Here, Kaveri Murthy, the 19-year-old wife of a local doctor, finds herself sleuthing at the behest of her overbearing mother-in-law, Bhargavi, who directs her to investigate embezzlement at a friend’s business. Minor crimes quickly turn major when the friend’s husband, a millowner, is murdered, and Kaveri, armed with a magnifying glass, must use all of her mathematical and methodological acumen to root out what happened. There is no shortage of suspects, beginning with the millworkers the man had so cruelly exploited.
Against a roiling political backdrop — the women’s suffrage movement is growing, as is anti-British sentiment — Kaveri and Bhargavi come to a deeper understanding of each other.
Antonia Scott, the star of Juan Gómez-Jurado’s trilogy opener, RED QUEEN (Minotaur, 384 pp., $27.99), checks all of the Strong Female Character boxes. Stunning beauty, brilliant mind, innovative detection, cascading traumas: all present and accounted for. As the novel begins, the half-Spanish, half-British Antonia, who “has a black belt in self-deception,” has secluded herself in her residence, refusing to accept new cases as a consulting detective, and generally withdrawn from society.
Enter Jon Gutiérrez, a policeman carrying the weight of multiple personal and professional disgraces, who’s inexplicably been given a chance at redemption. The catch: He has to coax Antonia out of retirement to work with him on a series of especially heinous murders. It’s a slightly banal setup, but no matter. What Gómez-Jurado excels at, as conveyed in Nick Caistor’s brisk translation, is pacing of the breakneck variety. Short chapters, funny asides, lethally potent descriptions: They all contribute to a frenetic page-turning momentum that overrides the lack of character development. If you don’t take “Red Queen” too seriously, you’ll have great fun reading it.