“Who Threw Draco Down The Chimney” by Smita Bhattacharya is the third book in the Darya Nandkarni series. Darya Nandkarni is trying to escape her past by travelling alone and reaches Sibiu, Romania. She manages to make the new place her temporary home for a few months when one of her new friends, a young backpacker, goes missing. The owner of the backpacker’s hostel, knowing about Darya’s investigative skills, asks Darya to find out more about the disappearance. Darya’s search leads her to an abandoned farmhouse where 60 years earlier, the body of Draco was found in the chimney. Are the two incidents related and does Darya manage to unentangle the knot, forms the gist of the novel.
The author has crafted a masterful suspense novel. Though on the surface, the book seems to have an unhurried pace, you can sense the dark currents swirling underneath. The characters of the book are well etched, yet deeply flawed. Human emotions like love, anger, jealousy, lust, disgust all come into play between the characters. The author succeeds in making Sibiu an important part of the novel. It feels as if the city is another character of the book, adding a brooding atmosphere to the book.
Darya, the main protagonist, is trying to overcome her past. She wants to escape the conflict at home in India and is reluctant to come emotionally close to anyone. Yet she is drawn into the events unfolding around her. She cannot, despite all her attempts, remain unaffected by her tentative new friendships. Her curious mind keeps her interested in untangling the knots of emotions around her. She is capable and competent enough to solve the mystery yet, she is vulnerable enough to be deeply affected by the final revelations. She is not an unemotional bystander, instead, she feels deeply, becoming personally involved in the case she is solving.
A good mystery novel keeps you turning the pages. You read it sitting at the edge of your seat, on tenterhooks to know if the mystery will be solved. As the climax unfolds, you give a sigh of satisfaction. You look up from the book to see if there is someone with whom you can share your enthusiasm. You want to discuss how well the book was crafted, how all the loose ends were neatly tied up. Author Smita Bhattacharya has ticked all these boxes required in writing a successful mystery novel. She has created characters who are believable, suspense which is masterful and a climax absolutely unexpected, making you gasp in surprise.
Go ahead, pick up this book if you want to read a well-crafted suspense novel. You will not regret it!
About the Author
Smita Bhattacharya is an author of cosy and psychological thriller mysteries. She lives in Mumbai. She is also a management consultant, coffee lover, and gipsy-in-her-head. She has solo-travelled to over 40 countries and conducts workshops inspiring others to do the same. Needless to say, her stories are heavily inspired by her travels and those she meets. Smita has five published books and counting. She has too many stories to tell and not enough time.
Some years ago, Smita came to the realization that there were not many books with normal female leads in them. The women in the books she read were usually tragic, struggling, or simpering women waiting for a glance from a hard-hearted (but rich!) man. She wanted to create a normal female lead, like the kind she hung out with or imagined herself to be, who did not have to have suffered tragically or was waiting for a knight-in-clunky-armour; she could do fun things despite it. Hence, was born a series with a strong-willed, stumbling-through-life woman—Darya Nandkarni—who is imperfect and gutsy, and lives as she wants. She uses her cleverness and wit to navigate through life and solve the many bizarre mysteries that are thrown along her way.
To know more about these series click here.
Keep scrolling for an excerpt from the book.
An extract from ‘Who Threw Draco down the Chimney?’
Why Andrea climbed the roof that day, she could not explain. Not even later, when she had had a lot of time to think about it. It was as if her feet were moving forward of their own accord, across the garden, past the koi pond, and up the spiral staircase that led from the side of the house up to the roof.
Leaves crinkled under her feet as she crept on the slanting roof, half bent, hands spread for balance. She placed her feet precisely, careful not to slip. Her fingers patted the bottom from time to time, as she re-balanced herself, then straightened to carry on.
A madness had overtaken her. The urge to do something brave. The roofs of the houses in her city had always fascinated her, but she’d never gotten to see what it was like from the top. Imagine the view!
Also … Andrea was terribly upset with Mihai and her father. She needed to prove to both of them and her own self: she was better than what they thought of her. Maybe if she did something brave, they’d be impressed and include her in their get-togethers. She had to do something ‘manly’ and brave—almost forbidden—and emerge out of it, unscathed.
She was going to go inside the house.
If she were to get inside the house, she could only do it via the chimney. She remembered her grandfather and father had done it a few times, at the odd family gatherings they used to have at this place, and everyone had laughed and clapped, praising their dexterity. It was dangerous and risky, but if she managed, she flushed at the thought of the respect her father and Mihai would then feel for her.
She whistled a soft tune to mark the joy of having thought this up. Once or twice she stumbled, but she straightened herself quickly. She was going to persist. It was her adventure. She’d show her father and him; she was as good as them.
Heart thudding, legs shaking, Andrea reached the rim of the chimney. Exhaling in relief, she pulled herself up and sat on its edge. Although she was tall for her age, her legs dangled, barely touching the flat of the roof.
This one was much bigger than the chimney of their city house. Her grandma had told her they used to make it bigger in the farmsteads, because they cooked more and ate heartily.
Andrea waited for her breath to steady and gazed in the far distance. The view was not as good as she’d imagined; her line of sight was obstructed by tall trees. She wondered if Mihai had woken up yet. She hoped not. But if he had and came here looking for her, she hoped to open the front door to greet him. How shocked would he be? He was terrified of the house, believing all the silly curse stories, and she would prove to him she was better than him, because she wasn’t afraid.
Resuming her merry whistle, she turned around and peered down the chimney’s pit.
At first, she saw only an immense darkness. A gaping black hole.
Then her eyes grew used to the darkness.
And she saw it.
The twin hollows in the skull, which had once been eyes. They stared up at her, underneath a handful of matted blonde hair.
The open jaw, its two front teeth protruding, the rest of it jagged and grimy, but unbroken.
Later, everyone wondered how she’d kept her balance.
Because she screamed. And screamed.
Like the world was ending.
The body Andrea found in the chimney was identified as belonging to four-year-old Draco Lambru by the local police. They suspected Draco had tried to climb down the chimney, curious about the abandoned house—much like Andrea had planned to do herself—and then gotten stuck inside and died. Draco’s mother, a tigani gypsy, had reported him missing a year ago, but when days turned to months, and then a year, and nothing turned up, she gave up and had moved out of town. No one knew where she’d gone and how to find her to tell her that her son had finally been found.
The body had been rotting in the chimney for a year. Draco was found as he had probably died: struggling to crawl out, his face staring up, hands stuck to the sides, spindly legs curved, knees dislodged. There were no visible signs of trauma.
‘It was not an instant death,’ Inspector Vasile told news reporters. ‘How he died is only a matter of speculation. Maybe he starved to death, which takes many weeks. Or he was dehydrated, which can take just a few days. The other possible cause could be hypothermia, which could take a day or two. We have no way to say which one came first.’
The coroner said the abandoned house’s location—a wooded area, with no adjacent homes—likely made it impossible for anyone to hear the boy’s cries for help. Later, he added Draco most likely died either of starvation or positional asphyxiation. ‘But the primary question is,’ he said, ‘how did he get there in the first place? The city is at least an hour away by car. He was no more than a child, so someone must have dropped him off. Perhaps he accompanied his mother who sometimes came to clean the house. Had he been playing around and decided to go down the chimney, just for fun? He’s a little boy and his mother may not have been able to hear his cries.’ However, since the mother couldn’t be located, this theory couldn’t be corroborated.
Inspector Vasile was asked about the similarities between Draco’s death and the death of the three squatters found there four years ago. He dismissed the speculation. ‘Those gypsies had died of a water-borne poison,’ he said. ‘The chimney didn’t kill them.’