What do you expect to happen when a lone beautiful lady is surrounded by 24 sailors on a huge gigantic ship cruising all the way from Japan to Miami? If you are thinking of love, romance and uncontrolled libidos then, think again. Murder, doubts, despair, frustration, fright; these are the emotions that people on board the “Sea Hyena” harbor in their minds. This forms the heart of the story in Ismita Tandon’s debut novel “Love on the Rocks”.
Good things first, this book is one of the better whodunits I have read in recent times, and I do read a lot. The narration is fast paced and the guessing game of who might be the actual killer is always playing around in your mind as you read the book. But the book oscillates between being on the edge of the seat suspense and downright boring. Especially the chemistry between the main two protagonists- Sancha and Aaron is absolutely missing.
The book starts off with the story of a small boy, called Manna who, due to lack of parental love becomes mentally deranged. The next chapter jumps a few years ahead and we are introduced to the main characters in the book. Sancha and Aaron are newly married and after few months of their marriage, Sancha joins her husband in the voyage on “Sea Hyena”, a gigantic ship. Aaron is a chief officer working in Merchant Navy. But what Sancha does not know is that the chief cook, Gary, was killed during the journey on ‘Sea Hyena’ and his body was found in the reefer chamber. When she boards “Sea Hyena”, she meets the other crew members on the ship and amongst them she gets friendly with the First Engineer, Harsh, even though Harsh is physically attracted to her. Things turn worse when captain Kuruvila’s safe is pilfered and the evidence points strongly towards Aaron. Sancha is heart-broken when she comes to know of Aaron’s past and his other secrets. Is her love strong enough to survive the rough phase of her marriage? Sancha finds herself deeply involved in the investigation of the murder, but the more gets herself involved in catching the murderer, the more her relationship with Aaron deteriorates.
Although the characters of Aaron and Sancha are individually well etched out in the book, the relationship that they share is not defined and leaves a lot to be desired. I wish the author had spent a few more chapters devoted on their interactions and developing their relationship meaningfully. The love and romance of their marital life is absolutely missing so it’s kind of hard to empathize when their marriage falls into hard times.
But what the author misses in the love-romance department, she more than makes it up with the suspense and mystery side of the story. It actually reminded me of the old detective serials that used to be aired on DD- “Byomkesh Bakshi” and “Karamchand”. My only grouse is that the ending of the book was quite predictable and it almost seemed as if the author was in a hurry to finish the book, which left me a bit disappointed. Each chapter is narrated by separate characters and it depicts his/her perspective of the events occurring. After some time it gets confusing as to who is narrating the current chapter and you keep turning the pages back to find out the narrator.
The author has also interspersed small poetry in the story and there was one I liked the most:
‘I look back now and then,I am going with 3/5 for the romantic-thriller novel, “Love on the Rocks” by Ismita Tandon.
Trying to pinpoint the day it all began,
A succession of blank expressions,
Polite smiles and fake impressions,
A loving embrace replaced by an impersonal touch,
A harsh infuriating sound in place of soothing words,
The pleasure of making love so lost in haste,
The steel of tenderness eroded by rust,
Two sides of bed were never so far,
A distance once covered in ecstasy,
Now a painful thrust,
A divine experience… reduced to dust.’
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