The Detective Diaries presents the most sensational post-Independence cases of Kolkata Police, the oldest police commissionerate in Asia.
Writer Supratim Sarkar, a serving additional commissioner of Kolkata Police, captures the different aspects of criminal investigation in a style that is rare among India’s true-crime writers. Starting from 1948 and coming right down to 2010, every case is a trendsetter, either owing to the nature of the crime, or the manner in which it was solved. From cold-blooded, psychopathic murderers to those who killed purely for money, from crimes of passion to conmen who made masterful use of technology, the selection is as varied as it is fascinating.
No matter what the context, each crime made headlines. The man who mercilessly killed his pregnant wife, or the killer who wiped out his entire family, are as easily identifiable as the man who decided that big ticket robberies is the path to happiness. The highlight of the book is a case that caught the attention of the nation—the stoneman murders of 1989, a series of killings that terrorized Kolkata for months, and gave rise to an entire pantheon of urban legends. For the first
time, this book presents the police version of this unsolved case.
A glimpse into Kolkata’s dark underbelly, guided by an author whose job takes him there every day, this book will shock and amaze in equal measure.
I suspect the Bengali version packs a greater punch, but this translated work is endlessly fascinating–though in a macabre way. All the cases, except the last one, deal with murder and each reveals the extent to which men and women can go to satisfy greed or bloodlust.
I would not recommend reading this book at night (as I did) because it tends to make you paranoid.
The author narrates the cases in an interesting mixed manner. He gives us a third-person account of the events and throws in relevant information on criminology, interrogation methods, theory vs. practical experience of catching criminals, and so on.
Frequently, he draws a comparison between fact and fiction (movies, novels) and explains how sometimes fact is indeed stranger than fiction. Startling coincidences do occur. But, for the most part, the work of a detective is not as exciting or smooth as we read in Feluda or Byomkesh Bakshi novels. Some cases, like the Stoneman murders, are never solved.
Also, the pressure created by the media on the police and the detectives to solve cases as quickly as possible is an aspect I hadn’t thought about. Constant comparisons to Scotland Yard are brought out to ridicule the police on their supposed inefficiency and ineptitude.
I am not familiar with any of the cases except for the last one, which occurred in 2010. Many cases happened before mobile phones became popular in India. The author explains the painstaking method in which detectives verified alibis before mobile tower locations could be used to determine one’s location.
The 2010 case was about credit card skimming. At the time this theft occurred, cybercrime was an emerging area of crime and the police had no idea how to go about it. I was able to appreciate the immense effort and patience it takes to catch clever criminals, especially when the crime is digital.
And lastly, I learned how despite having enough evidence, criminals may walk free if there are loopholes in the chargesheet. In honoring the tenet of “innocent until proven guilty,” sometimes the guilty escape due to lack of legally admissible evidence or even biased judges.
It’s not a fair world and I have developed a fresh appreciation for the work that the police have to do.
Genre: True Crime, Non-fiction
Title: The Detective Diaries: Eleven Sensational Cases of Kolkata Police
Author: Supratim Sarkar
Translator: Yajnaseni Chakraborty
Length: 248 pages
Publication date: February 20, 2019
Publisher: Rupa Publications
(Available on Kindle Unlimited)
I noticed a few other reviews of this excellent book and I thought you might like to read them:
Lavender Orchids – https://aliveshadow.com/category-bookreviews-the-detective-diaries/
Solitude and Books – https://solitudeandbooks.wordpress.com/2019/04/02/the-detective-diaries/