The world loves Agatha Christie, Ruth Rendell and P.D. James. And now a tiny tribe of women writers in India is striving to break new ground in thrillers with homegrown whodunits.Perhaps the foremost among them is Mumbai-based Kalpana Swaminathan, whose Lalli detective series has found readers among single working women in the metros. Swaminathan is the author of three books, "The Page Three Murders", "The Gardener's Song" and "The Monochrome Madonna".
Her books narrate the exploits of detective Lalli. Swaminathan's detective is a crusader; a contemporary women's rights activist who is the symbol of new age empowerment.
"Lalli has no patience with hypocrisy. It worries her that a society so full of sordid crime still considers itself respectable. Labels like elite middle class or low life carry no meaning for her. She loves curiosities," Swaminathan told IANS.
Not many women writers in India, unlike the West, are ready for the brush with thrillers, she said.
Nandita Bhardwaj, the former managing editor of Roli Books, who is now an independent editor, said, "A couple of years ago we had published Anjana Basu's 'The Black Tongue' as part of our Indiaink imprint. It was a domestic thriller.
"Thriller writers are a small tribe that is flourishing. The few books in the market are powerful. But trends in publishing are market driven and thrillers are accorded priority when the demand for mass market literary genres grows."
Traditionally, thriller as a genre has been a male outpost. Satyajit Ray who created "Feluda", Sharadindu Bandopadhyay who churned out detective "Byomkesh Bakshi", Niharanjan Gupta who was behind the "Kiriti" series and Ruskin Bond carried Indian thriller and mystery books to new heights.
Lately, Mukul Deva has made a name for himself as a well-known military thriller writer. His new book, "Tanzeem", is set on the India-Pakistan border.
But women writers are making a mark.
Writer Varsha Dixit, the author of the "Right Fit, Wrong Shoe", is the "desi" Stephenie Meyers, who wrote the Twilight saga. Dixit's "Xcess Baggage" has been billed as the country's first sci-fi vampire romance by reviewers.
"'Xcess Baggage' is the story of a young Indian American girl who is doomed to love a vampire," Dixit says.
The writer describes the book as a representative of psychological liberation. Meghna Chandra is a 22-year-old Indian girl settled in the US. She is on the run from her past - and is completely unaware that with every step she is inching towards her death. Meghna loves the dark and brooding Byron - a man werewolf - who might become her killer.
Published by Rupa & Co, Dixit's book has captured the imagination of young adults with its element of supernatural, romance and Indian identities.
Writer Jaishree Misra, the author of "Rani", has been treading a world of big thrills with the last two books, "Secret & Lies" and "Secret & Sins", centred around women. It is a high school can of worms, revisited.
"The book is about four school friends - Anita, Zeba, Bubbles and Sam - whose friendship forged in a posh Delhi girls' school spans over 20 years. Intelligent, beautiful and secretive, the four come together for a school reunion to confront a terrible secret that has haunted them all their lives - a friend's death on the night of the school prom," Misra told IANS.
For Misra, whose "Rani" was a high-speed historical thriller, writing a schoolday whodunit was not difficult because the writer said she was brought up in Delhi.
Then there's Kishwar Desai who has explored the genre of thrillers in a new way in "Witness by Night", the winner of the Costa First Book prize. The writer said she had not intended to write a thriller, but it emerged as one. The book set in the heart of Punjab is a gripping tale of gender atrocities with elements of thrill and a murder mystery.
Women in India are experimenting with new content and the thriller is one of them, said Ravi Singh, editor-in-chief and publisher of Penguin-Books India.
According to Lipika Bhushan, the head of marketing at Harper-Collins India, "Thrillers are not really very popular among women writers".
"Last year we published two thrillers, 'Bottom of the Heap' by Reeti Gadekar and 'Black Light' by Rimi B. Chatterjee," Bhushan told IANS.