Remember Feluda, the suave Bengali sleuth from Kolkata? Since legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray created the detective for millions of his fans in the 1960s, the thriller genre has suffered decades of slowdown in India.
But racy whodunits penned by Indian as well as foreign authors are making a comeback again.
Harper Collins-India and the Indian Detective Agency, a leading investigation firm, are organising a nationwide Paris Enigma contest to promote a new thriller, The Paris Enigma, an English translation of the work by French author Pablo Di Santis.
The entrants, Indian residents above 18, will have to apply to Detective Craig, the protagonist of the book, for the post of his acolyte, telling him which case in the 'Paris Enigma' had the participant hooked and why?
The winners will get an opportunity to train as a detective at the Indian Detective Agency.
"It is a way to create interest in a new generation of readers. Contests such as these add to the involvement of thriller addicts," Lipika Bhushan, marketing manager of Harper Collins-India and the brain behind the contest, told IANS.
She points out, "As children, many of us idolised Sherlock Holmes, Nancy Drew or Hercule Poirot."
A couple of months ago, Harper Collins-India published thriller writer Mukul Deva's second book of the Lashkar series, "Salim Must Die", an action whodunit set in Kashmir.
The genre of thriller writing in English is yet to take off in India, says Deva.
"You just have a handful of authors who write thrillers. It is gradually starting to become popular. In most cases, Indian publishers shy away from publishing thrillers because of low public acceptance. I am thankful that Harper had the vision to identify the potential of my Lashkar series," the writer told IANS.
Deva, a former army man, is working on the last two books in the four-part Lashkar thriller series. "I also have a techno-thriller called 'Shades of Black' lined up for 2012," he says.
The man who set the trend of military action thrillers in India - the kind made popular by Deva - was television anchor Vikram Chandra. His book "Kashmir Conspiracy" became a bestseller in 2000.
Argues V.A. Karthika, the chief editor and publihser of Harper Collins-India, "We have probably not had the thrillers to excite such an acceptance. We are hoping that the Mukul Deva series will challenge this notion."
Harper Collins-India has also published Meghnad Desai's political thriller "Dead On Time".
"In two months from now, we will bring out Partha Basu's 'The Case of 221 B', which is a brilliant take on Sherlock Holmes and is set in India."
Buoyed by the market response, Penguin Books-India has reprinted Shashi Warrier's thriller "Sniper", an action mystery about a special forces officer in the Indian Army who tracks down the killer of his 16-year-old daughter.
Warrier is also the writer of "The Night of the Krait", a thriller set in Kashmir in which army commandos chase a terror mastermind, Krait.
"Most Indian writers take themselves too seriously and pompously and treat thrillers as pulp fiction. English thrillers and detective novels are yet to find a toehold in Indian contemporary writing unlike vernacular Indian literature, which has quite a few cult detectives," says author Ravi Shankar Etteth, the creator of the new-age detectives Jay Samorin and Anna Khan.
Among these cult detectives was Satyajit Ray's Feluda. The detective series is widely available in English.
Kapish Mehra, the publisher of Rupa & Co, feels the genre is growing in India. "But it is slow. There is definitely a gap. Two years ago we published a thriller, 'Operation Karakoram', by Arvind Nair," he says.
Rupa will bring out a new mystery title in the middle of 2009.
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at email@example.com )