Clued out… or clued in?

Kavish H Hajarnavis

Reading books gives some of us great pleasure. All readers have their favourites and all of us take away something different from each book we read. Here, this young reader shares his views on the most recent book he has read – new author Ketaki Karnik’s The Case of The Chinese Mastermind.

It’s a good thing Ravi Uncle spends most of his time on long flights. Otherwise, he would be yet another character in hot pursuit of the missing documents in Ketaki Karnik’s The Case of The Chinese Mastermind. Ravi Uncle had decided to secure his discoveries in a complicated system safe rather than in a computer which a professional hacker could access, but someone has broken the safe … and now…

School is out and Kavya, Raima, and Anna are making their way to Raima’s cousin, Varun’s farmhouse where they will spend their vacation. At the same time and venue, Varun’s mother (Pinky Aunty) is hosting the annual Oxford Alumni group. When the girls reach the farmhouse, Pinky Aunty, wearing her purple flip flops, jumps like a feral beast into the car and commands the driver to accelerate all the way to Phulgaon. The girls are confused and they wonder – why Phulgaon? Then Pinky Aunty delivers the shocking information that her husband, Ravi’s design blueprints for his company have been stolen from the farmhouse and guests in the house had heard the robbers saying they had to reach Phulgaon as fast as possible.

What follows is a web of suspicion, lies, and betrayal told from Kavya’s perspective, involving two maids, a Chinese couple, a professor, a tech-genius, Sanjeev Kapoor (no, not the chef!), another couple but this time Indian, and finally a mysterious Indian woman. There is also Anand Uncle who might be a friend or…

“With so much money at stake I can’t think of a single person who wouldn’t grab at the opportunity to steal it…I most certainly would,” says Rhea, one of the characters, and just one more person for us to keep tabs on …but with everyone being a suspect you don’t know who will do what, or say what…

Cracking this mystery is a very daunting task for such young children to take on and they find most characters to be secretive in their own ways. Some characters show themselves to be recalcitrant which creates further suspicion. The author regularly uses red herrings to throw the reader off scent.

After a snail pace build up in the first half of the book, a bullet train plot shoots into action and the best part of the story is definitely when all the action starts! The children find the thief with the help of Anand Uncle, but then question themselves whether they have actually caught the right person. It comes as a big revelation to everyone when they discover the culprit – especially since Pinky Aunty unwittingly becomes part of the culprit’s strategy.

I liked the humour in the book. Here are two examples:
‘One look at Pinky Aunty and you’d think Varun had won an Olympic gold! With two displays of ‘responsible, adult behaviour’, Varun could do no wrong as far as Pinky Aunty was concerned.

‘Raima was obliged to sit on my lap (and for once I did thank the diet-gurus she worshipped).’

In spite of clues inserted a little too conveniently (eavesdropping on crucial conversations, and a sharp edged can when it is most needed), the book held my attention because of the descriptions, and secretive characters with their independent deceptions. Some parts were engrossing while others were unclear – like the lock and the duffle bag.

But writing this review a month after reading the book, I can still see words coming together as pictures in my mind. Although there were words I didn’t know the dictionary meanings of, I thank ‘the mystery fiction junkie’ Ketaki Karnik’ for writing this thriller.

The author is a grade 7 student in Mumbai. He can be reached at kavish1@gmail.com.