Mr. Challenge is a murder mystery written by renowned Hindi mystery writer – Ved Prakash Sharma. It’s a novel under the Vibha Jindal series of the author in which the role of the detective is performed by an intelligent lady – Vibha Jindal who is actually the head of a big industrial house. In the novels of this series, the author has portrayed her as his college buddy. She is a widow and the mother of a son. She solves mysteries just out of her interest in this line.
The unique characteristic of the novels under this series is that the author himself also remains present alongwith his (real) family members showing himself and his family as interacting with Vibha Jindal and taking part in the proceedings of the story. This feature renders a realistic flavour to the novel and adds spice to the story, increasing its entertainment value.Mr. Challenge starts with the author’s trying to write a whodunit under the same title (Mr. Challenge) when his wife (Madhu) enters his study and finds that for the past four days, her husband has not been able to even start the novel. Then she shows him a newspaper headline which is regarding a murder taken place in their own city – Meerut (U.P.). The murder has taken place in a college and the victim was a lady lecturer. She was stabbed by someone in the morning of the previous day and in her attempt to save her from the murderer, she fell from the roof of the college. The most intriguing thing that happened after that was that she wrote (using her own blood as ink) – CHALLENGE on the floor before dying. Since the author had closed himself in his study (to write the novel), virtually disconnecting himself from the world, he did not come to know of it till his wife make him read the news in the newspaper of the following day. Now our author feels that this real life incident can become the perfect plot for his new novel which is to be titled as Mr. Challenge. He, therefore, comes out of the house and enters the field.
He meets the investigating officer of the case who is a police inspector and also meets the prime suspect who is a student and was suspended from the college for a week at the recommendation of the victim. The inspector had arrested him under suspicion after the murder but he tells the author that even after giving him a brutal third degree treatment, he has not been able to get the confession from him. He takes the suspect to the college and the author accompanies him. The author meets different people there and gathers the facts in his bid to guess as to who can be the murderer. However the same night, the author is shocked to know that the same student has been murdered. A piece of paper is found from his pocket on which the word ‘CHALLENGE’ has been written with the handwriting appearing to be of himself only.
The author now suspects the principal of the college to be the guilty and he tries to get the truth out of his mouth but fails. Further twist in the tale comes with the author’s himself getting kidnapped. Now the wife of the author talks over phone to Vibha Jindal who has also come to know of this incident through the newspaper. She arrives at the author’s home and sets to her work of investigating the whole chain of events covering the murders as well as the author’s kidnapping. Shortly, she succeeds in finding the author and releasing him from the confinement of the kidnappers. However the bigger task is ahead because the murderer is still at large. Now many more murders take place in the college and every time the victim writes (or appears to have written) the word ‘CHALLENGE’ before his / her death. In the given scenario, there is no dearth of suspects including the principal, a young lecturer who was in love with the first victim, the peon of the college, the watchman of the college and some students. Finally, the heroine of the novel, i.e., Vibha Jindal solves the intricate mystery of these serial murders.
Despite admiring Ved Prakash Sharma’s skill of writing an engrossing whodunit, I speak with pride that I was able to guess the murderer before the revelation in the ending pages of the novel. Well, that does not dilute the quality of the novel which is damn impressive as well as entertaining. The author has created some caricaturesque characters while penning the novel in the style of a masala movie made in Bollywood (he used some elements of this novel in writing the story of a Bollywood movie released alongside the publication of this novel only in 1998). Thus the novel renders a Bollywoodish entertainment to the reader. In addition to the whodunit element, there are other things too viz. friendship, sentiments, comedy etc. in the story through which the author has tried to turn the novel into a spicy dish instead of its being reduced to a traditional murder mystery.
And indeed the novel proves to be a delicious dish for the consumer, i.e., the reader whom it thoroughly entertains. Alongside the mystery of the serial murders, the mysteries of the word ‘CHALLENGE’ written by the victims before dying and the kidnapping of the author are also quite intriguing. The plot of the novel may not be the original idea of the author and he might have borrowed the basic grains from somewhere but the style and the tassels are his own. The complete novel has a clear stamp of his style which had become very popular during the late seventies and the eighties, taking him on top of the world of Hindi pulp fiction.
As said earlier, the author’s making himself and his family members as the novel’s characters (participating in the proceedings and remaining present during the various happenings alongside the lady investigator) makes it much more entertaining than otherwise. It’s a unique art developed by Ved Prakash Sharma to add value to the novels of this series. He shows himself as a normal human-being with a modest IQ but the lady investigator, Vibha Jindal as extra-smart and sharp-minded (after all, she is the heroine of the novel).
The author has used normal language (Hindi) of day-to-day use while narrating the story and creating the dialogs between characters. One character uses peculiar lingo though (to create a smile on the lips of the reader). The novels grips the reader from the very first scene and the narrative flows freely towards the desired destination.
I wholeheartedly recommend this interesting whodunit to the Hindi readers who like crime-detection stories.