Zak & Zara: The Monster Murder Mystery is a children’s horror/mystery thriller written by Samir Asran Rahman and was first published at Dhaka Lit Fest 2016. Probably the first of its kind by a Bangladeshi author, this is a colorful book that packs a strong punch in a small package.

The book centers around siblings Zak and Zara, who are ten and eight years old respectively. A series of events leads to them ending up in a strange house. Upon close inspection, it turns out that the house is haunted by monsters.

The plot thickens when it turns out that someone or somebody is attacking these monsters. Having found themselves in the middle of a mystery, the siblings proceed to get to the root of it.

The two central characters, Zak and Zara, are surrounded by a bevy of monsters to build a cast of characters that is quite entertaining.

Zak is keen to solve the mystery and his backlog of detective work includes countless detective movies and pulp novels. Perhaps it’s his youth or perhaps it’s lack of actual detective experience but this boy doesn’t know his limits.

Zara on the other hand is more on the cautious side and I felt that two work as really good foil for each other. That is not to say that they steal the entire show, the other characters do add to the backdrop in very ample fashion.

The writing style is very vivid and casual in a good way. The scenery, action and plot twists (expect a few) are all painted strongly without anything seeming out of reach. This helps to keep the story afloat when things turn grim. Bad things happen throughout the course of the plot but the presentation keeps the story from turning too serious.

Being able to portray serious things while keeping the language not all that serious is a skill that is on show here.

Speaking of ‘bad things that happen’, the story does not shy away from maximizing on the horror elements. The story is laced with grim happenings that may not always go with plots that make ten and eight year olds their protagonists. If you are reading this to younger siblings or children, keep that in mind or else the little ones might get a tad bit scared.

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Another delightful side of this book are the illustrations at the end of many of the chapters. Drawn by Asifur Rahman, they add a whole new layer to the experience of reading the book and will certainly be something younger readers will enjoy. While that may not be a review of the literary aspects, it is quite heartening to think that locally printed English books maintain such printing quality these days.

Overall, this book was an enjoyable read and paired with the illustrations, makes a very strong case for itself. The book cover suggests that a pretty lengthy series of novellas is planned after this and if the first book is anything to go by, I am more than looking forward to it.

by Rayaan Ibtesham Chowdhury