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.




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!

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at . Participate now to get free books!

The Krishna Key by Ashwin Sanghi

Is it wrong and/or patronising to compare one writer to another (more famous) one ?  I hope Mr.  Sanghi won’t take it amiss if I say that his novel reads rather like a desi Dan Brown.

History meets crime, ancient texts meet technology, with lots of chase scenes and action and drama and rushing at great speed from one end of India to the other.  Attractive history buff becomes reluctant super hero.

And everyone is super clever, super knowledgeable about subjects like mythology and numerology and Sanskrit shlokas and religion and ancient history.

I began the book on a long flight, and reading well over half of it in one long, uninterrupted go was good.  You get into the rhythm of the book, and the rather complicated plot is easier to follow.  Resuming the book once I was back home was more difficult, all that remembering what had happened and where we were in the plot.  You see, like a Dan Brown novel, you get swept away by the story, and the speed and the drama, and only question the logic afterwards.

The book tells the tale of a mystery surrounding the legend/history of Krishna, and the author, parallels the historical texts with his modern story, with each chapter opening with an extract from the Mahabharata.  Initially this was a clever device but I must confess to tiring of it after a while.  Since I am not familiar enough with the detail of the Mahabharata, I sometimes skipped the longer passages, but always for an ostensibly good reason, I assure you –  namely, to get back to the modern action-packed drama.

Because action there certainly is.

This is an India I have never seen or experienced.

A world of brilliant academics, of professional divers exploring lost cities off the Gujarat coast, of people who can fight and run and hire planes and escape from the police and it’s all jolly exciting.

The author is obviously hugely learned, and very passionate about his research, and wishes to share as much knowledge with us as possible.  This is admirable, but it does – oh dear, I do so hate to sound churlish –  but it does all get a bit too much at times.

There is simply just too much information.

Too many Vedic reference and mathematical puzzles that everyone seems able to solve.  Riddles and codes and ancient texts that everyone seems able to understand instinctively.  Perhaps it’s sour grapes on my part but much of the time, I felt distinctly stupid reading this book, because I know I would have been useless at helping the handsome historian Ravi Mohan Saini solve his pan-India mystery.

The downside of trying to give his readers so much information is that oftentimes Mr. Sanghi’s characters speak in less than authentic sounding voices.

Take a conversation like the one below, for example…


Still, it’s a gripping plot, with one very clever twist half-way through which I am absolutely not going to tell you, as it will ruin the book for you.

I enjoyed the book, I truly did, and wanted to know what happened, but at times there was just too much information to absorb.

Published in 2102 by Westland, the paperback costs Rs 250.

Having read my review, should you wish to buy this book, here is the link…

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!