Salil Desai is an author and film maker based in Pune. The Murder of Sonia Raikkonen is his fourth book and the second one of the Inspector Saralkar Mystery Series. He has penned two more crime novels, Killing Ashish Karve and Murder on a Side Street as well as a collection of short stories, Lost Libido and Other Gulp Fiction.
An alumnus of Film & Television Institute of India (FTII), his dramatized management training videos are much appreciated in the corporate world. Salil also conducts workshops in creative writing and film making. Over 400 articles written by him have appeared in The Times of India, Indian Express, DNA, The Tribune, Reader’s Digest etc. Learn more about him here.
NAW- Tell us about your book, The Murder of Sonia Raikkonen. What is it about? How did you get the idea for it?
‘The Murder of Sonia Raikkonen’ begins with the murder of a young Finnish tourist in a public garden in Pune. In my Inspector Saralkar Mystery series books, I tend to focus on the bizarre quirks of human behaviour. The basic premise of ‘The Murder of Sonia Raikkonen’ revolves around one such kink of the human mind that had long mystified and bothered me. So at one level it’s a ‘whodunit’ but more intriguingly a ‘whydunit’, as I try to make sense of this deadly kink, which is becoming a disturbing phenomenon worldwide. The theme had been at the back of my mind for quite some time. All I needed was the right storyline and plot to wrap it around.
NAW- Tell us about the character of Inspector Saralkar. How did you develop the character?
Inspector Saralkar is a completely original character. He’s acerbic, sarcastic and cynical, but with a great urge to pursue truth and justice. As a society, we generally have a negative perception of the police. But I have tried to create an Indian cop who is very real and yet has a certain spirited, uncontaminated integrity coupled with a lovable impishness about him, which is typical of Pune, my home town. As such, Saralkar is many persons rolled into one – with the appearance of one, background of another, affectations of a third, behavioural nuances of a fourth, prejudices and mindset of a fifth and so on. He also has bits of me. In developing Saralkar’s character, I’ve tried to peel away layers of his personality, little by little, and while keeping his core character intact I’ve shown him change and evolve in response to the events and cases he experiences as a policeman and the contradictions that also surface in his personal life.
NAW- Given that you do not have any background in forensics or crime investigation, how did you research for the book? Was it hard getting the investigation part right?
As I have often mentioned, all the research I had done on my documentary film for Maharashtra State CID (Crime Investigation Department) in 2006, has formed the backbone of the police procedural format I have chosen. That is what gave me the basic knowledge of crime investigation and more importantly the confidence to foray into crime fiction. Thereafter I have kept myself regularly updated and also gather a lot of material simply by reading in detail about real life crimes that happen daily, everywhere in the country and even the world. Its hard work but research coupled with common sense, a good grasp of how things work and the intelligent use of imagination have kept me on track.
NAW- While The Murder of Sonia Raikkonen is a fabulous read, if you had to select an alternate ending, what would it be?
To be frank, ‘The Murder of Sonia Raikkonen’ is out of my system right now and I haven’t really looked back at it critically from a distance. I think I’ve done justice to the theme I had chosen and although there was this temptation to make the ending more gory or violent, I thought it would only add a few more pages of thrills without providing any real insights about the issue. However if the book is to be made into a film, I might consider a more action packed denouement, besides ensuring that Inspector Saralkar is present in the flesh during the climax.
NAW- Please name your favourite authors. Are there any you’d like to name as inspiration?
Some of my all time favourite authors are – Arthur Conan Doyle, Somerset Maugham, Agatha Christie, P.G. Wodehouse, Colin Dexter, James Hadley Chase, P.L. Deshpande (Marathi), John Grisham, Ramachandra Guha, Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jim Corbett, John Boyne and so many more. Other authors whose books I have admired are Harper Lee, Truman Capote, Thomas Keneally, Husain Zaidi, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, Leon Uris, Frederick Forsyth, John Masters, J.D. Salinger, Bernhard Schlink, Raymond Chandler, Manohar Malgaonkar. I also read a great deal of non-fiction, especially history, war, biographies, true adventure and crime as well as books on social, political and psychological themes.
NAW- Tell us about your day job. What do you do when you are not writing?
Writing is at the heart of almost everything I do. It’s been my bread, butter and jam for nearly 25 years. I am a media all-rounder – a corporate communication specialist, newspaper columnist, author, film-maker and media trainer. I specialise in making dramatised management training videos. I am perhaps the only film-maker in India who makes such films through my firm Re-Living which I set up in 2001. So far I have made 12 management training videos which are much used and appreciated by leading companies and business schools in India.
I regularly write columns, travelogues and features for the print media. Over 400 articles written by me have appeared in leading newspapers and magazines like The Times of India, Indian Express, DNA, The Tribune, Deccan Herald, Reader’s Digest etc. I also undertake corporate communication assignments for various organizations as an independent professional consultant. I conduct workshops in creative writing and film-making for aspiring authors at leading educational institutions, corporate organizations and even at British Library.
NAW- Can you tell us about your upcoming projects?
Right now, I am in the midst of completing the third book of my Inspector Saralkar Mystery Series and it should be out by mid 2016. I have also recently completed a feature film screenplay and hope to start pitching it to production houses. Early next year I will start working on my sixth book.