Though undeserving of praise such as it is a must read, the best detective novel of the century blah blah blah, “The Cuckoo’s Calling” by Robert Galbraith a.k.a J.K. Rowling is an enjoyable read. The premise is simple; Lula Landry, a super model dives to her death from the balcony of her flat. The police investigation concludes that she committed suicide. Three months later, her brother, unhappy with the verdict brings in a PI, Cormoran Strike to re-investigate.
The characters in this book, especially Cormoran Strike, who you care about almost as much as the mystery is the reason this book is fun to read. Because Strike is so secretive about his own past, his back story is revealed over many pages and we are left to interpret and draw conclusions about him with a little bit of information that is provided initially. It managed to keep me hooked and interested despite the slow pace of the investigation. At one point I wondered if there was going to be any real investigation because Google searches was all Strike did. This was definitely a refreshing change from all the serial killer mysteries and CSI style detective stories. This book is more reminiscent of Perry Mason except that Strike is nothing like the suave, charming, always impeccable Mason. Strike is more what you would think a private eye to be in this day and age. He is broke, financially and emotionally, too proud for his own good (he refuses help even from his sister), has had a difficult and murky childhood, he is prone to use alcohol as a shield, he is mostly honest but his honesty is peppered to some extent with self-interest. This last trait more than anything makes him very relatable along with the fact that unlike many detective stories, the work does not completely overtake Strike’s life. His problems are still intact and they continue to affect him in numerous ways. And though Cormoran is the star of the book, the rest of the characters are not ignored, each one has their quirks, each one is described in enough detail that they leap off the page.
The pace of this book, from its almost lethargic beginning where Strike’s every movement is recorded, from his taking the afternoon off to drink at the local pub, to his spending the nights in his office etc to the increasing speed of the story as it nears its conclusion where days/nights are skipped over to get to the relevant appointment which would further the investigation, was almost like listening to a symphony with its ever-increasing tempo to the final crescendo.
The revelation of the mystery came as a slight surprise and was completely satisfying. My only gripe was with Strike’s monologue where he explains every nuance of his investigation. Though the explanation of his process was necessary, the way it was done in the book felt unnatural.
In the end, I would say the book was an entertaining read and if you are a fan of detective novels then this book will not disappoint.
Mirza Waheed’s “The Collaborator” is the story of Nowgam, a border village in Kashmir, set in the early ’90s at the height of the insurgency. The narrator is the son of the village headman, stuck in his village becasue of his father’s decision to stay, even after everyone else flees either across the border or further into India.
The narrative moves from the present, where the son of the headman is forced to work for the Indian Army, to the past, when the village was a happy place, full of life. This structure works well in creating a stark sense of horror, tragedy and loneliness. Especially when the narrator recalls the many hours he spent in the valley near his village playing cricket, singing songs, talking about mundane things with his four best friends while working in the same valley, now a dumping site for the dead bodies of alleged insurgents killed by the Indian Army. Or when he walks down the main street of his village which some time back was alive with men and women he knew and greeted every day.
The character of the narrator, a 19-year-old boy, who lives in a ghost village, has lost his best friends to the insurgency and is forced to spend his days working for someone he despises, doing work he hates, that of collecting weapons and Id cards from the dead bodies in the valley, engages your attention and immediately pulls you into his story. You see the world from the eyes of this Kashmiri boy, his confusion with regards to what is true and where he belongs, summarized in this line, “For a Kashmiri there is always an Indian and a Pakistani version of everything”, his desire to be a part of the movement at the same time his reluctance to do anything as drastic as kill his boss, the Indian Army Captain, his need to understand the reason his friends did not ask him to join them across the border, his memories of his beautiful village and most of all his hopes for his and his family’s future. All of it is brought to a not unexpected but elegant conclusion, the only way this story could have ended was with a lot of questions left unanswered.
The book is a serious read. It has vivid images of death and torture and the destruction of a way of life. Though the language gets slightly over descriptive and wordy, I would still recommend this book because it tackles the subject of militancy, a sense of country & belonging, loyalty, friendship and kinship with a rare insight.
I have decided to participate in this challenge as I love to read Indian writing. I think this will be a great opportunity to discover more Indian writers and also spread the word about my favourite Indian writers. I think about one book a month so 12 books will be my target for this challenge.
Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto is the book I have been telling everyone I meet to read. I am not sure how to describe what the book is about because to condense this story into 2-3 lines feels impossible. And saying that it is a story of the narrator and his family, mainly his mom who is a manic-depressive is just not enough even though I have done it now.
From the first page, I knew I made the right decision in buying it because I knew I will read it many times. If for nothing else, then for the writing. Every sentence has been chiseled and carved to perfection. And if I were the kind of person to underline memorable quotes, this book would have pencil marks all over it.
Jerry Pinto brings the characters alive. Every time I opened the book I entered the 1 BHK in Mahim where this family lives. I watched as Em slashed her wrists, I recognized the helplessness the narrator felt when there is nothing he could do while his mother suffered; the determination of the kids to maintain a veneer of normalcy in front of anyone who is not part of the family; the isolation they felt despite a steady stream of well-wishers. This book communicated all of these emotions without self-pity. The matter of fact tone and the emotional restraint in the book are what made this story so real and moving. By the end of the book I was in tears.
Despite all of the charged emotional content, not once does the story devolve into melodrama. In fact there were plenty of laugh out loud moments.The author does a marvelous job of maintaining that balance between pain & humor that comes instinctively to us in times of crisis. And he does it without it becoming morbid or cynical.
Anyone who has ever dealt with the sickness and death of a loved one will relate to some aspect of this story. I think everyone should read this book.
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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