The Sea Of Innocence (Simran Singh #3)
Simon & Schuster
Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster AU
Delhi social worker Simran Singh is having a much needed holiday with her adopted teenage daughter on the idyllic beaches of Goa in India. Both of them need this break, time to reconnect away from Simran’s often demanding job. However the 10 or so days that she has set aside do not go as planned at all.
Simran receives a text message from her former lover Amarjit who works with the police. He sends her a video of a blonde girl in a bad situation with several other men. The blonde girl seems to be Liza Kay, a British teenager who has gone missing in Goa. Although Simran doesn’t want to get involved, she knows that she cannot ignore the video, or the ones that come after it. Armarjit thinks that Simran is the best person to talk to Liza’s sister, who was apparently travelling with her. He’s worried that he’s not getting all the information and because the local police are notoriously untrustworthy and often easily bribed, he thinks that Simran might be their best option.
Simran does choose to talk to Liza’s sister and she finds herself more puzzled each time that she does so. It’s clear that there’s much more at play here than the simple disappearance of a British tourist and now Simran knows that she must see this case out to the bitter end. She sends her daughter back to her mother in Delhi and prepares to investigate, even though by doing so she will also be putting her life in grave danger. Everyone has seen the young girl but no one wants to speak – fear and distrust are everywhere. In this beautiful, idyllic setting of white sandy beaches and sparkling sea, Simran will find a society that is rotten to the core.
This is the third novel in the series about social worker Simran Singh but I didn’t know that until I’d finished this book – there’s a line in the acknowledgements that references it. I looked up the two previous books and they seem to deal primarily with issues that I had wondered about during reading this, namely how Simran came to adopt her daughter and her prior relationship wth Amarjit. You can read this novel as a standalone with little trouble but I enjoy knowing a lot about backstory so I did find myself questioning things and wishing I knew connections. However reading this without reading any prior novels will certainly not change the impact of this book, particularly as Simran’s daughter is only a small role and then the focus changes to the disappearance of Liza Kay.
Desai paints a grim picture of Goa, which is lauded as a tourist destination for its beautiful coastline, ancient buildings and laidback lifestyle. It’s a popular place for both domestic and international tourists but this book explores the more seedy side to both male Goan and Indian attitudes towards women, something that is becoming more and more prevalent. The novel references greatly the brutal gang rape of a woman on a bus in India in December of last year, where the victim was so internally damaged from being brutalised with an iron bar that after numerous operations she lost nearly all of her intestine, which had been ripped out by one of her attackers with his bare hands. She died 13 days after the attack in Singapore, where she had been airlifted to receive more specialised treatment. It was a case that shocked and disgusted the entire world (including India itself) and this novel takes place during time of the gang rape and the aftermath where the victim’s life hangs in the balance.
I have to say that one thing did frustrate me in the book and that was Simran’s lack of confronting Liza’s sister Marian over the obviously untrue things she told Simran and the fact that more than once she seemed to deliberately place Simran in danger even though later on she said that she didn’t mean to. It seemed like Simran just blindly continued to meet with Marian and listen to what she said even though she knew that she was lying and that there was much more to Liza’s disappearance than it first seemed. Marian was able to fob Simran off with the flimsiest pieces of information. I know Simran was desperate to find out what had happened to Liza, because she kept receiving videos of bad moments that the young girl had found herself in and she found herself emotionally involved. It just seemed like she didn’t go about it in the smartest fashion. She also doesn’t inform Amarjit of what’s going on, which also seems lax.
I also did have a bit of a problem with the revealing videos because they just seemed entirely too convenient. It’s very easy these days with technology to film things, even incriminating things but these were filmed from far away and often at night and randomly. There was an explanation for how all of this occurred but it was relatively flimsy and I think it detracted a little from the overall story.
Despite these two nitpicks I had with the story, I did enjoy this book. I don’t read many books set in India and I don’t think I’ve ever read anything set in Goa. Simran’s job sounds incredibly interesting but also very depressing and she seems the type that always gets emotionally involved in the sense that she is unable to walk away, even from things don’t concern her, such as this entire incident. She puts herself in danger time and time again to get to the bottom of what really happened to Liza Kay. She definitely is the sort of character that sees a job through (even an unofficial one!). I’d love to read more about her and I think I will try and find the two previous books in this series.
Book #169 of 2013