It is safe to compare the writing of a whodunit thriller to walking a tightrope – the writer has to achieve a balance between dropping enough titbits to keep the reader interested and not revealing too much early on. He then has to deliver a sucker punch in the climax. Debutant novelist Jhangir Kerawala succeeds partially on this count with his novel JFK. It’s a case of extremes though; he is brilliant in setting up the novel but mediocre with the climax where the sucker punch is as strong as a soft tentative jab.

The novel begins with two murders rocking the city of Kolkata. Jatin F Karunamoi, an unemployed man in his fifties, finds himself dragged into a web of confusion and misunderstanding when the last words uttered by his best friend, Manish Mondal are his initials. Manish is one of the murder victims. The hook (one wherein the last words of a dying man are the only clues to find his assassins), even though reminiscent of several thrillers, works well and grips the reader. While Jatin investigates the murder with the assistance of another friend Montu, another murder is committed and Jatin is incriminated as the prime suspect. Forced to defend himself, Jatin unravels several dark secrets about his deceased friend, and discovers the motives for the murders are much more complex than he had imagined.

Kerawala excels at character creation. The characters of the novel are its primary strength. The author deserves accolades for the characters he sketches. Be it the struggling Jatin, the endearing but tactless Montu, or even the deceased Manish, each character is well etched and paints a vivid picture. There are no paper-thin characters, and each one has some quirk typical of human nature.  Jatin’s character especially is strongly defined, and one can relate to the turmoil within him. Kerawala skilfully projects multiple facets of Jatin – his struggles with unemployment, a nagging wife, and the time of grief he goes through  after his friend’s death. Based on the amount of detail that has been given to Jatin’s character, the book could well have been written with his perspective in the first person.The only minor blip here is Montu as his actions do not seem to have enough supporting motives, especially towards the end of the book.

Kerawala’s breezy style of writing fits this genre like a hand to a glove. The language flows smoothly and makes the novel a good, pacy read. The novel has a gripping plot and holds one’s attention through the first two-thirds of the book. In fact, one might think the mystery is close to getting solved by this point. It is here that the book disappoints; the last third of the book meanders lazily from the central murder mystery and drags the narrative. It appears as if this last section was written without adequate forethought. I thought the plot deserved a better structure and with some shuffling of the order of the events, the author could have kept the reader riveted right until the end.

There are a few other inconsistencies which jar one’s reading. One of the characters befuddles the reader with his inconsistent lisp – he lisps at times and speaks clearly rest of the time. The author also switches abruptly from one point of view to another in consecutive paragraphs. The spelling and grammar errors are not as frequent as in other books I have read recently, yet they stagnatethe otherwise fluent writing.

These errors notwithstanding; JFK starts off as an engrossing mystery and holds great promise way past the halfway mark. But just when the plot could have got more exciting, it peters out with some prolonged subplots. The book could have dazzled the reader. Instead, it stops midway in its journey and its initial brilliance burns out with a smoulder. I recommend the book if you’re looking for an easy fast-paced novel. This is not great literature, but makes for a decent one-time read.