An amusingly overstuffed first novel by a Canadian-born British journalist, which incidentally resembles (and was probably inspired by) Peter H—eg's Smilla's Sense of Snow, skillfully recounts the labyrinthine adventures of a resilient heroine who's part James Bond, part Ripley (from Alien). "Roz Bengal" (born Rosalind Benegal), daughter of a Scottish father and Indian mother, is called away from her career as a BBC Radio writer-producer to return to India (her birthplace) and the aid of her married half-sister Miranda. The latter's fears for her life have something to do with the ritual murders of transsexual prostitutes, and rather more to do with the creepy demeanor of her husband Prosper (named for the French writer MÇrimÇe), a prominent director and eminence in Bombay's thriving film industry. Every door that the intrepid Roz opens, so to speak, reveals further trapdoors and secret passageways, as she falls variously into collusion with or afoul of such vividly drawn figures as guru-archaeologist Ashok Tagore, an English art dealer (wickedly) named Anthony Unmann, and Prosper's wily former colleague Caleb Mistry, whose script for a planned film version of (what else ?) The Tempest turns Shakespeare's great comedy "into a story about the colonizers' contempt for the people they colonize." The priorities indulged by these and at least a dozen other suspicious characters are neatly juxtaposed with Roz's own professional agendas (she's a journalist who'll do anything to get her story) and personal burdens (solutions to several of the mysteries that challenge her are buried in the past with her dead parents). Forbes keeps it humming, in a lively narrative whose really rather formidable intellectual content (including, among other subjects, meteorology, alchemy, forensic pathology, and at least three kinds of forgery) is agreeably leavened by good old melodramatic standbys like a looming monsoon, a cobra poised to strike, and numerous hairbreadth escapes. Roz and Smilla would have gotten along just fine. Top-notch entertainment.
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