The Night Circus

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Rating: Not applicable

Being a hard core fiction reader, I didn’t want to confine my reading to just crime thrillers. I have read a few non-crime books in the past and hence the story of The Night Circus pulled me into getting the book. I wanted to read something that would transport me into a different world, like…say Harry Potter (Not the right comparison, but still). The Night Circus seemed the perfect choice. Moreover, I absolutely loved its cover- black and scarlet. So did The Night Circus succeed in capturing a crime fiction fan’s attention? As you can see from the rating, I struggled immensely to complete this book.

I thought rating this book would be unfair. I would definitely say that this book wasn’t for me. But that doesn’t mean the book wasn’t good. I felt I wasn’t the right person to judge this book. I felt I didn’t have the mind to comprehend the concept projected in The Night Circus. I had a hard time picturing the author’s vision and that was the most significant part of this book- visualizing the entire Circus setting and delving into the magical world. The book was too slow for my liking. Every chapter jumped from one timeline to another making it very difficult to understand the flow of the story. After few chapters, it struck me that the Date and Year mentioned at the beginning of every chapter is very important to journey with the story. That made things more complex, to remember in which year you are. Before moving on, let me share the basic plot of the book.

It’s about two master magicians who nominate their own candidate for a competition. The nominees have no idea what the competition is, or who their competitor is. They don’t know on what basis they will be judged and what will be the outcome of the competition. The Night Circus is an initiative which brings in both the competitors under one roof, without each other’s knowledge. Will the candidates understand the consequences of the competition? Will they go ahead after knowing what they have been put into? What will happen to The Night Circus? This forms the 500 pages book.

I wouldn’t deny- the book indeed had some very magical moments in the beginning. I was really excited and interested to become a part of this book and go along with the narration. The characters of Prospero and A. H really grabbed my attention. But after a point, it became too tiring and I had to force myself to empathise with all the characters. I wasn’t able to connect to any of them. I also wasn’t able to understand the theories of magic behind The Night Circus.

On the whole, this book wasn’t for me. I put in a whole week for this book and yet I couldn’t mention anything that stood out. I guess I would have to stick to the crime/thriller genre or otherwise be very careful with the kind of book I choose.

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Always and Everyone (1999-2002)

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Rating: 4.5/5

Always and Everyone is a medical drama which aired for four seasons from 1999 to 2001.  The show tracked the lives of the doctors working at the Emergency Unit of Saint Victor’s Hospital. Starring Martin Shaw and Niamh Cusack in the main roles, the show brilliantly portrayed the challenges faced by the doctors both professionally and personally and how they coped up differently according to their own personalities.

I came across this show when I was searching for Martin Shaw’s work after I became a huge fan of his George Gently series. I was really curious to see Martin as a doctor when I had just seen him portray a tough maverick police officer. I was truly surprised to see how I enjoyed the entire show and just not Martin’s character.

The main aspect of the show which I loved was the realistic approach the writers had towards the entire concept of medical drama. I never felt the drama was overdone at any places. There were serious opportunities of it going overboard especially during the surgery scenes, but the writers, directors and the actors kept it down which made it extremely effective in getting the audience connected to the characters. Kudos to the writers.

A&E- Accident and Emergency is the Emergency unit at St Victor’s hospital. Under the eccentric leadership ofDr. Robert Kingsford, the team comprises of doctors, senior nurses and nurse practitioners. The routine includes the unit receiving an emergency call regarding the basic details of the patient coming in and decision being taken on the core team who will take charge. The team’s main responsibility is to stabilise the patient, get the basic tests done and send them to the concerned department for further specialised treatment. And when one patient is done, the next one comes in. Such is the buzz at the unit. Apart from the major accidents, there are minor ones that come in, like a fall, sprained ankles, stomach aches and the like which are mostly taken care by the junior doctors with proper guidance from the seniors. There are some really fun moments at the minors. The writers effortlessly builds the relationship among the members of the team. The team, though has different ladders of seniority amongst them, they very well understand how each and every member’s role is important for the operation of the unit. The surgery scenes at the Resus are done without it looking fake. Appreciation to all the actors for making those scenes look very realistic. Uttering the medical terms have to be really fluent when playing a doctor. It shouldn’t look like reciting a poem. Most of the actors do perfect justice to their roles as doctors. There are varied issues handled in the four seasons in addition to the progress in every character’s personal life.

The principal characters include Dr. Robert Kingsford played by Martin Shaw and Dr. Christine Fletcher played by Niamh Cusack. Robert is a born leader. A man of integrity and purpose, he effectively manages his team under unmeasurable pressure. Go-to man for everyone, his team has immense trust and belief in him which is always reciprocated. He never lets down his team in case they make any mistake. He has a tough word with them, but always backs them. Courageous and a risk taker, he is seen fighting against the management policies which obstruct and cause inconvenience to his work and for his patients. He has his moment of weakness when he struggles to cope with his grief over the loss of his wife. He strongly bonds with Christine, encourages her to take up higher positions and turns towards her whenever he is in need to talk to someone. He has his short outbursts of anger but is quick to apologise. A&E would be incomplete without Robert.

Christine on the other hand is completely different from Robert. She takes up leadership roles and struggles for the better part of it. She is loving and concerned, but she believes in keeping her personal emotions away from her professional life but unintentionally makes many decisions following her personal feelings. Her timing of operational decisions come across highly poor. She takes time to understand the bigger picture. She requires her team to give her the push to run the unit. Quick to judge people, she is quite naïve when it comes to management politics. She plays a huge role in helping Robert move on from his wife’s loss. Very sensitive towards office gossip, she forces herself not to have any personal relationship with Robert though the latter wishesto have one. Not a risk taker, she plays her game pretty safe and abides by the management rules because of which she has arguments with Robert many a times. Her team trusts her but not the trust they have on Robert. She understands that as she always feels Robert deserves the Director’s post more than her. She is down to earth and listens when she has to. She and Robert makes a great team which she realises very late.

Martin Shaw effortlessly slips into the role of Robert. There is not a moment when we don’t connect to his character and his endurance. Niamh Cusack does complete justice to her part considering the complexity of her character.

Michael Kitchen’s portrayal of Dr.Jack Turner has to be appreciated. Jack and Robert are rivals. They don’t like each other and they are perfectly aware of that. Their exchanges are real fun. They understand each other very well and knows what the other will come up as his next move. There are no competition between them or plots to overturn the other- at least no wicked plotting. They don’t compromise their work because of their rivalry. Christine’s struggle to balance the men is a must watch.

Other important characters are Mike, Stuart, Kathy, Judy and Terry. The banter that happens in between the tense situations is a treat to watch. Most of them are in brief relationships with someone from their team.

Season 1

Season 1 basically introduces the characters and how the unit works. Christine’s life with her husband and Robert’s with his pregnant wife are briefly shown. But the significant parts of the episodes cover the various kinds of patients the doctors face and how they efficiently handles them. I specifically love 1.3. The tension at Resus is brilliantly shown.

Season 2

Season 2 focuses on various aspects. First is Robert losing his wife and how he copes with his grief, and how he fulfils his new role as a single father. There are some really moving moments especially the one when Robert gets to know the real reason behind his wife’s death. His erratic behaviour at his work soon after and his fight to find his passion back are written nicely throughout the season. We are also shown how professional life affects personal life through Mike Gregson. He has two teenage sons and a failed marriage- divorce, court and custody and how that takes toll on him and his work. My favourite episodes would be 2.2 which shows the closing down of A&E for decontamination as a result of which Robert’s wife is taken to another hospital where she dies, unknown to Robert till the end, 2.9 where the team handles an airplane blast and 2.11 when there is an unbelievable number of patients at the unit and the team struggles to monitor everyone.

Season 3

Season 3 sees the entry of Jack Turner as head of Orthopaedics and call in doctor for A&E. His ideologies are like a train crasher to Robert’s. Christine slowly gets a liking for Jack which grows in this season. Jack becomes the Director of A&E because Robert denies the position. Jack’s decisions doesn’t please Robert and he takes it on Christine, who for most part of it supports Jack. The season also portrays a lot of sensitive issues like racism. One of the storylines depict how the slightest of the mistake can cause the life of the patient. Dr Stuart makes an insertion wrong which nearly costs the life of the patient and Dr. Jack Turner misses a diagnosis which leads the patient to be eternally paralysed. The consequences of those mistakes are also dealt with sensitively and practically. We also see Robert planning to resign unable to fight the politics but later takes it back. I couldn’t pick one episode as my favorite as every episode had really good moments.  Robert and Mike’s attitude to take on the management together is really good. Though they had their initial differences, they make it up maturely. At the same time, the portrayal of management politics tones down the intensity of the patient dealings at the Resus.

Season 4

The final season wraps up in style. It starts with the episode showing a motorway accident and several patients brought in along with a psychopath wanting to take revenge against one of the patients. The season continues with management politics and Christine-Jack relationship. But one of the brilliant episodes of the show has to be 4.4 which shows mob attacks between two races. There are new characters constituting the major portion of the unit, who don’t really make a mark. D’Costa and Sam’s track takes most of the screen time. The season focuses more on the central characters’ personal life tying up the loose ends. Robert’s decision to leave A&E for final, Jack proposing to Christine and Christine’s dilemma makes up for most part of the last two episodes yet it was necessary to give those characters a closure. My favorite episodes would be 4.1, 4.4 and 4.8.

A&E works for me because of the fantastic writing and brilliant acting. The show sticks to its theme till its end. There are tracks which aren’t the best, but for most part of the show, the storyline is very interesting. Characters are close to reality and situations are always connectable.

Being a crime story lover, this show surprisingly makes it to my top 10 favorite shows list, partly because of Martin Shaw but predominantly because of what the show in itself stands for.

Patang

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Rating: 3.5/5

An effective crime thriller is one which takes you by surprise, forces you to sit upright and makes you exclaim out loud, ‘OH…NOO….’ (in my case… ;)). Does Patang fall under this category? Let’s find out.

Patang by Bhaskar Chattopadhyay is a crime investigation thriller, a police procedural. A serial killer is on the loose and it is race against time for the police to nab the murderer before he strikes again. The book has everything- clues/messages left deliberately by the killer for the police to fit the pieces, connections to old cases, rainy weather adding the murkiness and a lonely detective heading the investigation.  As the title of the book suggests, Patang (Kite) has a huge role to play in this series of gruesome murders. Does, the private detective, Chandrakant Rathod, who takes charge of the case able to nab the murderer or does the murderer outwit the entire police system? That’s the basic premise of the story.

I haven’t read an Indian crime fiction before, like a book completely based on murder investigation. The moment I came across this book, I knew I had to get my hand on it. After reading the initial few chapters, I was completely disappointed. Even though the plot is very interesting with a very captivating setting, the narration falters big time. The language lets down the narration badly. Loads of flowery words at the most wrong places affect the story pretty badly. It’s in the sentence formation where the beauty of the narration lies and not on the usage of uncommon words. Because of this, the first half ends up very amateurish.

I am still wondering why the author had to include a detailed making out scene when it had no bearing at all on the story. Honestly, it was very cringe worthy. It’s not like it’s mandatory to have such a portion in a thriller, is it?

Chandrakant Rathod is a smart detective. His theories and deduction is very nicely displayed. His interaction with DCP was entertaining. His altercation with the murderer does send a chill down the spine. The book also gives a glimpse into the police system and how everything is protocol and hierarchy. Loads of characters are involved, with only a few recurring. The first half is a letdown, but the author picks up in the second half and it’s a racy ride to the end without any bumps.

Being a crime thriller, it’s not possible for me to go any further into the story as it would give away the plot. I know many would wonder why I have given a 3.5 in spite of me having a lot of complains against it. That’s because of the major twist at the end. I was really sceptical when the story was heading towards a very predictable end but was absolutely taken aback when the author deftly takes a steep thrilling turn resulting with the readers enjoying the book as a whole at the end, at least I definitely did. Indeed, the climax reminded me of a Hindi movie (can’t give away the name of the movie either), but that was only after the ending, so no complains there. This book would make a great movie, as I felt the author wrote it more like a screenplay.

Patang is a very honest attempt by Bhaskar Chattopadhyay to write something in the genre of pure crime investigation genre. It has its own ups and downs, but the author somehow ends the journey on a good note. It’s not a long read and hence it’s worth giving a try.

The Devotion of Suspect X and Malice

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Average Rating : 3.5/5

Normally, in crime investigation novels, it’s always a murder followed by a list of suspects and the detective trying to figure out who the murderer is by various methods- visiting numerous places and questioning potential suspects, taking the reader along with them in their exciting journey. The reader too, tries to put all the minute details together, eliminate the suspects and tries to guess who the murderer could be, just like the leading detective. Keigo Higashino’s novels follow a completely different approach which makes the reading ride more interesting and challenging. These crime novels aren’t Whodunnit but Howdunnit.

The first book I read of his works was Malice. In this book, just like in any other novel, the murder happens and the detectives come in, they hunt for clues and acquire forensics. I found nothing out of the ordinary till then. But even before the half way mark, the murderer is dramatically revealed not only to take the readers by surprise but also the detectives; just that, the detectives have no clue how the murderer did it, especially when he/she have an airtight alibi and no motive whatsoever to have committed the crime. The detectives crack their brains, so does the readers, to prove the crime was indeed committed by the so-and-so.

The murder is simple; the way the murderer covers the trace and pushes the detectives to work very hard to get him/her is marvellous. Out of the two books, I loved Malice more than The Devotion of Suspect X. I found the backstory, or say the depth of the murderer’s character better in Malice compared to the other.

Keigo Higashino is a Japanese author. I read his works in English translation and found it really impactful. I am sure it would have been even better in the native language. What makes his work so interesting is, he doesn’t try too hard to make things sound or the situations sound too complicated. His characters are simple with a modest background which isn’t touched unless necessary. Even though the Japanese names are a little complicated to remember, it stays in your mind. It does ring a little funny at the beginning, but that’s probably how the rest of the world sees our names.

I am looking forward to read the rest of his works- Journey under a Midnight Sun and Salvation of a Saint. I assume both the books follow the same MO as the above two works, something completely different from the normal crime fiction.

I would strongly recommend reading Malice over The Devotion of Suspect X, in case you want to choose only one of the two.  I hope you choose both.

The Listerdale Mystery

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The Listerdale Mystery and 11 Short Stories

Rating: 3/5

When I found the hard bound copy of this book in the recent book sale I visited, as much as I was excited, I was equally curious. Short stories! That’s one area which I hadn’t ventured deeply into. I had always found difficulty in reading short stories; I am saying this with an experience of reading them years back. The author of the short stories has seriously no time to set their characters or the plot. With just a small introduction, they have to dive into their story. There aren’t paragraphs and paragraphs about the characters and their history, but just few minuscule situations to accomplish themselves. As a reader of bulky novels, short stories seem like just headlines. The plot or the characters don’t have the depth which is present in the novels, but hey, that’s why they are called short stories, isn’t? The importance and focus in this arena of storytelling is the STORY; the characters and the setting are secondary.

‘The Listerdale Mystery and 11 short stories’ is written by our Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie. True to her strength, all these stories are crime mystery, but not the usual murder mystery like in the Poirot series or Marple’s. These stories have a very simple theme around which the mystery surrounds. Be it the identity of a house owner or the identity of a train copassenger, the books largely revolves around strangers who come across the central characters of each story. It’s pleasant to read something which isn’t intense or gory, and we needn’t remember too many details and clues to follow the detective’s mind and later solve the crime. Of course, only few things could be included within a 10 page story, but those 10 pages are more than enough to get the reader interested and forcing the reader to complete each story, or may be more, in one sitting. To add, I just loved the language used. The words had such elegance and flowed like a serene river. Sadly, the language isn’t given as much importance in today’s fictions.

As standalone stories, each one of them has a lovely plot and the mystery set is definitely mysterious. At the same time, when these 12 stories are read together, they become very predictable and repetitive. After 7 or 8 stories, I had to pull myself together to complete the rest of them. May be I should have taken a break and come back after reading few other books.

The stories included were,

  1. The Listerdale Mystery
  2. Philomel Cottage
  3. The Girl in the Train
  4. Sing a Song of Sixpence
  5. The Manhood of Edward Robinson
  6. Accident
  7. Jane in search of a Job
  8. A Fruitful Sunday
  9. Mr Eastwood’s Adventure
  10. The Golden Ball
  11. The Rajah’s Emerald
  12. Swan Song

From the above, my top 5 would be, in no particular order,

  1. The Listerdale Mystery
  2. Philomel Cottage
  3. Sing a Song of Sixpence
  4. Jane in search of a Job
  5. Swan Song

It’s a different feeling to read short stories, especially that of Agatha Christie’s. If you are a fan of short stories, you will love it. If you haven’t tried short stories before, you might find it a little weird at the beginning. You are sure to exclaim, “That’s it?!” Nevertheless, do read these engaging short stories. You are bound to remember it for a long time.

The Caribbean Mystery

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Rating: 1.5/5

From the day I began my journey reading Agatha Christie’s work, I have felt nothing but awe and admiration for the women. It’s very hard to imagine how that one single mind could weave so many mysteries- each one unique in its own way, each one having a completely different twist. I had started with Hercule Poirot, and read around 10 books in the series, before I read And Then There Were None- one of her standalones. My first Miss Marple is The Caribbean Mystery. Did I find her as interesting as Poirot?

The Caribbean Mystery is about Miss Marple’s holiday at the Caribbean where she encounters a murder (Of course!), followed by a series. There is the usual set of characters, the occupants of a resort kind, the occupants being potential suspects as well. It is based on how conversations could lead to murder, how conversations are the key to solving a murder too. Honestly….I don’t have anything else to write about this book. As much as I can never put down Agatha and her works, it would be lying if I say this work is as good as the rest.

For one, Miss Marple is boring and ordinary, nothing like Poirot. Even if I look at her with a neutral mind, she is still just a plain old lady, with perhaps a fair flair for detection. May be it’s just the case which didn’t have much scope, still, the first impression of Miss Marple is very bad for me taking this mystery into account. The case has nothing new to offer, no interesting clues, no unpredictable twists, no dry humor- may be except for Mr Rafael at certain places, but apart from that nothing! It’s not even picturesque, the setting is too dull and…I can’t point out a single aspect which deserved appreciation. The twist in the end, more or less made me angrier for having invested time in this book.

One of the biggest disappointments of Ms Christie’s work has to be this. I guess I have read most of her best works and hence the rest of them are just not living up to my expectations and standing up to her own standards.

The Silent Twin

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Rating: 3.5/5

‘The Silent Twin’ by Caroline Mitchell is the third book in the Jennifer Knight series.  Even though I haven’t read the previous two books, I found this story to be a stand alone. There are portions where incidents in Jennifer’s life, which must have happened in the previous stories, are mentioned but nothing that affects the current story. So you can directly jump to the third book if you want.

Abigail and Olivia are twin sisters. While playing Hide and Seek, Abigail goes missing. The parents- Nick and Joanna searches everywhere but in vain. DC Jennifer Knight is appointed as the family liaison officer. She, apart from being a policewoman, also possesses the ability to connect with the ‘other world’- the dead. With the house- The Blackwater Farm, being under the radar for supernatural activity, Jennifer is tasked to find if the disappearance of Abigail is anyway connected to abnormal circumstances. The only lead in the case is Olivia- who doesn’t talk after her sister’s disappearance but when she talks- it’s Abigail talking. Oh yes- you read it right! Olivia has the power to connect to her sister, wherever she is. Jennifer acquires bits and pieces of sentences from Abigail through Olivia to find out where she is. She should also find who is responsible behind this disappearance and if it is the living or the dead.

‘The Silent Twin’ is perhaps my first supernatural read. It took me time to get into the story because of this factor. Jennifer is not a larger than life character. She is an ordinary police officer (sometimes even boring) with a methodical way of investigating the case. The police procedural is written realistically with the investigation taking the needed time. All quarters are covered- forensics, media, family, etc. The hierarchy of power in the police department and the pressure for a result are clearly written as well. The narration is, for most of the time, steady. The language is effective. The author definitely succeeds in getting the heartbeat rise at several portions. It is probably the first time I actually felt the fear of a character. That’s credit to the author.

All the characters come under the radar of suspicion and along with the police, we analyse the characters, their attitudes, their statements and their alibis. The author also pitches in the diary entries of the suspects in between the chapters, which gives deep knowledge into their character and their life.  We feel suspicion and pity for every character at different times. Just when we decide that this particular man or woman could have something to do, the author brilliantly takes them off suspicion. The description of the house is very visually written. There were moments of desperation when I wanted to quickly turn a few pages and get on with the story but, just a very few moments like that.

The Silent Twin is a good read with several thrilling moments. The pace slows down in between but steadies after that. This is my first supernatural read and I enjoyed it a lot.