Death in the Air by Ram Murali: Dark satirical mystery debut

Ram Murali’s debut novel Death in the Air is a dark satirical take on the classic locked-room crime mystery. Read my review.

Publication: Allen and Unwin, June 2024.

Genre: Crime-Detective, Mystery, Literature

Death in the Air Publisher Synopsis

Murder. It’s terrible for your karma.
Even worse for your holiday.

Welcome to Samsara, a world-class spa nestled in the Indian Himalayas where all your wishes are only a gilded notecard away. Ro Krishna has just checked in. With his rakish charm, Oxford education, and perfect hair, he had it all – well, until he left his job under mysterious circumstances. It was super hectic, and Ro decides it’s time for some much-needed R&R. At Samsara, he’s free to explore the innumerable yoga classes, wellness treatments and guided meditation sessions on offer alongside the rest of the exclusive hotel’s guests. 

Until one of the guests – gorgeous, charismatic, well-connected, like most of them – is found dead. As everyone scrambles to figure out what happened, Ro is pulled into an investigation that endangers them all and threatens to spiral beyond the hotel walls. Because it turns out it’s not just heiresses and Bollywood stars-to-be that have checked in: cocktail hour is over, and death is on the prowl . . . 

Bursting with wit, glamour and smarts, Death in the Air is a murder mystery like no other: at once a love letter to Agatha Christie and a razor-sharp exploration of colonialism and class.

Disclosure: If you click a link in this post we may earn a small commission to help offset our running costs.

My Review

What a peculiar little novel this is. Based on the publisher synopsis and author endorsements, I went into Death in the Air expecting some witty repartee and ‘light-hearted’ dark humour in a similar vein to Kevin Kwan’s Rich People Problems. But, what I found myself reading was actually a surprisingly dark satire with a brooding menace and frequent malevolent undertones.

The initial setup makes clear to readers that the characters involved are ‘dangerously’ wealthy and entitled, and their perspectives from within that prism are questionable to say the least. For example, this discussion during an extravagant dinner in a London private members club:

“You look great for your age,” Alex said.

Ro considered the oyster in his hand. “I think that’s because I’m asleep most of the time. Being awake is very aging I find.” He slurped it down.

So, are the characters likeable? Not by any stretch.

Is the writing style a pleasure to read? No. It’s very simplistic in places. And unsettling.

I almost did not make it past the first few chapters of Death in the Air. However, while not entertained by Murali’s narrative, I was sufficiently perplexed and intrigued by it to continue reading. It was like one of those really arty movies where you think to yourself, “Is this part really happening, or is it a characters’ dream sequence?”. The shock factor is weirdly compelling. And, while I believe I understood much of the ‘cleverness’ woven into the dialogue and complex character machinations, there were still times the inside joke fell flat for me.

In Death in the Air Ram Murali has certainly produced a novel that provokes a depth of thought and consideration well beyond the words on the page. So, as a satire it has its merits. But, for a tale that’s principally about karma, I was surprised and a little troubled to find its focus on emptying cups rather than filling them. It was quite prescient at times though…

“I never read mystery novels,” Mrs B mused. “They so rarely stick the landing, don’t you find?”

Recommended only for those who enjoy being challenged by literature.

My Rating

Story 3.5 / 5 ; The Writing 3.5 / 5

Get your copy of Death in the Air

Bookshop US Amazon Booktopia AU Audio
US cover

More locked-room style crime mysteries:

Click on book covers for full reviews of each novel.

I received an advanced reader copy of this novel from the publisher for review via NetGalley.