UNRAVELLING OLIVER by Liz Nugent

How is it possible that this stunning novel eluded me for 2 years?

What a read.

I sat up in the misty Himalayas, wrapped in a duvet against the damp chill, and read and read and read and didn’t go exploring.  Just gobbled up this dark, gripping, clever book.

The book opens with a bang:

“I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.”

And from that sentence on, we start unravelling the man behind the public persona of handsome, urbane, successful Oliver Ryan.

The format of the book, telling the story mainly in flashback, and always from a different person’s perspective, is initially a little unsettling.  For the first few chapters, until the characters all settled into place, I had to keep double checking who was now speaking, but after a while, as the story proceeds, the cleverness (and the consummate skill) of hearing all these different voices, from different time frames, and seeing different perspectives and views add to the mystery.

“Unravelling Oliver” is a psychological thriller of note.

Oliver is a man who has just beaten his wife into a coma in the opening moments of the book.  He is a man with many secrets.  And yet, such is the skill of Ms Nugent’s spare prose, that there are moments when we feel genuinely sorry for this manipulative man.

For make no mistake, Oliver manipulates people shamelessly, from his earliest days of getting to know women in his student days in early 1970s Dublin:

“I have learned over the years how to charm them.  It’s not too hard if you are handsome and can appear to be clever with a dry wit. Then, gradually, begin to take an interest, as if she is a specimen in a laboratory.  Poke her a bit with a long stick while keeping your distance.  Ignore her for long periods to see how she reacts and then give her a good shake.  It almost always works.”

There are so many layers to the story, and as you the reader, peel back each new layer, the story gets progressively deeper and more mysterious.  With hindsight, you realise that echoes and precursors of the truth behind Oliver are scattered throughout the book.

Here, for example, where Véronique talks about her father, a man who suffered much at the hands of the Gestapo:

“He had told nobody and, despite his heroics, he felt nothing but shame.  I think it an honourable thing not to visit your horror upon those that you love, but I suspect that the pain of keeping it inside must also cause a lesion to the soul.”

With hindsight, we realise that these words – well, some of them – could apply equally to Oliver.  Oliver is not heroic, but he does have secrets that he will not and cannot share.

This is a story with dark tragedy at its centre, but yet there are moments of pure beauty, too.

When you read this toddler’s reactions to a story being told to him, it is such a joyous vignette:

“As Monsieur began to tell the story, I watched the boy’s face as he perched on his papi’s knee.  He was transfixed by the tale of a happy young prince of a fantastical land and would exclaim in the middle of the telling, would hide his eyes at the arrival of the bad witch, and clap his hands in excitement at our hero’s escape in the end.”

Books and stories, and the telling of stories, and the not telling of stories, are all part of the fabric of this clever book.  There are twists and turns right up until the closing paragraph.

Consummate story-telling.

Ireland per se isn’t a character as such in the book, but the social situation and the mores of 1970s Dublin, are a leitmotiv running through the book, influencing the decisions and behaviour of the characters.

For example, the parlous state of Irish food in the 1970s comes in for gentle criticism, when Michael spends a summer in France:

“Ireland in those days was a gastronomic wilderness.  Parsley sauce was considered the height of sophistication.  Here, I learned that boiling was not the only way to teat a vegetable…and that garlic existed.”

A great read.  A gripping story.  Totally recommended.

If you would like to buy the book after reading this review, here you go.

Couldn’t be easier. Just click on the link, and yes, of course, you know the rest…

THE DEAD AMERICAN by JAKE NEEDHAM

The good news: Inspector Samuel Tay of the Singapore CID is back, and is turning into a regular old curmudgeon.

The bad news: since this third instalment in what I pray is going to be an endless series of novels, was only published a few weeks ago, there may be a bit of a wait now until the 4th book appears.

No pressure, Mr. Needham, you understand.

Oh Sam.  What a bloke.

In this book, the Inspector hits 50, with only his resigned quietly likeable sidekick, the long suffering Sergeant Kang for company.

All of Sam’s old fogey-isms are now an inherent part of his character, and I, for one, love him all the more for them.

Not great with technology:

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Not mad about the Americans:

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A defiant smoker in a country that tried to outlaw the habit as much as possible :

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Like the previous 2 novels in the Inspector Tay series, “The Dead American” opens with panache:

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The annoyingly familiar Emma  –  an American journalist –  arrives at his doorstep to enlist his help in solving what she considers to be a mystery.  A young American has been found hanging in his apartment.  The Singaporean authorities say he committed suicide.  She isn’t convinced.  And against his initial better judgement, Sam Tay gets slowly dragged into the mystery as to why this young software engineer (working, to Tay’s befuddlement, on the technology behind driverless cars) would be murdered.

As we have now come to expect with these great whodunnits, Singapore is a brilliant backdrop.  Way too clean and orderly for Sam’s liking, and full of people too ready to accept the official line, and then toe it.

I mentioned in my last review that such is the force of Sam’s personality that he makes a non-smoker like me cheer every time he lights up.  For the truth of the matter is, that despite its best efforts, the Singaporean government just cannot stop Sam loving his tobacco fix, and his pre-smoking rituals:

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This book takes us through the malls and hotels of Singapore suffering from regional pollution, but –  true to form –  Inspector Tay is unimpressed by the official hoopla:

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We walk through lobbies and coffee shops, we walk along the river front, we see the “new” Singapore through the eyes of Sam, who hankers for the old days.  In what his now his trademark style, the author seamlessly mixes real Singapore with fictional characters, an extremely effective technique.

We also meet Sam’s mother, who is fast becoming a bit of a rockstar in her own right.  (You’ll see what I mean when you read the book.)  And read it you should, if you love good witty writing that makes you smile all the time, a brilliant unconventional detective, and an insight into how one of Asia’s most successful countries tick.

Can’t wait for the next book.

I’m a big fan.

I’m also a big fan of Jake Needham, who has managed to irritate a country, and get himself into a bit of a spot in the bargain.  Let him tell you in his own words.

If you would like to buy “The Dead American”, just click below.  Technology that might well perplex Sam, but you all know how it works.  And as you now realise, it’s only available as an e-book.

And this week, guess what, I read about Google’s driverless cars.

 

MATABELE DAWN by SAAD BIN JUNG

Saad bin Jung, the author of the recently published “Matabele Dawn” is a friend, a state of affairs that can sometimes make reviewing a book a rather tricky exercise. Treading the fine line between friendship and truth.  That kind of dilemma.

No such dilemma here.

Saad is a well known, shout-it-from-the-rooftops lover of Africa, and the bush, and wildlife, and the great outdoors.

Since we left South Africa nine oh-so-long years ago, there hasn’t been a day when I didn’t pine for the bush, or for the excitement of being on safari.  So the wonderful depiction of Africa that is the Matabele half of this book resonated completely.  Loved it.  Saad’s descriptions bring Africa to vivid life:

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In his book, Mr. bin Jung has two narratives, of Africa and India, that are generations apart, yet intertwined.

Both stories are also partly “out of Africa” and “out of India” in that they are stories of children of mixed marriages, and of mixed faiths, of foreigners living and loving and dying in different continents, far from their home.  Two men are born, decades apart, into chaos and disorder, into worlds of danger and change, and it is the chronicle of their lives that is “Matabele Dawn.”

Initially, I was a little startled by the very modern speaking voice of some of Mr. bin Jung’s 19th century characters, but then I thought – what is preferable?  Modern vernacular or a flood of “forsooths and by gads.”

Enjoy this book for the vividness of the language and story, for the enthusiasm and obvious love for two continents that poor forth.

When Mr. bin Jung launched his book this week in Delhi (where I live) the occasion was exactly as one would have expected. Roars of laughter at the stories told by the chief guests (All 3 of them.  Well, why ever not have 3 chief guests if you can?).  Not a moment of pompousness. Just laughter and a love for life.

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The author’s dedication in my book says it all:

“Here’s hoping you enjoy reading this half as much as I enjoyed writing it.”

Published by Rumour books, “Matabele Dawn” costs Rs599 and you can order it right now, by clicking on the link below :

And here is the link to buy the Kindle version :

The Bad Boys of Bokaro Jail by Chetan Mahajan

 

You don’t really need the backstory, I hope, to appreciate this review, but since it might just put things fully in context, here you go.

Through the twin worlds of Facebook and running, I recently met the utterly charming Chetan Mahajan, author of “The Bad Boys of Bokaro Jail”. Having chatted (all too briefly) with Chetan, reading his book in 2 long greedy sessions was even more interesting, for this book is his prison diary.  Yes, you read that correctly.  A prison diary.

Just before the recent Airtel Delhi Half Marathon, Chetan posted on a running page I follow on Facebook that he had T shirts to give away, and mentioned that he had run a lot whilst in prison. With such an interesting post, obviously I googled him, and discovered that this well educated, urbane man had been wrongly fully arrested on Christmas Eve 2012, spent a month in jail in Jharkhand, before being released and exonerated of all charges. Thank goodness for us, he kept notes and wrote a prison diary, and it makes for fascinating reading.  It is almost certainly the only good thing to come out of his horrific experience.  He writes from the heart, and doesn’t hide his fear at being jailed, his utter disbelief that this was happening to him, and his expectation that he would be out within a day or so…which stretches to a week…to a month.

When I met Chetan, he was measured and pragmatic about his experience, saying that he had decided the only way to deal with it was to move on, and that writing this book had helped. I can fully see why, because in it he details not only his own fears and thoughts, his own highs and lows, but also talks a lot about prison life and routine, about the men he met in jail, as well as his thoughts on the Indian justice system. What you have to remember all the way through this book, is that Chetan, along with all the other men, is an under-trial. Someone not yet found guilty. And yet there are men inside who have served way beyond their time. Or what would have been their time, had their cases ever been heard.

Chetan is lucky. He has a dynamic father who rushes to be with him, he has his brother, his brother in law and his wife, who visit, and use their influence as educated, urban, well connected people, to ensure that his life is as comfortable as it can be in a cell. Pity the many men he meets inside who are too poor, or illiterate, and therefore by inference not connected to anyone at all.  They languish in jail, unaware of their rights.

Chetan told me, and is at pains in the book to say that he wasn’t badly treated. No beatings, no feared sexual attacks. By and large, despite being so different from nearly all the prisoners, the latter treated him well, and the prison staff were as reasonable as they are capable of being. His fear and bewilderment as he is arrested and processed and slung into jail is powerful stuff, and I especially enjoyed his description of the first section of the prison where he is housed, with a makeshift temple at one end and a stinky loo at the other. His initiation into prison life and prison hierarchy is fascinating, as he learns about the economics of being in jail. Anything and everything is available.  For a price. Better food, drugs, alcohol, mobile phone – if you have the money outside, you can procure these luxuries inside.

The police and the prison authorities play their part in this economy, skimming off a percentage of everything that is legally brought into the prison, and one imagines, they earn a hefty cut for allowing the illegal stuff in – the drugs, booze, mobile phones.

Mr. Mahajan is a serious runner (remember, I mentioned at the outset that I had read his FB post in connection with the half marathon) and once his family delivers his running shoes to jail, running is one of the ways he keeps fit and stays sane and focused. In the early days, his focus is on keeping up his training for the Mumbai marathon, but as December rolls into January, and it becomes clear that he will not be at the marathon starting line with his beloved wife and fellow runner Vandita, he still continues to run –  in order to think, and to clear his head. His running for choice intrigues his fellow prisoners, and there is speculation that he is a commando. Why else would he run, when he could loll around sleeping?

This book is fascinating because it gives us an insight into a world – please God – that we will never encounter. And that is precisely why “The Bad Boys of Bokaro Jail” is such a compelling read, because Mr. Mahajan is a PLU. A Person Like Us.  Urban, flawless English, educated, foreign MBA, children, dogs, running – just like any of us…And being imprisoned was as alien and frightening to him as it would be to any of his us.  Without any warning, he is thrust into a world for which he has absolutely no preparation.

His observations on the corruption within the prison system and the sheer waste of the lives of the under trials makes for sobering reading. He laments the fact that these men are taught nothing whilst they are in jail. No skills, no education, nothing. They lie around, sleeping and playing cards, and some of them get religious, but whenever they leave Bokaro Jail they will be as ill educated. untrained, unskilled, unreformed as the day they were arrested.. And, one imagines, as vulnerable and ripe for re-arrest.

Totally recommended.

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If you would like to read “The Bad Boys of Bokaro Jail” simply click on one of the links below and order :

Oh.  Yes.

The T shirt.

In support of Amnesty’s efforts to help under trials. What else?

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VILLANELLE : HOLLOWPOINT by LUKE JENNINGS

Mr. Jennings and his clever writing and gripping story lines is my new brilliant new discovery this week, and as I finish the 3rd novel of his in a row, I can’t wait for the next one.

“Villanelle : Hollowpoint” is a Kindle single, and having also just discovered this e-novella format, I am chomping at the bit for the next instalment in the Villanelle series.

Because there is clearly going to be a third book, right?  Otherwise, what on earth would have been the point of introducing us to Eve Polastri of MI5?  The arch nemesis of the racy Villanelle, if ever I saw one.

Eve is a good woman, a thorough professional, whose career gets sideswiped when…oh, but I can’t tell you exactly what derails Eve’s career, because that would be a total plot spoiler, and that is one thing you don’t want with these novellas.

This story isn’t as exclusively about the psychopathic killing machine called Villanelle as the first book in the series, and the beautiful Russian now shares the storyline with the not so glamorous (in fact not remotely glamorous) Eve, who is married to a maths teacher.  They live in a small, messy flat and they play bridge at the local club in the evenings.  Nothing could be further from the jet-setting, expensive, luxurious, lethal world of Villanelle.

Eve is the antithesis of Villanelle in so many ways –  clothes, home, family life – but when it comes to work, they are both focused and dedicated professionals and I can foresee many delicious books on the horizon, pitting these 2 formidable women against each other.

What I enjoy about Villanelle is that she is robotic and ruthless and kills to order, but you don’t in any way dislike her.  Her effortless cool and glamour and cleverness ensure that.  She kills on the orders of a shadowy organisation that requires certain people whom they consider to be troublesome to be eliminated, and the beautiful Villanelle is a professional killing machine and she does her job, never stopping to query the ethics or the rights and wrongs of her work.  Actually, neither did I, very much.

A gripping story.  Well written.  Fast paced.  Two great female characters.

What’s not to love?

 Thoroughly recommended, and you can buy it here, right now.

Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings

Having just this week discovered the wonderful writer Luke Jennings, I have also discovered something called a Kindle single.

Mr. Jennings has published 2 Kindle Singles, and I read “Codename Villanelle” in one Sunday afternoon sitting, and am now hooked, on both the format and what I hope is going to be a nice long series of Villanelle books.

(Just downloaded Book 2 in the series, so that’s promising.)

Right, for any of you who might not know what a Kindle single is, here you go, courtesy of good old Wikipedia :

“A Kindle single is a type of e-book which is published through Amazon.com. It is specifically intended as a format for novella-length nonfiction literature or long-form journalism. The name “single” comes from musical singles which are shorter in length and contain fewer tracks than EP albums.”

And now for the story, which is a fast paced crime novel(-ella) featuring an attractive, clever young woman, who just happens to be a highly-trained assassin.

Born in Russia, Oxana Voronstsova is a girl with a tragic family life and a distinctly flawed personality (though how much of the latter is due to her childhood, who knows…).  Vicious remand homes, and a life in prison for murder await her, until she is plucked from all this horror by a shadowy organisation, trained in every combat skill possible, and then sent on missions to eliminate whoever she is ordered to kill.

Oxana/Villanelle doesn’t waste any time in metaphysical arguments about the rights and wrongs of killing.  She has been rescued from the awful life that awaited her.  She is paid to do a job.  She does it.  And disappears.

A mistress of languages and disguise, a brilliant shot, this young woman with a voracious (though short-term) sexual appetite, looks set to become a fabulous new character for us all to love.

In “Codename Villanelle” her target is a ruthless and cruel Mafia boss in Sicily, and I won’t spoil the details of the plot, but suffice it to say it’s totally gripping and the end is…no.  Not going to spoil it…

As with “Beauty Story” the quality of the writing is excellent (as opposed to the equally excellent story line).

And now, let me get started straight away on Book 2.

Highly recommended.

Download this book on your Kindle right now and enjoy. Help is below, so you can order the e-book and, if you don’t already have one, a Kindle.

GOD IS A GAMER by RAVI SUBRAMANIAN

What a very clever and intriguing whodunnit this book is.  A financial thriller, involving banking (yes, indeed, banking of all things) and gaming and bitcoins and politics and death and love  – and the whole combo makes for a great read.

This is the second book by Mr. Subramanian that I have been asked to review, and one thing is patently clear  –  the writer has got himself a way better editor this time round.  When I reviewed “The Bankster” I commented on the poor editing that did Mr. Subramanians’s fine writing  no favours.

No such issues this time round.

So, the story.  I can’t tell you anthing about the ins and outs of the plot, now can I, since this is, after all, a story involving murder and crime on a massive scale, so any plot spoilers would be, well, just downright criminal.

Mumbai, Washington DC, New York, Goa –  the action shifts between these places, involving a cast of Indians and Americans.  The story unfolds in short crisply written chapters, as we explore worlds that were totally unknown to me before  – the worlds of gaming and of bitcoins.  “God is a Gamer” reveals to us the highest levels of finance and politics, top secret computing and the virtual bitcoin economy.  The story centres around high-level technology, but manages not to baffle the reader.  Take me, for example – I knew next to nothing about gaming and bitcoins –  and yet never felt excluded from the story.  Enough was explained to bring me up to speed, without the storyline being slowed down.  Good writing, if ever there was.

The gradual drawing together of all the different threads in this tangled, dangerous, intercontinental web – politics and romance and computing and terrorism and murder and the FBI and banking – is cleverly done.  But I can’t tell you how or why, or it would spoil a great story.

If I have one teensy weensy caveat, it is that the end seems rushed.  Throughout the book, the writer maintains a detailed pace, leading us slowly and carefully ever deeper and deeper into the dark heart of his story, and then all of a sudden, it’s over.  There’s a quick bit of mopping-up in the epilogue, telling us which characters went where and did what and where they ended up, but I felt a bit cheated.  I would much rather have had a longer read, and no quick wrapping up.

But there is one great twist, right at the end.  Really clever.

 

I certainly learned a lot from this novel, because of course I googled bitcoins and TOR and Satoshi Nakamoto.

And they all exist.

Which makes me wonder, of course, what else and who else also really exists outside the pages of this book…

 

Recommended.

 

Just published by Penguin, the paperback of “God is a Gamer” costs Rs299 (real money, not bitcoins).

If you would like to read the book now, having read this review, it couldn’t be simpler.  

Just click on one of the links below :


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KILLING ASHISH KARVE by SALIL DESAI

I am sent quite a number of books by Indian authors to review, and like everything in life I guess, some are good, some are bad and some are downright indifferent.

And some are, quite frankly, so badly written that I battle to read them.  It is a mistake to think that just because most educated Indians speak fabulous English, that this automatically translates into fabulously well-written prose.

I won’t mention names, but a quick perusal through some reviews on this blog will give you an idea what I am talking about.

And so it was with great delight that I read Salil Desai’s “Killing Ashish Karve”, a murder whodunnit that is flawlessly well-written and is a completely gripping story with twists and turns right until the dying moments of the book.

Now, of course, the trouble with reviewing a murder mystery is that you can (for obvious reasons) hardly discuss the plot in any detail, so suffice it to say that one Ashish Karve is found dead in his car in Pune, and the police now have a mammoth task on their hands, trying to fathom out what happened.  The dead man’s family close ranks, in their own fractious, splintered way, and the police face an uphill battle, to get contemptuous and patronising middle class citizens to co-operate with them.  The desire to hush things up is a leitmotiv running though this novel, making the whodunnit aspect of the story even more intriguing.

I was gripped from the first, clever chapter.

The writer has a wry turn of phrase and is clearly a keen observer of people.  I have rarely read an Indian author who made me smile as much as Mr. Desai did.

We first encounter Senior Inspector Saralkar at his grouchiest :

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This is a man who has little patience for “unadulterated spiritual tripe,” as he grumpily describes his Secrets of Living course, and who is itching to be back doing proper police work.

Some of this police work admittedly involves winding up his long-suffering subordinate officer, Inspector Motkar, who is being driven to distraction by his son’s academic laziness and –  as he later realises – his own softly softly approach to parenting.

Saralkar can be ironic:

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And at times a tad too philosophical for Motkar:

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Mr. Desai has an unerring eye for people, their mannerisms and their verbal (and behavioural) tics:

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We meet a cast of urban characters who are all keenly observed, united only in their desire to keep the police out of every aspect of their lives.  As we are led deeper into the heart of this mystery, we encounter violence, prejudice and anger…but I really shouldn’t delve any deeper, for fear of spoiling the plot of this great read for you.

 

I have only one or two teensy caveats.

1) Why was the original title “The Body in the Backseat” not retained?

2)  I think Mr. Desai could dispense with some exclamation marks.  His writing is strong enough not to need them :

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3)  I would have described Indubai as a “care giver” not a caretaker.  But that may just be an indian English thing.  And it is a totally unimportant detail.

 

Thoroughly enjoyed the book.

Personally recommended.

And if you feel like buying “Killing Ashish Karve” now, after reading this, it couldn’t be easier.  Just click on the link below:

THE SILKWORM by ROBERT GALBRAITH

I read the first Cormoran Strike mystery while sitting in a tent at high altitude in Ladakh, on a climbing expedition last August.

I have just read the second in the series, “The Silkworm” while sitting in a tent at high altitude in Ladakh, on a climbing expedition this August etc etc

Just thought I’d share the scene setting with you.

I had eagerly looked forward to the second book, having loved “The Cuckoo’s Calling” and yet again, the author does not disappoint.  This is another cliff hanger of a whodunit, with the final unravelling of a macabre, baffling, literary infused investigation only happening in the dying seconds of the book.

Cormoran Strike is, as ever, hugely likeable –  he is a big man in every sense of the word –  in size, appetite, honesty, integrity.  His amputated leg (the result of an explosion in Afghanistan) is a very powerful and frequent factor in his life, hurting him, making him weaker than he would like to be – and therefore very angry at his own weakness.

His assistant Robin get more and more likeable by the minute and I for one harbour the hope that she might finally leave her impossibly good-looking but unbearably pompous fiancé Matthew, for…who knows…I had my hopes up at one point in the book, but by the end was not too sure anymore. Robin appears to have forced the arrogant Matthew to accept the worth of her job, so who knows?

The plot of “The Silkworm” revolves around a particularly grisly murder of a has-been author whom no one appears to like very much, but whose posthumous work “Bombyx Mori” manages to ridicule and caste aspersions on just about everyone in London’s tight-knit, gossipy, bitchy literary world.

We meet writers and wannabe writers, literary agents, publishers, and everything unfolds against the powerful backdrop of London, very much a character in its own right.  The buses, the tube,  the taxis, the pubs, the freezing winter weather – London is beautifully portrayed…

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You can feel the cold, and you savour the glorious views…

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I thoroughly enjoyed “The Silkworm”, ensconced in my tent against the howling Himalayan winds but not, if I’m honest, quite as much as “The Cuckoo’s Calling” which I loved.

Having said that, can’t wait for the next Cormoran Strike mystery.

And yes, how right you are – no plot spoilers.  I would never do that to you.

 

If you wish to order the book/e-book, nothing could be simpler. Just click on one of the links, below:

 

PRIVATE INDIA by Ashwin Sanghi and James Patterson

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

I was so looking forward to reading and reviewing this book.  I have read one of Mr. Sanghi’s books (click here for the link to my review of The Krishna Key) but to my shame (well, I imagine it is to my shame…) I have read nothing of Mr. Patterson, but the hype around the book made me confident that there would be a non-stop amazing storyline and drama galore.

But it was not to be.

This book read and felt like the collaboration it is. Trying to please two readerships at once can’t be easy, and it shows. There is lots of fairly straight to the point gritty stuff about Mumbai for we Indian residents, and then fairly prosey bits about the British colonial era and the Thugee cult and the criminal tribes – all for the firang readers, I image, but the 2 styles sit ill together.

I can’t really imagine the average Mumbaiker waving a Rs50 note as an incentive to a cabbie to get him to the Asiatic Society quickly so he can look up a reference book about Durga Puja…wouldn’t they just google it on their smart phone?

I imagine the short sentences and the even shorter chapters are designed to build up a feeling of urgency, as the staff of Private India try to catch a serial killer who is on the loose in Mumbai.  But all the choppiness, and teensy chapters, and switching of narrator’s voice, just made me feel there was too much superficial drama without much substance.

We have a pretty standard cast of Indian characters as imagined for a foreign readership, I presume – intrepid private detectives, corrupt cops, gangsters, god men, celebrity hairdressers, betel-chewing prostitutes, yoga teachers, Bollywood star – pretty much everyone a foreigner might well imagine should people the crowded streets of Mumbai.
Very few normal folk, though.  You know, the normal people who would google something rather than dash through the streets to a colonial era library, waving a spare Rs50…
And for all that Mumbai is the backdrop to this whodunnit, the city doesn’t somehow feel all that real. Although the killings take place in the lead up to Navratri (a major Hindu festival), somehow the noise and the crowds, and yet again the sheer noise, and the bustle and 24-hour crowdedness of Bombay never take centre stage. Rather we dash around from one locale to the other, without really getting to grips with Bombay. I think the city could have been a fabulous character in her own right, rather than the stereotypical backdrop.

The opening chapters are exciting.  Ditto the concluding chapters. But there’s a great big saggy-bordering-on-repetitive-section in the middle of the book that deserves to be pepped up.

Conclusion?  “Private India” is a fun read, nothing more.

And for me there was an undeniable sense of disappointment that the hype and the collaborative writing have not risen to the occasion.  This book could have been super, but it falls short.

 

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If you would like to order this book, it couldn’t be easier.  Just click on any of the links below and order it online.  Go on, it’s worth a read!


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