Desai`s `Witness by Night` wins UK award

New Delhi: India-born writer Kishwar Desai, wife of noted economist and writer Meghnad Desai, has won UK`s Costa First Novel Award 2010 for her novel ‘Witness by Night’.

The book set in a farmhouse in Punjab is a thriller that comments on the rigid code of traditions and female foeticide in the heartland of India. It has been published by HarperCollins-India.

The Costa Book Award, formerly known as the Whitbread Prize till 2005, is one of the most prestigious literary prizes in the UK that recognises books of the year by authors based in Britain and Ireland.

In the first round, it is awarded in five categories -- first novel, novel, biography, poetry and children`s books -- following which the winners compete for the Costa Book of the Year.

Desai, along with winners in the other four categories, is now a contestant for the Costa Book of the Year 2010 that carries a purse of 30,000 pounds. The first book award carries a cash booty of 5,000 pounds. Desai will be presented the award at a ceremony in central London Jan 25, HarperCollins-India said in a statement Wednesday.

In the book, 14-year-old Durga is accused of murdering 13 members of her family. A liberal social worker from Delhi, Simran believes she may be more a victim than a suspect.

As Simran tries to unravel the mystery of what really happened that night of the multiple murders, she comes in close and often uncomfortable contact with Jalandhar and its people -- from Durga`s enigmatic tutor Harpreet and his disfigured wife to the picture-perfect high-society Arminder and her superintendent husband Ramnath. The prejudices she encounters are deep-seated and the secrets manifold.

Judges Anita Rani, Anneka Rice and Mark Thornton, said: "Desai has pulled off a remarkable trick transplanting a country house murder to modern day India in a book that`s not afraid to tackle serious themes. Just like her feisty main character, Desai has fearlessly blown the lid on the problems that simmer under the surface of modern-day India."

Desai`s first book, ‘Darlingji: The True Love Story of Nargis and Sunil Dutt’, was published by HarperCollins Publishers India in 2007.