Crime thriller

Keepers of Kalachakra [Book Review]

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Rating: 2/5

Having set a very high bar with his previous works- Chanakya’s Chant, The Krishna’s Key and The Sialkot Saga, popular writer Ashwin Sanghi is back with Keepers of Kalachakra, a grand mixture of History, Mythology and Science (HMS). Dan Brown is the master of this combination and Ashwin Sanghi has tried to pull a Dan Brown here. Was he successful?

Before going into the story, I have to say I was highly excited for this book. One, I love Dan Brown’s works. Two, I love Ashwin Sanghi’s works as well. When the ratings and reviews for this book were very positive, my hopes went up even more high.

Honestly, it was an agonizing experience. 

I feel really frustrated, sad and guilty for not liking this book. I could sense the immense hardwork and effort put in by the author to produce something miraculous. It may be something miraculous for many others, but not for me. From the word go, I couldn’t connect to the story. I couldn’t understand the base plot. To make things worse, every chapter seemed to introduce a character and the number seemed never ending. As I said before, I have read and enjoyed Dan Brown and I know his works had more complex descriptions (which I have skipped at times) compared to Keepers of Kalachakra. But the problem was, in every story using HMS, there is at least one main character who is ignorant about the subjects and the wise character explains the concepts in simple words to him/her. In KoK, every character is a genius and I, who is not very well versed in Science, couldn’t understand head or tail. It was like a school text book where scientists were quoted and experiments were discussed. I wasn’t ready to read the same page twice or thrice. Having said that, I applaud the author for taking so much pain to put everything together. It mustn’t have been easy and I get that.

I don’t know what I can say about the story. I completed the book, but I am still not greatly sure about the plot. So- I’ll leave it there. I am not going into it. It’s just that I am so disappointed for not enjoying this one.

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Tell No One [Book Review]

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Rating: 4/5

Tell No One

This phrase appears so many times in the book but at the most appropriate places. Written by Harlan Coben, this story is so intriguing, so thrilling that this is the definition of unputdownable. 

Dr David Beck is still mourning the loss of his wife, Elizabeth. It’s been 8 years. Childhood friends turned lovers turned husband-wife, they were inseparable. One night at their cabin by a lake, their anniversary turns into horror when both of them are attacked with Elizabeth abducted. After 5 days, she is found killed, killed by a serial killer- Killroy. Case is closed but Beck never overcomes the grief. After 8 years, Beck receives an email which cites everything personal to him and Elizabeth making him wonder if Elizabeth was alive. With more emails, he is convinced his wife is alive. Two more bodies are found near the cabin which reopens the case. Beck questions Elizabeth’s father, a cop, about the body he identified and when he stammers, Beck is sure Elizabeth is alive and sets out to find her. Griffin Scope, father of Brandon Scope, sends his hitmen to close all loose ends connecting to the night at the cabin. Why? He wants to avenge his son’s death. Why? During Beck’s quest to find Elizabeth, he nearly gets arrested and later abducted only to be saved by his friends. Who wants to kill him? Same people who attacked him on that night? Why? And why has Elizabeth taken 8 years to contact her husband when she was alive? Elizabeth’s father- he has all the answers. 

This story has to be one of the best I have ever read, story-wise. Seriously. It is filled with mystery, thrill, suspicion and keeps you spinning theories. It’s fast and doesn’t waver from the plot. It has the occasional unnecessary description which I skipped as the story was too intense to waste time on descriptions. Sorry, author. The characters are simple and easy to connect to. You don’t have to turn back pages to understand who is who. The 2nd half of the book is the best. One of the best thrillers I have read in recent times. 

My first Harlan Coben wasn’t impressive, but this one compensates for that. A must read. 

Crooked House [Book Review]

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Rating: 3.5/5

It’s getting increasingly difficult to review Agatha Christie’s works for me nowadays. Not that I am not enjoying reading her book. There is no doubt, she is still one of my favorite authors, and perhaps my all time favorite in the genre of crime. The Queen of Crime. At the same time, I have read so much of her, understood her writing so much that she has become kind of predictable. I felt the same when I used to read Sidney Sheldon. Christie’s works always involve a bunch of people; I should say suspects; a very interesting victim, and an investigator- Poirot, Marple or someone else, having lengthy, multiple but interesting conversations and deducing the killer at the end. 

Inspite of the predictability, I still look forward to read her books. One- it’s always a quick read. Two- her characters are very intriguing. The same applies to Crooked House. This book is one of Christie’s many stand-alone works. Aristride Leonide, the head of the Leonides, gets murdered through poisoning. Naturally, every member of the family becomes a suspect. Charles, who is in love with the granddaughter of Aristride, Sophia, is urged by her to solve the case. What follows is Charles having conversations with various members of the family, putting together a timeline, analysing if there is a motive for anyone to kill Aristride. And like any murder mystery, another murder takes place and the pieces are put together pointing at the killer. I think I should admit, the ending was very poignant. 

I liked certain parts very much. Aristride mentioning at the family meeting that injecting his eyedrops instead of insulin can kill him, and he gets killed the very same way. Josephine, Sophia’s little sister, playing Sherlock Holmes and always being ahead of Charles and the police in the investigation. Doubts falling on almost everyone, including Sophia. The mystery behind the will. All these things got me through the book. But, yes, this wouldn’t fall into my Top 10 Agatha Christie’s books. 

One step closer to reading all AC’s works. That’s all that matters. 

 

Origin [Book Review]

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Rating: 4/5

Dan Brown is back with another one of his signature history meets science thriller with his prominent central character, Robert Langdon. To be honest, I wasn’t mad about his last work, Inferno, and definitely was hugely disappointed with The Lost Symbol. Yet, I love the way he sets his story, the locations and the treasure hunt kind of plot. Origin is no different. To my relief, I enjoyed the book very much and felt Brown clicked all the boxes with this. 

Origin begins with Edmond Kirch, a prominent computer scientist, in meeting with three important religious leaders, sharing findings of his recent research. The end of the meeting leaves the leaders baffled. To their surprise and fear, Kirch announces to the world that he was about to present certain findings that will change the entire living system. Lavishly planned in an extravagant museum in Spain, Kirch invites several popular dignitaries, including Langdon, and makes full use of technology to reach every corner of the world. With specialized automated guide to every invitee, Robert meets Winston. You just can’t stop loving Winston. I wish I could have one in my life! A disastrous incident at the presentation puts Langdon, and Ambra Vidal, head of the museum in a treasure hunt to find the location of Kirch’s presentation with minimal clues. (Guess what happens to Kirch!) What is Kirch’s findings? Who wanted to sabotage the event and make sure the findings aren’t made public? Does Langdon and Vidal escape safely from the problems at the end? 

Brown’s first sixer is bringing in the most argued topic in the world – Theists Vs Agnostics Vs Atheists. I jumped in joy when this topic was touched. I was highly excited knowing Kirch’s findings revolved on this. But at the end? I was left frustrated and disappointed. For one, the findings were too scientific for my understanding. I didn’t see the point why Kirch didn’t want the leaders to completely know his findings. 

I have always loved Langdon especially when he goes into his historical mode. He is a genius. His interaction with Winston and Vidal were very nicely written. His adventures are getting interesting and dangerous over the years. I wish we could get more into his character. I feel a lot more depth, a personal case, would do great things for the book. 

One of the main reasons I loved this book more than the last two is its pace. The narration was crisper and the story moved at a good speed throughout. The historical description were really interesting and up to the point. It didn’t go beyond unnecessary. I didn’t feel like skipping pages like I did for The Lost Symbol. The number of characters were limited as well which helped in keeping track of every parallel story. But, I wasn’t greatly impressed with the parallel stories. Didn’t make any contribution to the actual story. I liked the mystery behind the anonymous tipper but nothing more.

Looking at Inferno and now Origin, Brown seems to have delved into science more than symbols and history. I really missed Langdon’s decoding and the connections with historical monuments and religion. There were no great revelation moments either. The ending was quite predictable as there weren’t many suspects to look at. I know the review might sound a lot more complaining than appreciating, especially looking at the high rating, but these are just small disappointments of mine which I wish were better executed. 

Origin is a good read- very adventurous. It has very good suspenseful moments and the connection with history and science makes it even more worth reading.

 

Standing in Another Man’s Grave [Book Review]

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Rating: 3/5

This book is a usual police procedural. I remember having liked the TV version of this series. John Rebus, the central character, is the driving force. What I like the most is that the plot is both character driven and story driven. Standing in Another Man’s Grave works for me because it involves cold cases. I love cold cases as it’s the most difficult ones to solve. The cases would have transferred hands many times, facts distorted and the actual story blurred. 

John Rebus, now retired, haggard as ever, is part of a cold case unit. When he meets Nina Hazzlit, a mother in search of her missing daughter for 15 odd years, someone who brings to notice that few recent missing persons case could be connected to her daughter’s disappearance, Rebus contacts DI Siobhan, his ex colleague and puts forward his theories. Siobhan is initially skeptical as Rebus is someone known for his off the book handling of cases and she is ambitious to climb the career ladder. But considering the seriousness of the cases, both of them get down to working together, Rebus in a civilian consultant capacity. 

The case in itself has a very interesting background especially the fact that a photo was sent from two of the missing girl’s phone to her friends, identical photo. The best part of a police procedural is the gradual progress in solving the cases, overcoming the random obstacles thrown their way. The supporting characters are interesting, but lacked depth. Rebus being friendly with the “bad” guys, his motive behind was a little confusing. May be because I haven’t read any of the previous books, I didn’t get his character then. The Compliance committee being behind Rebus started off interesting but fizzled out at the end. 

I loved 3/4th of the book especially the part where the case gets transferred to another team and bodies being found in a field, etc. I also liked how Nina’s daughter’s case ended. But the last few chapters weren’t gritty enough. The revelation of the kidnapper/murderer wasn’t impressive, and the ending was absolutely bad. There were no big wow moments. This case deserved a better ending. On the whole, it was an engaging read but disappointing at the end.

I have the next Ian Rankin’s book ready on my TBR. I remember watching Resurrection Man and loving it. I hope the next book lives up to my expectation. 

 

In the Name of God [Book Review]

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Rating: 4/5

Year: 2017

It’s really difficult to find a good Indian thriller. From the experience of having read quite a few number of Indian books in this crime/thriller genre, I find it safe to say that it is heavily clouted by Television/films. The characters and the plots are too filmy and the central character is undoubtedly highly heroic. The story is as always taken for granted and loads of loopholes are left unattended. Breaking the above norms, author Ravi Subramanian has given the readers brilliant thrillers, set in India, with the plot, characters and background as authentic as possible. It is a shame that I have read only one work of his previous, The Bankster, but I remember enjoying it thoroughly, even surprised that an Indian author has been able to come up with such a good crime thriller.

In the Name of God is predominantly set in the backgrounds of Kerala, specifically the very popular, and if I may add, and the very rich Anantha Padmanabha Swamy temple. The central idea behind the book, with respect to the narration, is having various storylines running in tandem and connecting them at the end. Hence, first, the story begins in Dubai, where the jewellery shop at the Wafi Mall is attacked by a bunch of thieves, one of whom leaves behind a clue which sets the ball rolling from Dubai to India. Kabir Khan, CBI is invested with this case. Simultaneously, we have a bomb blast in Mumbai at Zaveri Bazaar, the acute center for all the top rated jewel designers. Nirav Choksi, a leading designer, leads the jewelers in the protest against moving to another building. At Kerala, Rajan wants the State to take control over the Anantha Padmanabha Swamy temple, seizing the powers from the current King and controller, Dharmaraja Varma. Rajan believes hidden malpractices are in motion, and lodges a case in the court, which he subsequently wins, but also which leads to a huge lot of chaos and riots from the King’s supporters. The court orders an audit team led by Vikram Rai to open the vaults and calculate the value of the treasures in it. When Rajan’s friend, Kannan is found murdered in the temple premises, Kabir Khan is presented with the case. All the above happenings are connected in some way. How?

Every case is written with extreme conviction that it’s very difficult to pick which one of them was the best. Of course, my point goes to the Padmanabha Swamy Temple Vault case since a lot of historical references are involved. The narration is very racy. The chapters are short, sometimes too short, but it jumped between cases and places at ease and clarity. The investigation process, how so many organisations are involved, how contacts are useful, how political pressure brakes the progress of the case, how religion seeps anywhere and everywhere- the author brilliantly yarns all the social factors into this story. The dilemma between truth and belief is subtly portrayed differently for different characters. The bringing together at the end was very nicely done, all stories covered and ended.

There were way too many characters, not to my liking honestly. Kabir Khan was exceptional. His passion for his work and his intelligence during the case investigation was very entertaining. I loved Krishnan. He represented most of the top ranking police officials. Bound by pressure from the top, helplessness over being unable take necessary steps for the case, adding to it his own personal life troubles. The rest of the characters had their own contributions to the story, no character was wasted.

The book works for most part of it. There wasn’t anything that nearly sabotaged the story. But there were certain things which I felt pulled the book back from being perfect. For one, I wasn’t really keen on having very short chapters. Even though it helped in having the story in fast forward mode, it contained me from involving myself into the story, like I didn’t really have the time to delve into the writer’s world. Way too many subplots, perhaps? Loads of clues open gates for several storylines and it becomes difficult to keep track of everything. For eg: Who opened Kannan’s Swiss account? The Madurai smuggling? Suthamalli theft? These may not have any bearing to the actual story, but these gates were opened and left open at the end. I wish the story still stayed on the Temple Vaults case, rather than drifting away into something completely different. Also, I admit, I wasn’t greatly impressed with the climax. The timelines got way too complicated and repetitive. I expected it to be much more.  But that is just me.

As a whole, In the Name of God is a fantastic read. It combines history, art, smuggling, terrorism, police- everything into one story, and with amazing clarity.

Page-turner!

 

Faceless Killers [Book Review]

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Rating: 3.5/5

Year: 1991

For the success of any book, series or a movie, the key is the central character. If you like or get down to love the lead, you naturally garner interest in knowing what happens to his or her life. The central character of this Henning Mankell series, Wallander, is a troubled, drunkard and an ordinary police officer, and yet there is something about him which glues you to read the books. I watched the TV adaptation of this series with Kenneth Branagh playing Wallander, before I started reading the books. I was pretty impressed with the TV series as it was a complete contrast to the usual cop procedural. As I said before, the lead character is not a likeable one. Yet, there is a good dosage of realism in the character portrayals which forces you to accept the flaws of the characters.

An elderly couple is brutally murdered in their farm and Wallander is assigned the case. When a clue points that the suspect could be a foreigner and when this detail leaks out to the press, a racist war breaks out where refugees gets targeted leading to more killings. Wallander, a disturbed middle aged police officer, with a troubled personal life, tries meticulously to balance his personal and professional life, mostly failing when he succumbs to drinking. But with a very capable team behind him, he navigates through the obstacles to solve the cases.

A little more on Wallander as the series seems to be more about the man than the cases per se. He is very sincere when it comes to his work but has a very muddled thought process. He struggles to prioritize his work. His wife has applied for divorce, his daughter lives independently and away from him and his father suffers from dementia. Now that’s more than a difficult personal life. Perhaps, it is this that becomes problematic with the story after a while. There is too much self pity and self loathing which isn’t very impressive for a police officer. I don’t mean to say that a policeman cannot have his own problems, but it just seems too much. His professional conduct, like his cleanliness for example is highly questionable and cringe worthy if I might add. On TV, Kenneth Branagh performed the character really well that I didn’t really hate him, but on paper, the character isn’t definitely impressive for me to worry about him.

Having said that and coming back to the story, the two cases are really interesting and the way the police works with the other departments and plan their course of action is commendable. The racist attack case takes predominance after a point even though the double murder case seems more interesting and contains more scope for a powerful story. I was waiting to see how they tie up the horse connection but was left disappointed with the answer.

The book is a Swedish series. Hence the character names and locations are in Swedish which causes huge trouble in understanding. The author has described the locations so beautifully well that I could feel the chillness of the cold and the soggy rain.

I wish the author had made Wallander a little more likeable especially considering this book is the first one in the series. Yet, as a whole, I really liked the story telling and want to see how Wallander breaks away from his depression and leads a normal life, become a normal person.