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"Hot Tar Torture" with Smita Harish Jain

Updated: Sep 6, 2023

This episode Max talks to up-and-coming mystery writer Smita Harish Jain about her impeccably constructed short story "Kohinoor." We also discuss the excitement of going to a literary event like "Thrillerfest", the fun of finding your tribe in other fellow mystery writers, and whether or not you can torture someone in a story with hot tar and it still be considered cozy or not. (Max says yes!)

Listen here!

As there aren't yet any books of Smita's to read yet, you can read her story "Publish or Perish" by placing a hold here. Read it and weigh in on the hot tar question!

Smita recommended a variety of titles and authors -- dividing them between noir and Mumbai, depending upon which aspect of their story appealed most to you.

Smita didn't recommend a particular book by Vaseem Khan, but I love, love, love Midnight at Malabar House. A British diplomat is found murdered and Malabar House -- Bombay's very worst police district, filled with misfits and political castoffs -- are called in into investigate. Were they called because the powers that be don't want the crime really solved? The story is set following the partitioning of India, a powder keg of a time period, and features India's first police woman as the lead, a challenging gig in 1950.

Admittedly, Khan is arguably better known for his Baby Ganesh Agency Investigation series (start with the Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, if you want to explore that instead, it's also great). He's one of those British mystery writers that should be better known in America. Let's fix that: you should read him! (Also: Mumbai and Bombay are the same city, in case you didn't realize -- the British colonialists renamed the city in 17th century, and in the 1990s the Indian government did away with its colonial name.)

Speaking of British writers, Smita also recommended Tarquin Hall -- who's written five book in his Dehli-based Vish Puri series. I actually haven't read these but I've seen them alternately described as Hercule Poirot but Indian, and as a subcontinental cousin to the No. 1 Detective Club Agency.

Smita also recommended decorated writer Jhumpa Lahiri, who's won the Pulitzer Prize, the PEN award, and a host of other praises. The Lowland is an epic family saga that follows character in both Calcutta and Rhode Island in the 1960s. I haven't read anything by Lahiri, but I really should.

And if you're looking strictly for more crime short stories set in Mumbai, you can't get any better than Mumbai Noir series by Akashic books. This is part of an entire books spanning the globe from Atlanta Noir to Tel Aviv Noir to Zagreb Noir (that's in Croatia!) Something for everyone.

We've ordered this book, but we've been having trouble getting a copy. If you're interested, talk to your local librarian about interlibrary loan for now.

Lastly, if you're interested more in how Smita approaches crafting her stories, you should read her excellent essay -- referenced in the interview -- on Something is About to Happen.

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