Book Review: Kiss of Salt by Smita Bhattacharya

Kiss of Salt by Smita BhattacharyaTitle: Kiss of Salt (Darya Nandkarni’s Misadventures #1)

Author: Smita Bhattacharya

Publisher: Rumour Books India

Publication date: July 30, 2019

Genre: Mystery

One Sentence Summary: Darya is in Goa to go through her late uncle’s effects, but it quickly becomes clear there’s more to his death than meets the eye.

While I’ve been trying to cut down on the number of mysteries I read these days, some of them do catch my eye quite a bit. Kiss of Salt was one of them. Actually, Bhattacharya offered all three books in the series for review, but since my schedule was quickly filling, I could only commit to doing this one, the first in the series. The third is due out later this month, and I’ll definitely be wanting to read the second and third books. I love that they’re set in places foreign and exotic to me, especially since I’ve been leaning more towards locales outside of what’s well-known to me. This one is set in Goa, India and I did feel like I was transported there, all while enjoying a mystery wrapped up in family and the past.

A Family’s Secrets

After breaking up with her wealthy boyfriend and leaving her job, Darya decides going to take care of her late uncle’s effects in her father’s place would be perfect for her. She has nowhere to be and nothing to do, so she could use this as a vacation to figure out her next steps.

Only, Darya never counted on being spied on early in her stay. Nor does she count on meeting an attractive and friendly book store employee. And as threads from the past regarding her uncle’s wife’s disappearance start connecting to the present, Darya is sure there’s more to the story than she remembers, and that anyone is willing to tell.

Kiss of Salt is a slow burn. It takes a while to build up to the mystery and unraveling what’s going on, both in the past and the present. Darya isn’t exactly interested in solving the mystery, until it gives her no choice and offers more questions than anything else. I loved that little pieces were dropped here and there, but Darya chose to ignore them in order to enjoy her vacation, and get to know a certain bookseller better. Despite the slow pace, it was tantalizingly atmospheric, offering a taste of part of India while still capturing the suspense of a mystery. It certainly reeled me in and made the pages fly by. It was breathtaking, and a lot of fun to tease out all the secrets that had been lurking for two decades.

Kiss of Salt is also reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s novels. Despite being decades later and set in a different country with a very different sort of detective, Bhattacharya managed to capture the same type of storytelling with breadcrumbs dropped every step of the way. I loved the little hints dropped here and there that proved to be so much more important than they seemed initially. The long drawn out reveal at the end, so Christie-like, was masterful and so much fun to read.

Overall, it struck a perfect balance between being a mystery and being about a young woman trying to live her life the way she wants to and being able to move on from the bad things in her past. It paired together beautifully, each side complimenting the other, while also making comments about traditional family life and gender roles.

A Spunky, Reluctant Sleuth

I know very little about Indian culture, so I’ve put my trust into the author. In general, it felt restrictive, especially for women, where they have certain roles and boundaries they are supposed to fulfill dutifully and not seek more beyond them. As an American, it was kind of chafing, so I was glad to see Darya chafing under it as well. I loved that she was stubborn and strong-minded and did what she felt was the best thing to do even when the men in her life told her otherwise. She was spunky and felt like a feminist, but was also a little too willing to overlook questionable things because it suited her. In a way, because she spent much of the novel trying to edge her way out of the traditional confines of her gender in order to find herself, it felt like women’s fiction, which was fun and really had me on her side the whole time.

Since most of Kiss of Salt is told from Darya’s perspective, the reader gets to know everyone around her through her eyes so they’re all colored by what she knows and remembers of them. It was fascinating and fun to feel so comfortable when meeting everyone alongside her, and then making a turn somewhere and suddenly becoming suspicious of them. I think I was suspicious of everyone at one point or another! The writing also lends itself to this as every word felt carefully chosen, every unused word perfectly unused. It all came together to paint a beautiful picture of Darya and the way her perceptions of everyone shifted and changed as she discovered new things about them, always managing to keep that touch of suspense in just about every scene.

Portuguese-Influenced Goa, India

Set in Goa, India, it felt exotic and beautiful, while also capturing that incredibly smoky, hazy, stark suspenseful atmosphere I so love in mysteries and thrillers. Prior to reading Kiss of Salt, I had never heard of Goa, so it was fun to get to know it through the book. I loved that Bhattacharya wove information about Goa into the narrative so it made sense, and also went forward with setting the scene, so to speak, without taking time to expound on everything that would be foreign to someone like me.

Noted in the book, Goa was influenced by the Portuguese instead of the British, so it took some adjusting to get to know a different part of India than what I’ve previously been exposed to. It felt remarkably relaxed, though the gender roles still felt restrictive. I loved that I got a sense of the India I’m familiar with through books and media, but was also introduced to another side, one I had no idea existed. It was lovely and exotic, but, to Darya, it’s a place of family and home, so it also felt homey, and also a little sinister as the mystery wound towards it’s inevitable resolution.

An Incredibly Suspenseful Mystery

Kiss of Salt came when I was looking to cut down on mysteries, but something about it just caught my fancy. Wonderfully exotic to this American reader, it also offered a strong mystery with intriguing characters and a spunky sleuth who wants to make her own way in life. Each element was strong on its own, but even better when spun together. It’s reminiscent of Agatha Christie, but unique enough to stand on it’s own. I loved how the past crossed paths with the present in this story and that it never felt confusing. Even though I felt a little frustrated with Darya as she ignored subtle clues in order to pursue what she wanted, I also couldn’t fault her from wanting to just figure herself out and find her own way.

Great if you enjoy: Agatha Christie’s novels, suspense, spunky heroines, family secrets

Not great if you’re looking for: thriller, hard boiled crime novel, action packed novels

How many cups of tea will you need?

5 cups, definitely

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Thank you to the author, Smita Bhattacharya, for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.

Head over to the Bookshelf to check out my reviews of books from the Big 5 and self-published, indie, and small press books.

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