The Bikini Murders
Harper Collins l Rs 395l pp 272
This is an imaginative reconstruction of the life and crimes of Charles Sobhraj — however Farrukh Dhondy may say “I have used no facts that I’ve read about Charles”. It’s so obvious that one wonders why he even bothers to obfuscate matters. Sobhraj is a fascinating character, as much for the audacity of his crimes as for the impunity with which he subverted the law. And an author has every right to use his imagination to work out what makes him tick.
Dhondy does a fairly competent job. You might carp at the master narrative — why should Johnson Thaat be telling retired inspector Pradhan, who’s arrested him in Kathmandu, his ‘true’ life story? And this, after he’s resisted the blandishments of publishers and friends in Europe to get him to tell his story. But don’t ask inconvenient questions, the point here is to just go with the flow.
The Bikini Murders is a pacy novel, a pop-psychology character study that is sure to go down well with the reader who wants something that’ll keep him immersed through a tedious flight. There’s a lot to hook him, especially in the first half which records Thaat’s initiation into crime and the modus operandi of his ‘experiments’ with conning and then killing unsuspecting white tourists in Bangkok. Even his romps in Tihar with his French television producer girlfriend will bring a smile to his face.
Dhondy makes crime look sexy, and not just with the sex, which is described in graphic detail. He is good at portraying the amorality and megalomania of a man who lives by his wits, who goes beyond the pale and then realises that
the only way out is to keep going right on.
“My mind…is a dog watching a rat, a mongoose watching a snake, a spider that weaves the web and awaits the flies and
unwitting moths that come wandering into its trap,” soliloquises Thaat.
The book really flags towards the later half, when Dhondy has his hero — out of Tihar and at large in Paris — getting involved with Islamic terrorists, and through them, almost every major organised crime operating in the world. Nine eleven gets a look in, so do the Kandahar IC 814 hijack, Daniel Pearl, Mullah Omar, and the drugs and arms smugglers in the Russian satellite states, as Thaat — incredibly — tries to play off the CIA and the MI6 against the jehadis. Now really!