Blog Tour Review: Kolkata Noir by Tom Vater

Today I am taking part in the blog tour for crime novella Kolkata Noir by Tom Vater, organised by Blackthorn Book Tours.

Purchase link:

Genre: Crime

Print length: 148

Suitable for young adults? This is an adult book but suitable for mature teenagers 16-18

Amazon Rating: 4.5 stars

Becker is a British traveler in trouble. Madhurima is a rising star police officer. In these three explosive tales, the two join forces to investigate the city’s crooked high society.

On the way, they take on deluded would-be messiahs in search of Mother Teresa’s stolen millions, encounter fanatics, circus freaks and cannibals, fall in and out of love and pay homage to one of the world’s most beautiful and toughest cities.

Amidst passion, murder and mayhem, is there room for two lovers driven by justice and compassion?

Tom Vater’s ‘Kolkata Noir’ is a riveting crime fiction cycle of three novellas set in the past, the present and the future.

Amazon | Goodreads

My Review

I was sent a digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you very much to Blackthorn Tours and to the author, Tom Vater.

Kolkata Noir is a novella made up of three separate crime stories each set in the Indian city of the title. Each story is set in a different time in the same city and with the same two main characters and was highly enjoyable. The first story, Calcutta, was my favourite and the third, Killkata, was the one I liked the least.

Kolkata Noir, a crime fiction cycle of three novellas, is set in the past, the present, and the future. The first story — Calcutta — takes place in 1999. The plot is in part an homage to the classic French Noir movie Les Diaboliques.

Tom Vater

The first story, Calcutta, is set in 1999 and is that of a murder plot. It is not a whodunnit since we are told fairly early on who is responsible. A rich local man, Abir Roychowdhury has been bludgeoned to death and left in a crate, and his wife, Paulami, and her young lover, Richard, have disappeared. A female detective, Madhurima Mitri, is assigned to the case and is determined to track down the killer or end up in a desk job. She enlists the help of Becker, a British photographer who is staying in the same hotel as Richard was before he absconded, and they plan to track him down together and investigate him. The mutual attraction between Becker and Madhurima is very subtly mentioned and nothing really happens between them but at the end of the story Madhu tells Becker they “will always have Calcutta”. I found this ‘will they-won’t they’ relationship between the two of them a little weak – I felt that more could have been made of their attraction and that would have increased the appeal of the story for me.

The sights, sounds, and smells of Kolkata are expertly brought to life by the author’s wonderful descriptive prose and it is clear that he has spent plenty of time in this city and loves it:

All around her, the city was waking up. Men, women, and children crowded around a fire hydrant that spewed water into the gutter, washing themselves, lathering themselves in thick layers of soap; the women dressed in shalwar kameez, the men with gamchas around their waists, the children naked and screaming. The mornings were innocent. The day’s struggles hadn’t ground the street people down yet. There was joy and optimism in the mornings. Today would be better than yesterday, and tomorrow would be better than today. She admired her fellow Calcuttans for their faith. Faith would still be there tomorrow. Better governance probably wouldn’t.

The characterisation in this story was also good, considering how short the story was. (It took around an hour to read). Madhu comes across as a believable young career woman, determined to succeed in her chosen field of detective work. We do not really get to know an awful lot about Becker in this story.

The second story — Kolkata — takes place in 2019. The plot is in part an homage to Sonar Kella, one of West Bengal’s best-known crime stories, written by well-known art house film maker Satyajit Ray.

Tom Vater

The second story, set in 2019 brings the two main characters together again, when Becker is hired by a rich man in Oxford whose two sons have fled to India. He wants Becker to go and check up on them and try and get them to return home. Becker finds one of them acting as a drug-addled cult leader, with his brother enabling him. They are trying to get rich via a film crew who wants to bring their story to social media. There is a death and kidnapping and Inspectress Mitri is once more on the case – now one of the top detectives in the city having turned down promotions in order to focus on her love of detective work. Not only has her career moved on but she also has a twenty year old daughter and a husband. Becker has a different career now – helping tourists in trouble in India but he is single and is excited to see Madhurima once more. This time the story is told mostly from Becker’s perspective, so we get to know him a lot better and discover that he was equally attracted to Madhurima twenty years previously, and that she has been on his mind a lot in the intervening years, but they have had no contact. However there is no time for anything to develop between them, and once again she tells him they “will always have Calcutta”.

Again the descriptions of the background setting of Kolkata are fantastic and we get a real taste for the politics behind life in a slum-ridden third world city:

The servitude his peers had forced upon Bengalis a hundred years earlier was still around. The colonizers were gone, but the country’s elite had ruthlessly made the British divide-and-conquer strategy their own. Authority was bestowed not by merit or achievement, but by one’s social background or caste.

I did not really connect with the two British sons who found themselves in trouble in Kolkata. I enjoyed Becker and Madhu’s characters, but the junkie and his enabler fell a little flat for me and did not have my sympathies. The story was exciting, however, with tense sequences due to peril and kidnapping, and was again a quick and entertaining read (about an hour).

The third story — Killkata — takes place in 2039, when the city is half submerged thanks to rising sea levels. The plot is in part an homage to the 1942 movie Casablanca.

Tom Vater

The final story, Killkata is set in the future in 2039. The city is still known as Kolkata, but is now an even deadlier place in the wake of global warming and the sea levels rising. Kolkata is mostly flooded and a very dangerous place to be, with dead bodies floating past and piling up on the steps by the river. The world is heading towards an Apocalypse brought on by climate change and the tone of the story is much more grim and dystopian. Technology has advanced in the intervening years and airplane tickets (to enable escape from the horrendous city) have become like gold dust and the feeling is one of despair and desperation. Becker and Madhu are back in the story and once again are likeable characters dancing around their mutual attraction, but I didn’t like the new characters introduced in this story. Victims of a chemical spill, they were physically mutated and deviant. One sister is a cannibal and I found them distasteful and shocking. There is again a kidnap plot and multiple tense and dangerous situations with violent gangs, but I enjoyed this story the least of the three.

The first casualty of war was the truth, they said. The first casualty of climate change was everything.

I thought the device of using the same protagonists in each story and allowing the reader to see how they had changed and how the city also changed over time was a really nice idea and I found the author’s prose to be fantastic throughout. I would recommend Kolkata Noir to crime novel fans who like a fast paced story, exotic locations and all the flavour that comes along with them.

About the Author

Tom Vater is a writer and editor working predominantly in Asia. 

He has published four novels, The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu, currently available in English and Spanish, and the Detective Maier trilogy which includes The Cambodian Book of the Dead (2012), its follow-up The Man with the Golden Mind (2013), and finally The Monsoon Ghost Image (2018). 

His articles on Asian politics, tourism, the environment, minorities, pop and youth culture have been published in many publications including The Wall Street Journal, The Times, The Guardian, The Mekong Review, Marie Claire, and Geographical. 

He is correspondent for Germany’s largest independent travel publisher Reise-Know-How in Thailand as well as The Daily Telegraph’s Thailand destination expert, and a frequent contributor to the Nikkei Asian Review. 

He has published several non-fiction books, including the highly acclaimed and bestselling Sacred Skin (with his former wife, photographer Aroon Thaewchatturat), the more recent Burmese Light with photographer Hans Kemp and Cambodia: Journey through the Lad of the Khmer with photographer Kraig Lieb, the best selling illustrated book in Cambodia in 2018/2019.

Tom is the co-author of several documentary screenplays, most notably The Most Secret Place on Earth, a feature on the CIA’s covert war in 1960s Laos.

In his spare time, Tom travels and plays RocknRoll.

Praise for Kolkata Noir


The three novellas that comprise Kolkata Noir are masterfully written by Tom Vater… His portrayal of Kolkata is like you’ve been transported there. He displays the beauty and ugliness of a great and proud city. Highly recommended. Amazon Review


…When picking up the book, I only intended to read part one, then return to it later, but found myself loving it so much that I continued through to the end. The prose is absolutely brilliant, consisting of short, sharp sentences, which flow together beautifully… Outside of the crime and noir trappings, one of the true highlights of the book is the characterisation, particularly between its two protagonists. Their interactions, along with the world they inhabit, including the supporting cast, is simply magnificent.  Amazon Review


Tom Vater’s Kolkata Noir was a gripping read from beginning to end. Fast paced, compelling, never boring or lagging, it is structured into three separate novellas that amount to 208 pages. But don’t let the length fool you. It’s so complex and layered that you need to take your time to properly digest it….There’s a permanent air of mystery that jumps out of the page, keeping you hooked regardless of the setting or time period. Amazon Review

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