Detective Fiction in Malayalam: An Overview
December 2021, volume 45, No 12

Half–a–corona. Long before ‘corona’ created mayhem across the world, Keralites were used to this phrase… ‘half-a-corona’. This phrase conjured images of a dashing sleuth—with a lighted half-a-corona cigar…the image of Detective Marksin created by ace novelist Kottayam Pushpanath. From the late sixties until his death in 2018, Pushpanath was the last word in popular detective fiction in Malayalam.

Detective novels in Malayalam or Apasarpaka Kathakal as they are known are heavily indebted to Sherlock Holmes. The early creations were influenced by Holmes’s novels. Kunthalatha—the first novel in Malayalam (Appu Nedungadi—1887), though had elements of Apasarpaka in it, however, is not considered as a pure detective novel. The first attempts in this realm of writing were by OM Cheriyan and Appan Thamburan. OM Cherian’s Mister Kailey started as a series in a magazine in October 1899. However, it did not become a book. So historians generally tend to favour Appan Thamburan’s Bhaskara Menon (1904) as the first recognized detective novel in Malayalam. OM Cherian’s second work—Kalante Kolayara (1927) was a bestseller. Told through the eyes of an Englishman, the novel combined in it elements of intrigue, suspense and adventure. With the success of Thamburan and Cherian, several others began experimenting in this realm. C Madhavan Pillai (Deshasevini—1936), Karattu Achutha Menon (Viruthan Shanku—1930) BG Kuruppu (Dr. Mohanan—1950) were some of the most popular novelists till the fifties.

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