Review – A Degree in Death by Ruby Gupta

July 30, 2013

Author: Ruby Gupta
Publisher: Alchemy Publishers
Year: 2012
ISBN: 9788180460845
Rating: ★★★☆☆
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A picturesque sleepy town, a premier engineering institute and plenty of bright young minds. Throw in a suicide on campus and the plot begins to thicken.

Alarm bells first start ringing when the somber surroundings of Modern Institute of Technology, witnesses the ‘suicide’ of the brilliant and arrogant Vipin. The problem is, there was no real reason for him to take this final step. Just as the incident is about to be dismissed as a tragic one-off, more bodies are discovered, and it becomes clear that something is amiss. With the reputation of their institute and the town of Dehradun on the line, the professors unite together to carry out a conclusive autopsy. Their efforts uncover the shocking information that someone in their sleepy academic town is determined to acquire a degree in the art of murder.

The silhouette of a body sprawled on the cover in the inelegance of death offers the reader a good idea of the macabre contents. The novel employs all the usual ingredients of a thrilling murder mystery- the understated intellectual acumen of the protagonist, Professor Shantanu, the over-bearing yet clueless police, inconclusive clues leading to dead-ends, and the systematic elimination of the usual suspects. But it is the lack of treatment, unfortunately, that causes 'A Degree in Death' to falter. Characters such as the college girl-Gurpreet, the murdered boy Vipin and his over-zealous sister are incompletely sketched. There are also too many unnecessary distractions, like the insignificant diatribes involving the professors on campus, that have no real bearing on the plot. They do not even add to the atmosphere the author wants to create. The sequences are devoid of a heightened sense of insecurity and 'what next?' The story unfurls too much through dialogue rather than subtle interplay of suspicious activities and suggestive imagery, thereby providing minimum scope for engaging the reader. Instead, we are forced to traverse a path, where even ‘grotesque descriptions of the crime scenes, including a-swimming pool strangulation, fail to strike a semblance of fear or curiosity. Moreover stellar revelations in form of well-worn clichés such as, “A friend is but a known enemy”, merely dilute the plot without registering much impact. The finale seems hastily written and the 'cunning twist' fizzles out. Eventually, the sum of the parts adding up a tad bit laboriously to a whole that is somewhat mundane.

The author is able to strike a chord, albeit partially, only to a certain extent. 'A Degree in Death' will pass but , without truly flying colors.

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