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The Bankster

The Bankster by Ravi Subramanian is a corporate thriller based in Greater Boston Global bank.  Karan Panjabi, the hero from Mr. Subramanian’s previous book “If God was a Banker” is compelled to investigate the back to back deaths of 3 employees   of the bank, his ex-employer. The investigation reveals that the employees were murdered to cover up a shocking conspiracy within the bank.

This is my first Ravi Subramanian book and I was intrigued by the plot. And the first few pages of the book do not disappoint. A CIA operative delivering firearms to keep a proxy war going and receiving diamonds as payment, the death of a man from Madras due to nuclear exposure in Russia. All of it set me up to expect a Frederick Forsythe style intricate thriller with a big reveal at the end and the coming together of all the seemingly disparate story lines. But I was disappointed at the end. The politics of a bank, the dishonesty of senior managers like the heads of retail banking and human resources was well written and gave this story meat. Though I felt the whole protest against the nuclear power plant did not add much to the whole story and the author probably used it as gap filler.

This would have been a great read if the climax wasn’t completely botched. The author stretched the reveal for so long that by the time it happened I lost interest. Some of the efforts to prolong the suspense were plain irritating. For example, how Karan Panjabi discovered a certain piece of evidence is explained at least twice and in some cases thrice, the reactions and impatience of characters which is a common tool used to lengthen the suspense was used too liberally for my liking.  I noticed certain plot holes too, which I won’t mention in this review to avoid spoilers.

Another criticism I have is that Karan Panjabi enters the picture after more than half the story is over. So for most of the book there is no protagonist. This would not have been a problem if the other characters were well developed. But not a single character including Karan Panjabi later managed to evoke any emotional response. I did not feel any sympathy, hatred or intrigue for any of the characters.

And lastly I felt that the writing though not bad in terms of the grammar did not quite flow. There were many times when it felt forced and clumsy,  like when you listen to a speech given by someone with stage fright. I would say this is an example of an excellent story idea executed not quite so excellently.  It is an airplane book. You read it if you have way too much time on your hands and not many reading options available.

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Krishna Key

Ashwin Sanghi’s “The Krishna Key” is about an ancient secret related to the Hindu god Krishna. The existence of the secret and its revelation become possible when Anil Varshney discovers 4 almost identical seals during excavations of the Indus Valley Civilization sites. Varshney though is murdered by an unknown assailant in a peculiar manner. But prior to his death, Anil has sent these seals to his closest friends, one of which is historian Ravi Mohan Saini. Ravi ends up being suspected of Varshney’s murder and thus begins a chase across India in a bid to protect the remaining seals, Varshney’s friends, discovering the ancient secret & Varshney’s murderer.

The book is well researched and contains a truck load of information, both mythological and historical. It encompasses various topics, from the Mahabharata epic to Krishna and the Vedas to the Indus Valley Civilization and the mystical submerged city of Dwarka. Since my knowledge on these topics ranges from very basic to almost non-existent, I found this book very educative. Sanghi’s various interpretations are inventive and sensible. In other words, the book makes interesting the subjects which otherwise would have been tedious to read about.

Despite being full of interesting facts and arousing my curiosity, there were many aspects of this book which did not work for me. The main problem I had, was with the characterization of the protagonist Professor Saini. I was completely indifferent to this character. He does not evoke any emotions at all. Another character in a historical thriller comes to mind; Dr. Robert Langdon and I couldn’t help but compare the two. Both of them are experts in their fields and extremely knowledgeable, constantly spewing arcane facts, but while Langdon comes across as warm & charming, and reminds you of that one favorite teacher you had who “gets it”; Saini is like a robot who joins the ranks of those teachers that march past your life and give you all the pertinent information without making the slightest impression.

The unnecessarily convoluted plot does not help improve the story. After a point it began to read like a Bollywood masala film; what with all the murders, which for me are never satisfactorily justified; two escapes from custody by Professor Saini, one of which is achieved; in true filmi style; by toppling a police jeep on the way to prison; and an underworld don featured towards the end. I could feel the story being stretched to the breaking point but the author kept puffing more n more air into the balloon. The result is a brilliant historical, mythological backdrop with a nondescript protagonist and a plot which is all over the place.

In addition to the characterization and plot, there is one other albeit minor element but it irked so much that I feel I need to mention it. You know when you watch a film, it flashbacks to scenes already shown just to remind the viewer of a certain incident or dialogue, usually used in mysteries and thrillers during the big revelation at the end to explain the chain of events & also refresh the viewer’s memory. Sanghi uses this device in this book by reproducing segments of entire dialogues and scenes from earleir chapters, in Italics. He does it so often that it breaks the flow of his narrative and at the worse possible times. Personally, a simple allusion to the said incident or dialogue would have been enough to jog my memory. After a point it just became insulting because it showed that the author lacked confidence in his readers to figure it out.

In conclusion, I would say I am not unhappy that I took the time to read this book because it introduced me to many historical, mythological theories which I would have never read on their own. But a tight plot or a strong memorable protagonist would have immensely increased the enjoyment I gleaned from this book.

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Fractured Legend by Kranthi Askani is the story of 3 women; Priyambada, a slave in a temple. But she is no ordinary slave; she is a stone sculpture that comes alive only at night. She is immortal in this form but she chooses to lead a mortal life; Nandhini, an assassin who was married once and has a son from this marriage. She is in search of a mysterious manuscript.  And Pravalli, Priyambada’s daughter, who is struggling to come to terms with her mother’s past.

The description on the back promises an intriguing tale of magic and fantasy. And there is no lack of imagination in the book. Unfortunately the writing is not up to the mark. The narrative is peppered with typos; missing articles; tenses used incorrectly, some sentences which are completely bizarre even for the magical realism genre.

Apart from the technical issues, the author uses made up words like tissue-wiped, fist-tapping, finger –prodded, check -shirted etc which might be a stylistic quirk but it is over used. I cringed every time I read a line with one of these creations. They took away the impact of a well-written sentence.  Consider this, “I slapped water on my face and tissue-wiped; patted my cheeks and flexed my neck, villainous style flex”.  All of this made it extremely tedious to read this book.

Though I must admit, there were occasional flashes of brilliance which helped break the tedium. Two bits in particular come to mind. One was when Nandhini reminisces about a shopping trip with her husband and she is unsure if she remembers another couple sitting across from them or is it some ghost her mind created. Here the author captures the complications that arise when you recreate the past. The way we sometimes mix up & make up images so we are not sure if it is a real memory or just our imagination. The other was when Pravalli explains Harshita’s need to only consider a suitor who is associated with one of her friends by comparing it to the ease of memorizing a new word from a dictionary, if it is associated with a word we are already familiar with. This comparison is simple yet clever, it made me smile.

Despite this, the story did not quite work for me. There were elements which irked.  For me the major one was that the two most intriguing characters in the book,  Aardya & the queen of the temple in which Priyambada lived are barely explored. Even though Aardya is weaved into the whole story, we don’t really get to know much about her. In fact I would have preferred if Nandhini’s story was not included in this book and instead I could have read more about Aardya. Nandhini’s narrative was the weakest of all the 3 stories and it ended abruptly. I didn’t see the purpose it served or any strong connection between Nandhini and the other two women, the one with the manuscript was flimsy at best.  The other issue is the lack of dialogue in the book. It would have gone a long way in breathing life into the characters because most of them, (eg- Priyambada’s husband, Annapurna, Pravalli as a child etc) remain lifeless, mere words on paper.

In conclusion, I would say that the author had a lovely idea. The story had the potential to soar in the sky, if not for the above mentioned problems, which did the work of wing clippers, banishing it to an obscure dark corner.

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