Review: The Day I Died by Glen Peters
In the great sprawling history of the novel there must be only one set in Fishguard and Goa and this is it. The Day I Died follows the adventures of fifteen-year-old Ceri, short for Ceridwen Davies as she decamps from her life on a dead-end Pembrokeshire council estate to the party state of India in the company of her feckless mother.
The two are soon parted, as the mother deserts her daughter and heads for the sort of ashram where Western tourists are rigorously fleeced leaving Ceri to adapt to life on the beach. She finds a friend, Melita from the Midlands and soon they spend their days on Anjuna beach hawking Chinese trinkets to gullible tourists to raise money for a local charity, St Anthony’s School for Disadvantaged Children. At night Ceri and her friend work in the hottest beach bar called the Sunset Lounge, encouraging men to drink cocktails in improbable colours in their company. Life is a hustle but the sun always shines. Ceri soon adapts to a world very much different to the one she’s left behind in north Pembrokeshire:
The warm evening breeze swirled around my bare arms and legs and I looked up at the massive starlit sky. There was my old faithful friend, the Evening Star, blinking out a greeting, telling me I was in good hands tonight. Tad-cu called it the Seren y Gweithwyr, the Workers’ Star as it was the first thing that farm workers saw in the morning and the last thing that guided them home at night.
The shore was ringed with coconut palms, there were fishing boats dragged up on to the beach and there was a solitary bar, lit by a neon sign that said Kevin’s Crabs. There were no ferenghis around except for us, and the Goan family of six at Kevin’s were tucking into something that resembled a platter of crab and chips. They ate in silence, interrupted by the slurping of straws protruding from their green coconut drinks.
Ceri herself is a great strong character who yields to no-one despite dark threats of violence which come with her beach-hawking territory. She has left behind a “husband” called Harpo and has unbeknown to herself come to India to discover who she is, a process accelerated by the intimidations and killings which soon become a part of beach-life. For soon there is trouble in paradise as a turf war breaks out between the local hoodlums, the Beachboys, who control all the bars, the drugs and the attendant prostitution and some arriviste thugs from the Ukraine who want to muscle in on the action and soon do.
The Sunset Lounge is razed to the ground and the corrupt local police – led by the deeply unsavoury sex pest Inspector Denzil Braganza – are not the sort to busy themselves too much solving the crime. The violence intensifies in tit-for-tat acts of revenge even as Ceri finds herself falling for Igor, the disabled son of the leader of the Ukes. A young journalist meanwhile searches for the scoop in all this, which might derive from the unconscionable crimes of harvesting skin from young women to harvest in cosmetic clinics elsewhere in India or equally from the death of a British girl found drowned in the waters of the Arabian Sea.
This is Glen Peters’ third crime novel and here he swaps 1960s Lucknow and Calcutta a.k.a Kolkota for a pulsing, contemporary take on life in the hedonist, thrill-seeking part of India with its money-to-be-made cutthroat underworld complete with brutal assassins, switchblades and guitar-string-garrotte. The Day I Died is quite the page-turner with a body count that builds throughout, yet Peters leaves plenty of space for evoking the place itself, from its busy night markets through the faded glory of the capital Panjim with its rusty cannons and its Portuguese history to its love of Rio-style carnaval with rum-fuelled floats and the sparkling offshore diving waters where contraband drugs are often deposited. The novelist also plays around with points of view to great effect, not least in the story of Ceri’s final days, but there’d have to be a spoiler alert in capital letters about that so let’s just say it’s an unexpected twist as sharp as a squeeze of fresh lime.
The Day I Died by Glen Peters is published by The Conrad Press and you can buy a copy here…
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