It isn’t just Jatin, the astro-investigator’s assistant in ‘Stellar Signs’ written by Manjiri Prabhu, who dreams to hit it off like table and dagga, we see examples of twosome awesomeness all around. Readers and writers need to hit it off like table and dagga if you want to get away from the clichéd husband and wife or buyer and seller or crime solving and methodology. This last one here however, that has elements to surprise a reader. The book has Sonia Samarth as a detective who uses horoscopes and astro readings to solve crime… and they hit it off like table and dagga.

Before we talk about the book and the way an investigator uses astro charts and kundlis to catch murderers, I wanted to know if even writers had stellar configurations… and a short sojourn on the internet told me that ‘when the initiatives of a person are influenced by planets denoting intelligence, emotions and mind – the chances of becoming an author or writer are strong.’ One online astrology site informs me that even Shobha De has a horoscope where ‘the relationship between third lord Saturn and Venus, influence of fifth lord Mars over third house and the union of ninth lord Sun with tenth lord Mercury in her ascendant has blessed her with success in the field of creative writing.’ Salman Rushdie’s chart too talks about ‘the relationship between third and fifth houses; and positive involvement of Mercury, Moon, Jupiter and fifth lord Sun.’ Even Stephen King has a near perfect chart for writing. According to another astrologer, ‘he has his Sun in Virgo in the third house of communication, giving him a natural tendency to literary interests (Virgo) and strength in communication (planets in the third house of the chart). He also has Venus and Neptune in his third house in the airy mental sign Libra, indicating a love of writing (Venus) and the imagination to tell a good story (Neptune.)’ 

Well, if the stars can tell us if we have the writing bug in us, they can also tell us if we have the right temperament to plan and execute a cold blooded murder… or take recourse to inaction just to make sure that an attempt to commit suicide is successful. Yes, Manjiri Prabhu will have us believe through Sonia, the protagonist in her book, that a reading of the star influences can help decipher the truth behind a crime. The book talks about the three M’s of investigation… motive, manner in which killing has taken place, and the material used to kill… and then uses horoscopic alignments of stars to analyse the people involved and see if they have the right configuration that may make them ‘unforgiving and passionate. Even vindictive’ and so we have an investigator in not just surveying a crime scene, searching for clues, meeting and interviewing witnesses and suspects, but also poring over astro-charts for that special stars-inspired clue for the verdict. Thus we find the Sonia, the sleuth being “curious about what Vidya’s horoscope had to say about all this. It told me that Vidya had not been murdered, but that she had committed suicide!” This book ambles along in a an easy language to transform perspectives that are obvious into those that are true.

The book chapters have the investigator dealing with separate cases… and so it is easy for a reader to take them as different stories. Well, I read the chapters as different stories… and so I was able to read them all not in the sequence they are in the book. Sonia has all the zodiac influences to evolve her into a detective as well-known as some of the others in the literary world… and so I wouldn’t really be surprised to see her adding to her skills in later works. I mean, she can always use face-reading to solve crimes… or handwriting analysis… or cyber footprint to catch criminals… or even Aura or Kirlian photography to connect a crime with a motive. I will not be surprised to see Manjiri doing any of these… this writer creates goose-bumps through her fiction that introduces new techniques of crime-busting.

‘Stellar Signs’ isn’t just a series of astro-detective stories where the plot takes precedence over the other essentials of creative expression. Each little story even with all the murkiness intact, manages to define characters and so in the story with the triangle of Anup, Deepa, and Jaya, we have the author giving us a clear assessment of each of them and as a reader I did have images in my mind that were assiduously created. I knew Jaya because the author informed me that ‘she could hate with vehemence and she never forgave people. I remember once, we had a Spot Boy who ruined her dress. She was so unforgiving with the wretched boy that she made certain he was fired. And her maids! She never took back a maid who left her without notice.’ Let me just say that stories where I am not able to clearly see a character in my mind, are the ones where the author has been lazy… but this book has cases that go on for around fifty pages and each character comes alive with all their strengths, fears, inconsistencies, and interpretations. This isn’t easy because we are talking about a novel which is essentially short-stories with only a few characters consistently present.

It isn’t only the character development that ensnared me into reading all the cases solved in this book… I liked the way the author tends to get into the mind of her characters and how they intend to behave. Imagine a murdering instinct being defined in these words: ‘The image of a string instrument being tuned flashed in her mind. A musician tightened each string for the perfect tone. He continued to tighten the string, till it became taut, and yet produced the perfect musical sound that he desired. This was what lay under these murders, she realised. Tightening of bonds, till they suffocated.’ Yes, this is one book where the text goes deeper than the plot. The analytical vein of the author does rope in all other aspects that have a connection. Talking of motives for crime, the author opines through her protagonist:

Sonia knew that jealousy and professional rivalry were the most common features in showbiz. Personal hatreds, chequered pasts, and obsessive fan following resulted in a gamut of reactions and it was very difficult to decode the constant under-currents that ran through relationships in the film and theatre world. In short, Sonia was aware that this world would never lack motives for crime.

The book does have something for every kind of reader. I mean, if books were a food court, this one would be a fried hot samosa, a Karjat special Batata Wada-a-a, a sandwi—e-e-e-ch, garam chai, idli, and coffee-e-e-e all in one. The one thing that threw me off-balance was the absence of a publishing device when the author wants to move from one scene to another. Let me explain… I was reading this story where Jatin and Sonia are discussing sitting in their office and the writer mentions ‘the Sunday morning sun bathed the park in gold’… and the next paragraph suddenly says: ‘He saw her walk towards him and his heartbeat quickened. What luck that she had actually agreed to see him!…’ For a few distraught moments I thought the pages in the novel had got mixed up, but no, they were in the right sequence. I read on… and then realised that the story was now talking of some other characters and the scene had shifted from the detective’s office. An asterisk in place of extra line spacing would have warned me that the narrative was changing, especially when the narrative changes from the first line of a fresh page. This happens throughout which means that the editors missed this vital point… besides missing some really glaring spelling errors. But, like the author, I too ‘threw an appreciative glance at nature’s untidiness’ and decided to call it the organic form of flawed life sans any cosmetic inclusions.

So yes, this one was indeed a crime thriller with a difference… and I wouldn’t be surprised to find Bollywood noticing the potential for a film here. Unless the author decides to go on with Sonia, Jatin and Nidhi, the cat with intuition and write a series of stories that deserves being serialised on the television.


Details of the book: 

Title: Stellar Signs
Author: Manjiri Prabhu – On Facebook – Website
Publisher: JAICO Books
ISBN-13: 978-81-8495-441-8
Price: Rs 325/- (in 2015)


For those who are interested in reading my review of Manjiri Prabhu’s ‘The Cavansite Conspiracy’…

A chuckle of amusement. A review of ‘The Cavansite Conspiracy’ 



Stellar Signs... written by Manjiri Prabhu. Publisher: JAICO Books

Stellar Signs… written by Manjiri Prabhu. Publisher: JAICO Books



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Arvind Passey
16 January 2015