The Third Squad

V. Sanjay Kumar (Artist, Undone) delivers dark literary noir in his strange yet hard-hitting crime novel The Third Squad.

Set in Mumbai, the novel follows the secret and deadly work of a police sharpshooter named Karan. Diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, Karan is recruited into an elite police squad that carries out extrajudicial killings of the city's burgeoning gangster population. With these unusual elements, as well as surrealist descriptions and aphoristic dialogue, Kumar produces an eerie postmodern atmosphere of urban chaos and moral ambiguity. Karan is haunted by his inability to feel and process the killings normally; Kumar skillfully ties this mood to the shape-shifting city itself. His Mumbai embodies the vagaries of globalization, where an emerging middle class must contend with chronic poverty and a vicious criminal underbelly. Kaleidoscopic shifts in point-of-view further evoke this fragmentation of civil life and a blurring of right and wrong.

Kumar's understated, deadpan style cloaks his wit, poetic intelligence and impressive perceptiveness. Beneath the novel's anomie and shadowy atmospherics is a humanist inquiry into the worth and dignity of life. "I am a person, not a puzzle," Karan repeats throughout, as if trying to affirm his own humanity. The Third Squad ends with an emotional wallop, making it stand out among crime novels. It has the chiaroscuro effects of classic noir, but also the philosophical depth of highbrow literary fiction. --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist and fiction author

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