Tied to Deceit by Neena H. Brar is an #OwnVoices Indian crime mystery novel about a spoiled, self-entitled, and immoral young woman named Devika Singh who ends up getting murdered and rocking the small town of Sanover with shock. As the Superintendent of Police Vishwanath Sharma unravels all of the threads of Devika’s life, he begins to understand that everyone in town had a legitimate reason for wanting this girl dead, thus making his job even more difficult.
I really enjoyed Tied to Deceit for what it is: a slow-burn mystery. Between the varying character perspective, the sensationally unlikable victim, Devika, and the police officer’s way of dealing with a crime as sensitive and multi-layered as hers, it became subtly addictive and intimately compelling; akin to reading the scandalous diaries of a lonely housewife who will play when her partner is away. It is uncomfortable, provocative, and irresistible.
As mentioned, the book is told via different character perspectives, which takes you inside the head of the people that Devika emotionally terrorised. The more that you learn about the complex interconnected lives they all shared with her, the more empathy you have for the hatred that everyone’s feeling for her. The emotions they all felt are difficult not to relate to—even if their individual situations are not relatable for every single person—if you have ever been remotely bullied before, whatever the scenario. These imperfect characters were the biggest draw for me in the narrative. I loved how fucked-up a lot of them were, and yet all of those dysfunctions worked to highlight Devika’s own twisted persona and severe lack of ethics.
Another thing I enjoyed was Superintendent Sharma. This dude seriously has very little fucks to give when it comes to dealing with investigations. What I mean by that is that he doesn’t trust a goddamn thing. Anything or anyone is capable of committing even the most heinous of atrocities. This does make him jaded and oft times frustrating to read about, but it’s also a trait of a hardboiled detective narrative, which Tied to Deceit essentially is. There were many instances during my time with the title where I pondered what very specific interactions between Mr Sharma and Devika would be like, as they have some parallels that I found wholly fascinating.
The book does read slowly, however. That was one of my biggest struggles with it. I don’t typically mind slower narratives within the mystery genre, I mean it is a slow-burn book, but there were moments where I felt it was unnecessarily sluggish. It could have been the intricate details of certain characters/scenes or the writing itself. Honestly, I haven’t been able to pin-point exactly what made it feel so listless, I just know that when the big jaw-dropper happened, it did lose a bit of its charm and shock due to how varied my focus was with the progression.
Speaking of the writing style, I only have one real complaint about it and that is the repetitive use of specific words, phrases, and details. The book could have used an editor who caught words that showed up one too many times on a page or pointed out when details were being overtly emphasised. Emphasis on those things can slacken the tension and suspense, and make the story a lot more predictable, which it ended up becoming most of the time. Repetitive use of words and phrases make everything feel less original, forced, and lacklustre as well as shambolically constructed and rushed. If there were more efforts on polishing out the rough aspects, then Tied to Deceit would have been a much more pleasurable reading experience.
Overall, Tied to Deceit is not a bad book, by far. I don’t think it will fit every reader, even if you are a fan of murder mysteries. I recommend this to those who don’t mind a rough and gradual progression of plot points, as well as some seriously flawed characters. Also, if you are a fan of complex, soap-opera style twists. I do not recommend this book if you, like me, prefer more finely edited fluidity to the writing and if you don’t care for slower-than-needed development.