Supratim Sarkar, a 1997 batch IPS officer, wrote about 12 interesting criminal case files falling between 1934 and 2007 on the Facebook page of Kolkata Police. This generated a lot of positive buzz. Later these write-ups were translated and compiled into book-form by Swati Sengupta as Murder in the City.
The first case dealt here is Amrendra Pandey Murder Case (1934) in which a villain hires an assassin to inject plague shot into the bloodstream of his stepbrother over a property dispute. The victim succumbs to the effect of the bio-weapon, even as the assassin flees the scene and is never found. Yet the sleuths of the then Calcutta Police ensured through thorough investigation that justice was served upon the guilty.
Unlike fictional detectives like Sherlock, Hercules Poirot , Feluda and Byomkesh Bakshi , police also has to ensure that a seal-proof chargesheet is filed in time so that it might result in the ultimate conviction of the accused. The author also contends that more often than not, even the whodunits are solved by sticking to routine procedure and combing and not by flashes of brilliance. Sleuthing might be sexy, but it is hard work at the end of the day.The non-glamorous part is often backbreaking and is given short shrift in fictional narratives, but being an ACP himself, Sarkar has stressed its importance in every single case.
Other cases include the Pancham Shukla Murder case of 1954 in which ‘photographic superimposition’ was used for the first time to establish that a particular corpse belonged to the alleged victim. Sarkar points at the difficulties in conducting probes before DNA testing began in UK in 1986, and electronic surveillance of mobile and CCTV equipment became possible in late 1990s.It is much easier to trace a person’s footsteps and prove his guilt now , thanks to forensics and electronics.
Various cases take us through different localities of Calcutta like Ballygunge, Gariahat, Tollygunge, Esplanade and many others, but no files pertaining to Sonagachi have been covered. Did the top cop not consider any prostitute’s murder worth recounting? Lalbazar Police HQ always maintains a solid presence in every account .Only kidnapping (CrPC S.368) and murder(S.302) cases have been covered, pertaining to different sections of the society. The author has taken pains to discuss the differences between confession before the police(s.161) and before the judicial magistrate(S.164),cultivation of sources and compilation of evidences. Names of various Investigating Officers (IOs) have been mentioned, but no details are forthcoming. They remain mere names, and do not assume life of their own. Most of these crimes were committed by or with the connivance of close relatives and domestic helps. Moral depravity, incurred debts, greed and sheer ineptitude are the reasons why the perps committed these crimes.
I hold the opinion that cops should write about unsolved cases and leave the already solved ones for writers of detective fiction to embellish their narratives with literary excesses. Reporters should stick to writing pieces on ongoing investigations, chargesheets and court proceedings. By writing about the unsolved ones, policemen can reveal their own thought processes and instincts as investigators. Nothing could be more edgy. These works can be reviewed as part of psychological studies.
Supratim Sarkar has done a decent job, but perhaps the selection of 12 cases could have been better. I am sure there must be many rape and murder cases with more masala to write about. He has taken up the murder case of a Forward Block MLA but it was not a political murder. Surely the city must have had its share. Wasn’t any disappearance in the 1970s worth writing about?
That said, there is flow in the narrative and the book is not a bad investment of time for a resident of Kolkata and a lover of crime literature.