The title ‘Secrets’ by none other than Ruskin Bond quickly catches our attention and make us flip through the book as if looking for those keywords that would spill out the real theme of the book. The book contains 7 short stories, superbly interconnected to each other on the level of characters, setting, and suspense, all through the book. Bond beautifully brings out the nostalgic Dehradun of 40’s with busy lanes, lonely old bungalows, bustling bazaars, dusty, old and dark cinema halls and the spooky old Green’s Hotel, where most of the drama of the haunted and the haunting takes place.
The beauty of Bond’s suspense genre is the way he describes the simple, day to day mundane lives of the people of Dehradun spiced up with a tinge of spook around them. Whether it is the dead coming back alive or the ferocious beasts entering the city from nowhere and creating a rampage all over, you have everything in these seven small stories to keep you hooked till you finish the book and put it down and wonder in awe and surprise.
Bond does in no way make his murderers and suspects look cruel in appearances or their actions, which is the high point as you keep guessing till the end—who might be the real killer from among these? The number of characters in this little book with only seven stories is an example of his excellence in creating unforgettable people.
The characters you read can be anyone from around your neighborhood, for example, Mrs. Gupta, “a large pear-shaped woman, who waddled about Donald Duck”, or Captain Ramesh, a cool guy who walked in and out of the hotel whistling without any care in the world, or Corporal Allen, a handsome young soldier, Gracie, a sweet and pretty girl of 18, who sang at the casino. You would not imagine some of these characters to be murderers.
Then there are also characters who remain mysterious all through the narrative and look like they are up to something shoddy and unlawful, like Mr. Johnson who lived all alone in a hut and came out only in the dark. Then there is a special character, skeleton of a dead man in the cupboard that has been living all this while in the Green’s hotel along with regular guests. The high point of the tale reaches up to the level where the readers are left wondering whose skeleton that might be.
Bond’s stories in this collection have no dearth of suspense, drama and thrill. The plots are simple, but the narrative is par excellence, extraordinary to give you chills. The narrator is Bond himself, though his younger self, when he was a school boy and visited Dehradun in his summer breaks every year and would always stumble upon a mystery to be unfolded by his inquisitiveness and detective instincts. His mother worked as a manager, taking care of everyday affairs of Green’s Hotel, who supplied Bond with events related to the ‘cases’ that he intends to solve on his own.
The book catches the attention of readers from the very first story in the collection, where Miss Gamla, a sinister old woman, mysteriously vanishes into the canal near her house and the local boys are spooked at her disappearance. The story runs casually joyful in the beginning but takes a ominous turn enough to unnerve the reader.
The book is different from the regular spooky tales we read since it has that occasional creepy factor going on and off through the narratives. The unpredictability is beyond measures the way narrative unfolds. The way Bond describes the Dehradun of 40’s is very vivid and you wish to see those lanes for yourself after reading the book. The element of real and fictional is very well blended in the stories and it becomes hard to separate the two. If you have been reading Ruskin Bond’s other stories of childhood and nostalgia in the backdrop of hills, this book would take you to a completely different reading experience as it makes those very hills spooky and mysterious.
Intriguing, Suspenseful and Engaging.
Quick to read: 2-3 hours (at a stretch)
A 5 Star to the Book!!
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