more going on than meets the eye: the unusual murder of a group of hijras at Chowpatty Beach, Maya's sudden denials of her suspicions about her husband, the numerous coincidences linking Prosper and his former protege Calib Mistry with the death of the first Mrs. Sharma, and an attempt on her life, arouse Rosalind's suspicions and make her determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.
As the story twists and turns, Rosalind comes face to face with some bitter truths about herself and her family. She's plagued by memories of happier times, times spent with her mother and father in Kerala - but those memories are also tainted with images of her mother's suicide and her father's refusal to acknowledge her for years. Her emotions, and the paths her investigations take her down, are mirrored in the atmosphere around her - it's monsoon time in India, and the storm clouds are gathering over the sub-continent, readying themselves for the annual deluge...
But while Forbes' story is cerebral and surprising, it's not the reason you'll remember "Bombay Ice" - it's the characters, and the riffs on everything from Shakespeare and meteorology to alchemy and chaos theory, that separate this novel from the rest of the pack. Forbes' clever allegorical use of Shakespeare's "Tempest", together with her acid, but always accurate, comments on Bombay life as seen through Rosalind's eyes, are just two of the reasons I'd recommend that you add this book to your reading list - among the others are a hijra artist, a poetry-quoting Bombay taxi-driver, a smooth-talking art forger, an intelligence agent who speaks Sanskrit, a leper on a skateboard, and a complex and engaging heroine. Much recommended!This article was first published on 05 Sep 2000.