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Bombay Ice

by Leslie Forbes

Leslie Forbes, a Canadian-born writer, artist, and broadcaster with four travel books to her credit, has lived in London for the past 20 years, where she has worked for the BBC on such programs as The Indian Spice Trail and What’s Beneath My Blouse? (part of the Bollywood Babylon documentary series).

The heroine of her new novel, Bombay Ice, is Rosalind Bengal, a young woman torn between two climates, the frosty Great Britain of her mother’s heritage, and the pungent heat of her father’s homeland, India. At the outset, she is living in Britain, but a single sentence in a letter – “People tell me that he murdered his first wife”– from her pregnant half-sister Miranda who lives with her husband in Bombay, sends her halfway round the globe.

Driven by the single-minded pursuit of proving her brother-in-law is a murderer, Rosalind stumbles upon a rich pageant of Bombay’s cinema elite, as well as its misfits and outcasts. Forbes uses the setting to her advantage, providing engaging descriptions of the smells of Bombay – the heat, the spices, the filth, and the stickiness that signals impending monsoons.

The story is narrated dispassionately by Rosalind; events are described coldly as if they are happening outside of the sphere of the story. Her cool self-confidence and esoteric knowledge – of gilding and meteorology, for example – set her apart from, and mostly above, a large cast of characters. But as she becomes involved in the mystery surrounding Miranda and her husband and the Indian cinema culture, these precise lines begin to blur. Rosalind, it turns out, has secrets of her own, of family fractures, of mutilation, suicide, and incest. In the end, the battle is as much between Rosalind’s logical and emotional sides as it is with the evils that seem to lurk around every Bombay corner.