The tagline of the book, ‘Do some people deserve to die?’, is one of those moral questions that never seems to have a clear answer. There are many who would say that mere mortals are not qualified enough to pass judgement on the crimes of others, however heinous they may be, whereas others stick to their philosophies of an eye for an eye. But how does one decide what is adequate punishment for someone like the butchers who killed Nirbhaya. Should they receive a quick, humane death after first living through possibly decades of appeals in rent-free accommodation with free food and lots of company? Or should they be released on a technicality which the whole country knows to be false? What about those who kidnap little children or young women and keep them as slaves for years together? Should they be thrown into a dark cell for the rest of their days with minimum rations and no outside contact and tortured on a daily basis? The decision seems impossible in the face of the myriad ways with which the human mind makes up ways to commit atrocities. The debate remains academic for most of us as long as the victim is an unknown name on the 9 o’clock news and will probably continue in this way leaving every individual to make their own choices if fate should ever choose to test them.
The plot of this book definitely had me agreeing to the question. Sometimes forgiveness just does not seem to be the correct answer.
After two very different and chilling introductions, or a prologue and an introduction, the plot opens with a man who has been brutally murdered in his office leaving the police scrambling for clues. When another murder occurs in much the same way, it is decided that there is a serial killer on the loose. The brutal and terrifying prologue of the book gives the reader enough of a clue to be almost 10 steps ahead of the police for a part of the story until they also figure catch up to what we already know . Max Wolfe has just been transferred to the homicide unit after managing to stop a terrorist on the basis of pure gut instinct. I am not sure whether that is a promotion or a reprimand as he acted on his instincts and against the orders of his superiors. Max is just too human a superhero, as is confirmed by his getting beaten black and blue by villains, also managing to get stabbed and then shot in the face on separate occasions. He is kind to his young colleagues and not very confident at times, almost seeming to be ready to fade into the background even as he goes about doing his work. He comes across as a thinker, one who would be most comfortable behind a desk and it almost feels wrong to see him in confrontational situations that seem out of his league. He has a daughter and for most of the book I thought the mother had died in some tragic incident that has left him the way he is, sort of as a switched-off person. He seems to be a good father, although he worries about not being a proper family for his daughter’s sake and sometimes for his own as well. Also, he is a bit of a chick magnet I think though he certainly does not seem to encourage that behaviour.
I found the name of the book ‘The Murder Bag’ slightly incongruous. It didn’t seem to tie in with the rest of the story and I never understood why the murder suspect had one with him. And who goes to a museum to look for clues nowadays? Any and every kind of information is available on the internet. The frequent trips to the museum were frankly a waste of time, or so it seemed to me, just to lend credence to the somewhat debatable title of the book.
However, but for that little hitch, it was a great read and I felt the author has done justice to all his characters, right down to the daughter and the dog.