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Christopher Brookmyre’s ‘Black Widow’ Is A Compelling Read For Crime Lovers

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Winner of the Bloody Scotland Crime Novel of the Year, Black Widow narrates a tale of successful and yet ruthless woman-surgeon who ends up loving and marrying the most unlikely guy. But her whirlwind romance meets a tragic end when her husband dies in an accident and she is charged with his murder. This is just the beginning of the roller-coaster ride that the book takes the reader through with unexpected plot twists and red herrings paving the way.

An accomplished surgeon, Diana Jager is a vocal female rights advocate and exposes sexism in medicine on a regular basis through her blog. But, it all comes crashing down when her identity kept anonymous till now is leaked online by one of the IT guys as payback for her spiteful comments on them. In backlash, not only is her identity compromised but she ends up losing her job and relocates to Inverness where she meets the kind and gentle Peter – an IT guy.

Opposites attract and after a brief affair, Dr. Jager marries Peter but her perfect marriage so beautifully picturized in tabloids meets a tragic end when Peter dies in a car accident.

Sympathetic, everyone sees this as the ultimate tragic end to a fairy-tale marriage and Dr. Jager plays the role of the grieving wife. But, Peter’s sister is not convinced with Diana’s act and hires Jack Parlabane, a washed-out journalist to dive deeper and to find out if her brother is actually a victim of an accident or a nasty plot chalked by his wife.

As Jack Parlabane starts digging, the dominoes start falling. The façade of a fairy-tale marriage starts to fall and a very different picture of Diana starts to emerge – vengeful, obsessive, controlling. Peter is not so kind either, but does he deserved to be killed for it?

What comes out is not just a portrait of an unhappy marriage but a tale of deception and lies. Charged with her husband’s murder, Diana Jager stands on trial proclaiming her innocence. The billion-dollar question that haunts the reader throughout the book is: is she the black widow, the aggressor who killed her husband in cold blood or is she the ultimate victim, the innocent bystander? Is she the manipulative psychopath like Amy in Gone Girl or is she the victim of her spouse’s lies like Nick?

Episode after episode, the reader keeps struggling to find a clear answer. Seeming like another murder mystery, Black Widow turns the table around by throwing doubts about everything the reader seems certain of – Diana’s complicity in Peter’s death.

Opening with the scene in a courtroom, the reader hears from Diana, “My trial has barely begun, and no testimony heard, but already I know that in the eyes of this court, I am an abomination.”

She is not just a murderess, she is the woman who murdered her husband, “From their perspective they had just told me about the likely death of my husband, but from mine, I hadn’t learned anything new…I was forced to play the widow, a role I never envisaged for myself. The hardest part was the awkwardness of having to endure people coming up to say how sorry they were for my loss. I didn’t feel bereaved.”

The narrative moves backward and forward, and the story is narrated by multiple narrators, one being Diana herself. Shifting between unreliable narrators – Diana and Jack – the reader keeps guessing between the guilty and the innocent and that’s where the biggest achievement of the book lies.

Even though everything is stacked against Diana, the biggest being the murder charge, one cannot help but feel sympathy for her. Interspersed in between is the narrative of Jack Parlabane who lays bare the deceit practiced by both Diana and Peter to further their aims. As Jack immerses deeper into the world of Diana and Peter, he finds a web of intrigue and darkness built carefully by both Diana and Peter. As the cracks in their perfect marriage come to the surface, the reader is left baffled.

Compulsive, dark and gripping, Black Widow is a treat for crime lovers. With plot twists more perplexing than Gone Girl, the author not only manages to turn the reader’s head till the very end but also tackles serious issues like sexism, cyber-bullying, gender inequality which makes it all the more enjoyable.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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