‘Social commentary is a must’: Taposh Chakravorty on his new novel and evolving detective fiction

Ishita Sengupta

The author spoke to indianexpress.com about his influences and the reason behind choosing such a detective.

Detective fiction, over the years, has become a genre that has an unspoken template. The detective is inevitably accompanied by a friend or fellow companion. The protagonist's intellect is beyond general human reach, evoking wonder and awe. Of late, characters have become more humanised and so has the detective. They are now flawed, subject to reproach rather than reverence.

In this vein, author Taposh Chakravorty writes The Devil Tree and lets his voluntarily unemployed detective Papi solve a murder mystery set in the capital. The author spoke to indianexpress.com about his influences and the reason behind choosing such a detective.


Your novel, The Devil Tree presents a rather existential sleuth, Papi. This is a departure from the detectives we have grown up reading, like Ray's Feluda or even Sherlock. The mind of the detective is mostly sealed seeking our admiration and not empathy. What was your inspiration?

The sharp, smart, invulnerable sleuth is long past, as is hard-boiled crime fiction. These belonged to the era of optimism. Since the 1970s new, soft-boiled crime fiction, with a flawed sleuth has become the norm, although not yet in India. I have liked Henning Mankell, Ian Rankin, Michael Dibdin.

Your novel is based in Delhi and the nature of the rape of the first victim is strongly reminiscent of the 2012 gang rape case. Was it deliberate?

No, it was not based on those murders, but on the general scents in the winds.

Do you think detective novels or those about police procedurals need an innate social commentary or can they exist in a vacuum?

Social commentary is a must, in my view. Otherwise, it is just a parlour game, self-indulgent virtuosity. Crime fiction is as much serious business of literature as, say, Tolstoy or suchlike.

What are the books you have grown up reading?

Hard to say. Everything, really. Wodehouse to Dostoevsky, Steinbeck to Naipaul, Rowling to Mailer, Doris Lessing, Amitav Ghosh, Camus.