With a flicker of Kipling one opens Shashi Warrier&’s book. The story sounds typical —  a godman accused of rape and various other venalities — except in this case the Swami doesn’t want to be a god or even a swami. The news is all over the media and Bala Kamath,  an alcoholic journo from Bangalore is sent by his boss to get to the bottom of the story —  it&’s his last chance to save his job because the drink has blunted his bloodhound edge. Not surprisingly, his marriage too is on the rocks and his “belly beast” rises up to maul anyone who tries to interfere.

All this is tried and tested territory — hard drinking heroes with failed relationships confronted with difficult situations are part of the novel game, though they are usually detectives of the Rankin sort. However, the ashram that Kamath goes to investigate is far from being the silk and saffron swathed phenomenon that most readers are used to from the media. The Swami receives visitors in an orderly line, gives them all fifteen minutes and does not entertain favours from politicians. He also claims not to believe in any particular god. Much against his will, Kamath finds himself liking the man and is convinced that he is innocent, even though he has no hard evidence to prove otherwise.

Certainly the Swami comes across as very different from all the godmen who throng the media. The police however catch up with him and Kamath decides to stay on in Mangalore to solve the crime if he can — as it is, he has the advantage of being the only media man to talk to the Swami. The woman who has accused the godman he discovers is the ex-mistress of the Finance Minister and she was in the Swami&’s room late at night with everything that took place between them off the record. Something has to give and something does — an aide of the godman is murdered. The question is why?  Ultimately a few deft twists solve the main plot just before the book ends.

Warrier&’s style is direct and to the point with no unnecessary frills. The dialogue between the two very different men is interesting, though after a while it begins to take up too much of the book. Kamath is investigating the Swami&’s weaknesses while the latter is trying to get to the bottom of Kamath&’s “belly beast” and counsel him out of alcohol. In between are peppered a few mystic phrases like “don’t believe everything you hear”. He is seen only through Kamath&’s eyes, which may be slightly frustrating for the reader.

Whatever the Swami has or has not done, he has a positive effect on Kamath who decides to make a fresh start. His tale of drunkenness is honestly told and most readers will find themselves sympathising with his attempts to come clean, even though his wife the beautiful Mohini appears to have nothing positive about her and one wonders why they ever got married in the first place.

the reviewer is a freelance contributor