Spotlight Profiles: 2022
Blood Caste. Shylashri Shankar
1895 Hyderabad. On a sultry June evening, Chief Inspector Soobramania finds a woman’s mutilated body in the Musi River. Later that same evening, two more victims are found in a private park. High born suspects in the Ripper murders happen to be the ruler’s guests. With an unlikely ally in prickly British rival Inspector Wilberforce, Soob must foil imperial pressure and nail the killer before more women lose their lives.
Shylashri Shankar has degrees in political science from Delhi, Cambridge, and the London School of Economics. Her PhD from Columbia University focused on how judges and parliamentarians tackle conflicts over religious freedom. She taught at the University of Texas at Austin before returning to New Delhi where she is based at a research institute. Her book on food history, Turmeric Nation: A Passage Through India’s Tastes, won the AutHer Award for nonfiction in 2021.
Blood Caste was inspired by her childhood memories of Hyderabad, her love of gaslight mysteries, Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie, and an abiding interest in those trapped under class and caste privilege.
Shylashri’s first page
Blood Caste is a murder mystery set in India at the time of the British Raj. It presents a fascinating picture of a city at a pivotal moment. This is one of those instances of an irresistible combination of a wonderfully evocative title and a fresh take on traditional tropes—the impact of the British in India (from an Indian viewpoint) with that most British of forms—the detective novel.
More centrally, it explores the relationship between the British and the local population, in a world ripe with rumour and speculation and wrapped in layers of deference and simmering tension.
The novel explores the layers of complexity of class and caste through the eyes of an Indian detective trained at Scotland Yard and a disgruntled English inspector who doesn’t quite fit either within the local community or the British establishment in India.
The introduction of that most British of murderers, the Ripper, so far away from Whitechapel draws out a web of connections that throws fresh light on both Empire and subject.
This is a novel with the potential for broad international appeal. In the mentoring process we talked about how best to realise that potential, given the scale and ambition involved. Our discussions focused on a two stage approach. Firstly, looking at genre and the demands of both historical and crime fiction, and secondarily focusing on how best to develop the material in terms of plot development and narrative structure.
Shylashri’s mentor was Marion Urch.
“My sessions with Marion took Blood Caste to a deeper level. Marion’s thoughtful engagement with the period and the narrative helped clarify the organic core of the story and how it appeared on the page. At a structural level, her advice to stay in the present moment and her questions on the investigation’s journey helped me untangle some complex sections and create a fluid story arc.
Thank you, Marion, also for your advice about following one’s gut instinct and keeping control on the narrative–you are so right!“