THE STRONGMAN’S DAUGHTER by Madhuri Iyer

We are living in interesting times here in India, ever since the government decided to wage a high-profile campaign against black money, but – everyone believes – actually aimed at political opposition.  Which means that the just-published novel, “The Strongman’s Daughter” is deliciously bang up-to-date.

For in the character of Vithalrao Narvekar, the corrupt, domineering, larger than life Chief Minister of Goa, we have the perfect example of what is perceived to be wrong with so much of India’s political system.  Money greases the corrupt wheels of governance, the environment is wrecked for profit, money is looted from the public coffers, siphoned off, stashed away…Ms Iyer tells it as it is, making her novel totally credible.

But this novel only has corruption and strongman politics as part of its plot.  Set against all this illegal money and power-play is the 21 year old daughter of the Chief Minister, an idealistic young girl, just graduated, and eager to live life and to love life, on her own terms.

Her father, used to getting his own way in all things, decides that Aditi will enter politics and get married.  And when she refuses both options, all hell breaks loose.

This is a fun read – love story, clash of wills, politics, dirty business as usual –  and all set against the pretty backdrop of Goa, one of India’s most laid back places.

There are some unexpected twists to the story, which I won’t share for fear of spoiling the book for you.

Very enjoyable, although it’s a bit of a sad reflection on the state of Indian politics that you, the reader, feel so familiar with the lies and money and bullying that make up Vithalrao Narvekar’s DNA.  Ms Iyer has him down to a T, the archetypal overweight, calculating politician, trampling over everyone (including his only child) to get what he wants.

A modern Goan love story with a strong political background – great fun.

Published by the young, energetic publishing house of Fingerprint! (with an !), The Strongman’s Daughter costs Rs 250 in paperback.

If you want to order it now, it couldn’t be easier.  Just click on the link…you know the rest!

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).

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The Sea of Innocence by Kishwar Desai

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I first discovered the talented author Kishwar Desai and her eminently likeable heroine Simran Singh, in “Witness the Night” which I reviewed in 2011.  So I was thrilled to be sent a copy of Ms Desai’s latest novel “The Sea of Innocence” and asked to review it.

Simran Singh really is an engaging heroine and in this bang up to date novel – it takes place over New Year 2012/2013 with the horrors of the Dec 16th Delhi gang-rape case as a leitmotiv – we meet our feisty, middle-aged, smoking, drinking, slightly overweight heroine as she holidays in Goa.

Now, I haven’t been to Goa in aeons –  well, in about 22 years – so that means that it will have changed out of all recognition.  20 years in post liberal-economy India usually means a major change and –  dare I say it –  not always for the better.  So the Goa I knew –  sleepy, very few tourists, one restaurant worth its salt, 2 good hotels –  is, I know, hopelessly out of date.

Simran goes through the same experience :

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I fully empathise.

But, my word, the Goa of “The Sea of Innocence” is an edgy, not very nice place at all.  Beneath the holiday veneer of beach shacks and playing on the beach, of swimming and buying sarongs, there is a seething underworld of drugs, sex, gambling and worse.  Ms Desai brings this parallel world out of the shadows and into the limelight with devastating force.

Simran and her adopted daughter are in Goa for their Christmas and New Year break, with a brief to relax, unwind and spend some quality time together, but events soon overtake them.  Simran, in her role of social worker (and pretty smart investigator) becomes embroiled in a murder case that leads her deeper and deeper into the murky underbelly of Goa.

Ms Desai is an accomplished writer and the story grabs you by the throat from the very first sentence, and  the pace and suspense never let up until the closing paragraph.  Obviously I am not going to be a spoil sport and reveal too much of the plot and certainly not the ending, but there were twists and turns that caught me unawares right until the final pages, making this an addictive read.

The suspected rape of a young British girl – not Scarlett Keeling, though this poor child is referred to many times in the novel – takes place against the backdrop of sea and sun, whilst back in Simran (and this reviewer’s) home town, Delhi, the city explodes in cold, wintery anger at the horrors of December 16th :

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Though the topic is grim, the story has many moments of lightheartedness and the descriptions of Goa are great fun.

Ms Desai  –  through Simran –  often compares the Goa of January 2013 to the Goa that she (and I ) knew 20 odd years ago.  Compared to the hidden ruthlessness of Goa circa 2013, the Goa of ageing Western hippies like Stanley seems positively innocent.  Guitar strumming under a banyan tree and smoking joints in the forest seem benign compared to the tawdriness of offshore floating casinos.  And yet how freaky those self-same hippies seemed 20 years ago…

Stanley, who lives in an apparent drug induced haze most of the book, is shown to be more than aware of the ravages of what passes for progress in India :

 

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A good read.

Thoroughly recommended.

And, yet again, let me repeat what I said in my review of “Witness the Night” –  I do like Simran Singh very much indeed.

Published in late April 2103 by Simon & Schuster, the paperback costs Rs 350 in India.

Now, having read this review, if you would like to but the book, nothing could be simpler. Just click on any of the links below :