Crime thriller

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.

The Kind Worth Killing [Book Review]

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Rating: 4/5

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Psychological thrillers have increasingly become very popular in the last few years. With Gone Girl turning into a massive hit, there has been a heavy rush of books set in the same genre. I am probably one of those who couldn’t complete Gone Girl in spite of being enthralled by the suspense. I ended up watching the movie to know the ending. Anyway, The Kind Worth Killing is almost very similar to Gone Girl. It’s a revenge saga and every chapter gives account of the happenings from each character’s perspective and as a reader, we need to deduce which one of them is narrating the truth, start reading between the lines and understand that each one of them is leaving out certain details which would entrap them. I really enjoyed reading this book though at the end I felt like, “What a sad and devious story! Sadistic!”

Ted Severson meets Lily, a complete stranger to him, at the airport and begins talking to her about his personal life over drinks. He confesses that his wife was having an affair and how he craves to see her dead. Lily, out of the blue, offers to help him carry out the murder! Insane, right? We then get to know the background life of Lily, how she had always led a lonely life and how she had already committed murders to save herself, how she felt happy after every murder! Ted and Lily meet few more times to discuss their plans. What happens next? Does Ted and Lily succeed in killing Miranda, Ted’s wife? Above that, do they get away with the murder?

As with any thriller, the success lies with the impact of the turning points and how it takes the readers off guard. There were quite a good amount of those moments in this book which makes it really exciting and engaging. Though after a point, I admit it became a routine, predicatable. The author has definitely given a very air tight story. I loved how Lily’s mind worked and how she always made sure all the loose ends are tied. Miranda’s character was a surprise and I am sure who have read the book would understand what I mean. The book doesn’t give a pleasant feeling at the end though. It’s not a pleasant read. There is a lot of wickedness in every character and you realize you don’t like any of the characters in the book. You don’t feel sad and have any sort of sympathy for anyone. May be, that’s what psychological thrillers are all about?

The author has done a very good job in building suspense throughout the book. As a reader, I understood the psychology of every character and the reasons behind their actions. The murky rainy weather added a lot of character to the story. The fact that Lily and Miranda have crossed paths in the past and how that had sowed the intent of revenge was clever work. Having read a good amount of psychological thrillers, I realize I don’t really enjoy them much. But for the ones who love reading this genre, this book is definitely a very entertaining one.

The Murder at the Vicarage [Book Review]

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Rating: 4/5

Year: 1930

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I have no qualms in admitting that I am a hardcore Agatha Christie, specially a huge Hercule Poirot fan. One of my main reading goals is to complete reading every Agatha Christie work and I am slowly working my way through it too. One of the mind blocks I am facing is to enter the Miss Marple series of the author. I faced huge disappointment reading The Caribbean Mystery, as the lead detective Miss Marple was neither as clever nor as interesting as Poirot. I had heard a lot of good things about this book, The Murder at the Vicarage. Since I had replenished all the Agatha Christie books I had on my shelf, I picked this one up. I wasn’t disappointed.

The Murder at the Vicarage, like all Christie’s books, has a murder, a list of suspects, clues and timelines, and Miss Marple successfully solving it with her deduction and theories. The premise was no different or extremely interesting when compared to the author’s best works. Yet, this book works because of its setting and few of the characters.

Colonel Lucius Prothoroe, a strict disciplinarian, not liked by many in the town, slightly hearing impaired, is found dead it the study of the Vicar- Leonard Clement. A list of suspects is immediately drawn.

1. Lawrence Redding- a young artist having an affair with Mrs Prothoroe.

2. Mrs Prothoroe- wife of Colonel Prothoroe, wanting to break from the shackles of her husband.

3. Lettice Prothoroe- daughter of the Colonel Prothoroe, a sad young girl wanting to lead a life of her own without her father’s interference

4. Mrs Lestrange – new in the neighbourhood, a strange woman with a secret history unknown to anyone

5. An outsider

Clement meets an agitated and confused Redding on his way to his study before he finds the dead Colonel. Even before he could lay his doubts on Redding, Redding himself surrenders to the police for committing the murder, only that he couldn’t have killed the Colonel. Dr Haydock’s findings and Redding’s own movements and alibi prove he couldn’t have committed the crime. Then who did it? Why did Redding surrender himself?

If you had seen the premise, there is no Miss Marple around. In a way, Miss Marple’s presence in the book is too few and that might be one of the reasons why this book worked for me. Most of the investigation is carried out by the Vicar Clement, Inspector Slack and Redding himself. Miss Marple, who is a part of the neighborhood, offers her theories and observations in between. We have statements gathered from everyone in the neighborhood to fix the timeline of both the deceased and all the suspects. We know someone is lying, and as a reader I was conducting my own investigation with all the clues presented. The character psychology was established so well I was trying to get into each one’s head, to measure each one’s need to see the Colonel dead. The victory for the author was I couldn’t get into her head. I could feel Clement’s frustration when the statements and the actual happenings don’t add up. Having read so many works of Christie’s, adding to that the numerous other crime fictions, I had a list of options for the culprit and the reasons for the murder. The actual ending did manage to be one of them making me feel a little proud but that doesn’t take away the intelligence of the author.

I loved how every character did have a motive to kill the Colonel. It’s a matter of weighing every motive. There was a point where I even suspected the Vicar, (Can’t forget The Murder of Roger Ackroyd). The plan maps of the Vicarage and the neighborhood helped in visualizing the physical premise of the story. The only problem I had with this book was Miss Marple. Alright, I accept Jane Marple can’t be another Hercule Poirot but I expected a little bit of more extraordinaire from her, just to make her stand out from normal human beings. I felt this book could have been a fantastic standalone if they had made Clement solve the entire case. It would have made no difference. I am not sure if I would pick another Miss Marple anytime soon. But that’s just the character.

The case and the book as a whole was excellent. Enjoyed reading Agatha Christie after a long time.

 

 

Career of Evil [Book Review]

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Rating: 2/5

What’s in a name, right? Does it matter if she writes under a different name, a pseudonym- Robert Galbriath? It’s J.K.Rowling! My level of excitement for every work of hers has no bounds. Harry Potter would eternally be my most favourite and inspirational work I have ever read. I don’t think this choice of mine is ever going to change. I am sure it’s the same case with many. When she came up with the Coromoran Strike series, I jumped in joy especially because she was plunging into crime. What more do I need? J.K.Rowling is my inspiration. Hence, it’s really awkward and probably even inappropriate for me to actually review her work. Can I? I want to. Setting the author aside, I decided to review the book for what it actually is.

To be really honest, though it breaks my heart to accept this, Robert Galbriath isn’t as entertaining as J.K.Rowling. I know it’s really unfair to compare the Coromoran Strike series with THE Harry Potter series- for one- the genre is extremely different. It’s very evident that JKR wanted to try something very different, to break her shackles from her original style and create a different identity for herself- probably the reason behind using the pseudonym. But I feel, somewhere, something is extremely wrong at the basic level. Is it the characters or the plot or the narration- it’s extremely difficult to figure out.

Career of Evil is the third book in the Coromoran Strike series after The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm. It follows the adventures of a sober private investigator, Coromoran Strike, an ex-army man who lost his left leg on duty, and his secretary cum assistant cum partner, Robin Ellacot, a smart young woman with huge interest in detection and investigation. I read the first two books within a few months of its release. I have to admit, I don’t remember much about either of the cases- almost nothing. It’s a boon that the books aren’t connected in any way except for the leads. I vaguely remember enjoying the first book, intrigued by the case of the second book, but both the books didn’t engage me completely till the end. I purchased Career of Evil nearly 6 months ago but something stopped me from picking it up. May be because I had better options on my shelf. I pushed myself to pick this book in spite of being weary of its size. Nearly 500 pages- definitely lesser than Game of Thrones, but yet.

To be fair, this book isn’t a “bad” one but it isn’t good either. It would be wrong of me to even use the word bad or even mediocre. I could feel the hard work and honesty behind this work. Robin is facing troubles with her fiancé, Mathew, who doubts her relationship with her boss, Strike. Though Robin clears it many a times that there is nothing between them, Mathew isn’t convinced. There are lot of arguments and friction as the day to their wedding approaches. Amidst this, Robin is sent a box with a left leg of a girl. No surprises, she is shaken. Strike is highly worried- no surprise. Robin can’t stop wondering the connection between the boxed leg and the fact that her boss is amputated with the same leg. Strike accepts the weird connection and lists down three names who could have done this to get back at him- to take revenge. Two from his past career and one from his family. Brockbank and Laing from his career and Whittaker from his family, his step father who allegedly killed his mother. Robin and Strike launches three separate lines of investigation. They also have two ongoing petty investigations which they can’t suspend as they are the only source of income to their business. Separate stories for Brockbank, Laing and Whittaker are narrated making the readers initiate their own investigation based on the psychology of the three suspects. The police, led by Wardle have their own investigation too. The story is set very well, I didn’t feel any kind of a stretch till probably 350 pages. But after that, I could feel the impatience burning in me.

350 pages done and yet the case seems to have no kind of a progress. I felt stuck with the same incidents, Robin and Mathew’s problems, Strike’s dilemma over Robin and his own love life, etc. We have the past of the suspects repeated again and again. At a point I felt Robin to be more involved in the case that Strike. Strike is a very interesting character no doubt but he is too dull and uncertain in this book. We are given three suspects, neither of them are interesting enough! They have the motive and the capability to perform gruesome acts, but- as a reader, I wanted to have more connection, perhaps more inclination towards the suspects in hand. During the entire time, I felt the murderer wasn’t any of the three as I didn’t feel them to be one. It’s a shame but I began skipping loads of portions as I wanted more action, something to happen in the story- which happened way at the end and in the most disappointing manner. We have chapters from the murderer’s point of view too, his obsession with Robin and his need to kidnap her and cause her pain, a way to get back at Strike. I felt this would be the opportunity to develop Robin and Strike’s relationship. We do catch a glimpse of Strike’s concern towards Robin, but the opportunity gets wasted completely. On the whole, what started as a very interesting and dangerous case fizzles out before it reaches the end.

A big shoutout to the language JKR has used in this book. It’s amazing. Her choice of words and the intricate meaning it brings out- a reader’s treat. Honestly, I didn’t know the exact meaning of several words, but that was the enjoyable part. You understand the context of the sentence even without knowing the exact meaning, but finding it out and setting the sentence correctly- I loved doing that. Please note- it’s not a flowery language. JKR knows the knack when to use complicated and uncommon words and when to keep it simple.

I would recommend this book purely for its language. As a crime fanatic, this book was a huge disappointment.

Six Years [Book Review]

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Rating: 1/5

Harlan Coben has been on my radar for quite some time now. I have heard a lot about his works and I was waiting for the moment to lay my hands on his works. His works seemed the perfect candidate for my reading preference. Last year, I watched the show The Five written by Coben and was blown by the script, the characters and the suspense. It’s one of the best shows I watched last year. Six Years was a random pick. I didn’t do any research to rank Coben’s best works. I saw this book at a book store and picked it up just for Coben. A work of advice- don’t follow this procedure.

Six Years has a very interesting plot. Jake, a professor, keeps his promise of staying away from his love Natalie for six years until he sees the obituary of Natalie’s husband. He remembers the moment he attended Natalie’s wedding and the promise she forced him to make to stay away from her and her life. Six Years. Six Years he kept his promise. But not a single day passed without him remembering her. When he realizes Natalie is alone now, he decides to pay her a visit. He tries to get in contact with her but is unable to find her. He contacts her sister who refuses to identify him. He contacts the church where they got married, but the church has no record of the wedding. He visits the café where he and Natalie used to spend all their time, but the attender refuses to recognize him. He searches for the retreat where Natalie stayed, but it doesn’t exist. Here is a point where as a reader I began to doubt if Natalie really existed or if the entire thing was a fragment of Jake’s imagination. The plot is set strongly here for past revelations and connecting the dots.

The book is very fast paced. There is lot of action, as in true action. But this affects the story. The story lacks depth. The emotions. I never felt for Jake. The character just didn’t connect. His love for Natalie was too shallow. His quest to find Natalie came out as some kind of a weird obsession rather than unconditional love. The story wavers between being an investigation and some spy game. I just couldn’t get all the facts in line because there was action all the time. I started to skip the action part searching for the story. We have hitmen sprawling around, questionable police officers, strange friends and acquaintances spread throughout the narration. There are many characters introduced and it takes time to understand who is who. The connection to the past is done nicely, the part where Jake realizes Natalie’s father taught in the same college of his, but the execution at the end- bringing all the loose ends together was extremely weak. When it is revealed that the entire happenings are related to some secret organization,- I was like what?! Give me something more believable please. The motto of the organization was forced and beyond my understanding. Natalie does make an appearance and her entire back story is too clichéd. The only portion that was interesting and attracted my attention was the story of Natalie’s father and how he is the source for all the happenings.

I don’t really have much to say about this more than that I expected a lot more. A very disappointing read, without any doubt. I am going to do some research and start fresh again on my adventure on Coben’s books.

The Big Four [Book Review]

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Rating: 1/5

Having read most of the best works of Agatha Christie, especially Hercule Poirot series, I decided to fill the missing gaps, the remaining books in the series. The Big Four is the fifth book in the Hercule Poirot series. With immense expectations, I began this journey along with Poirot and Hastings and this journey was a huge disappointment.

In almost every Poirot book I have read, it took me less than few minutes to get into the story. I am not saying that every book has to follow the same trend, but I felt The Big Four had an utterly confusing plot right from the beginning. As usual, we have Hastings as Poirot’s sidekick but with more page space. Hastings, after a brief break, decides to meet Poirot and continue being his partner. When he finds him in London, he realizes Poirot is getting ready for a business voyage. The sudden appearance of a completely confused man at their down and his meaningless rantings forces Poirot to postpone his trip and look into the matter. When the confused man repeatedly writes down the number 4, Poirot understands that the situation had something to do with the organization The Big Four. The Big Four includes an Italian woman, a Chinese man, a man of disguise and a businessman.

I couldn’t really understand the big picture of this plot. This book attempts to be something away from the usual Whodonuits. It’s more of a corporate espionage, national security kind of thing. Poirot and Hastings take on this unusual adventure, there are loads of action- Hastings is kidnapped, he even goes undercover, Poirot dies in a fire and then resurrects of course.  How much ever it was really interesting to read these action sequences, I didn’t really follow the plot. We have the fourth man of the Big Four camouflaging in various roles and the way they identify him is with the way he eats his bread?! Okay!! We have The Big Four getting the better of Poirot at many places, but Poirot’s comeback isn’t effective at all. The book was a patience tester which is very rare for an Agatha Christie work. The supporting characters aren’t interesting at all which adds to the boredom.

I really don’t have much to say about this book. It was the biggest disappointment especially it being a Poirot case. I am just going to forget I read this book.