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.

Game of Thrones- Book 1

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Rating: 3/5

Game of Thrones accounts for prestige issue. If you haven’t watched GoT, you would be facing a huge problem during social events as invariably GoT is a common topic of discussion, and it would be extremely awkward if you have to say, “Sorry! I haven’t seen GoT”. The reaction you would get for that answer would raise you up the wall of shame. Though I am not a person who usually succumbs to societal pressures, I definitely got curious to know what this entire fantasy saga was all about. Knowing that it was 5 books (and 5 seasons) down, I had to make a choice- either to read or watch the series. I decided on the latter as it was the easiest and the quickest mode to catch up and be in par with my fellow GoTians. At the same time, I was really sceptical if I would become one of them. I have and always am an HPian and I wasn’t sure if I would share my loyalty with another series.

The HBO version of GoT started off really interesting. The fantasy world of Seven Kingdoms and the Wall was really interesting. But as the show progressed, the violence portrayed was too extreme for my taste. I realised I skipped more than 75% of every episode. At the end of 5 seasons, I sat in confusion as I couldn’t understand much part of the theory/story. This experience reassured me that books are always better than the visual representation. I purchased book one of GoT and the massive bulk of it scared me. 800 pages! I wondered if I should risk starting to read the series because if I begin, I have to read all the books too.

After contemplating for nearly 2 months, in due course of which I completed like 10 books, I took GoT out of my shelf and began reading it. All I can say is, the book pulls you into the world of grit, jealousy, deceit, politics and plotting comfortably and engages you to the world of Game of Thrones that it becomes hard to put down the book at the end of the day.

The highlight of the book is the method of writing. There is no confusion in spite of the high number of characters involved. George RR Martin effortlessly connects you to the characters, their lives and the plot of the story. A few chapters in- you would definitely find yourself shipping for a particular character, wanting them to win the game. Wish it was that simple.

For a book on fantasy, description of the setting plays a vital role. If you aren’t able to visualise the fantasy world, the characters would seem far away from reality. The author hits the mark perfectly with his description and involuntarily forces the reader to believe the existence of this alternate world.

To put in few words, the story is about a list of people fighting for the Iron throne. The story would predictably end with the winner of the throne. But the journey is not so simple. Since I do know what has happened till season 5, I know what to expect from the rest of the books. Yet, the book serves you with fantastic depth in characterisation enabling you to understand the each one better than how they were portrayed on the series.

Book 1 introduces the primary families involved in the feud over the throne. We have the noble Starks, the cunning Lannisters, the unsteady yet rightful Baratheons, and the ambitious Targaryen(s). With the death of the King, the battle begins to conquer the Iron throne. Apart from the members of the each of the family, we have some very interesting characters in Lord Baelish, Lord Varys, Ser Jorah, Jon Snow, Lord Mormont and many others whose allegiance and strategies flips the story around. The primary character of Book 1 is Lord Eddard Stark who puts honour before everything. He epitomizes the perfect candidate for the throne. But the author strikes and informs the readers that the Game of Thrones isn’t straight forward and to win this game requires more than just honour.

My favourite character of this particular book has to be Tyrion Lannister. He in a way is a huge inspiration. He portrays how it is important to understand and use one’s strengths (here it is his wit) and accept one’s weakness. He laughs at himself before others does. His chapters are a delight to read. Apart from being excited for what’s in store for him in the next books- I am highly excited with where he has reached at the end of Season 5. Go Tyrion Go!

The character which bored me was Sansa but her character is rightfully explained.

The Clash of Kings awaits next.

I would strongly recommend reading Game of Thrones to watching it. Though I can never equate it with Harry Potter, this series has found a place for its own.

Ajaya Series

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Rating: 4/5

Disclaimer- I am looking at the Mahabharata as a story, just a story here.

Pandavas Vs Kauravas. Dharma Vs Adharma. Jaya Vs Ajaya.

Whenever I have read the Mahabharata or discussed about it, it had always left me with a lot of questions jamming my mind. I couldn’t accept the fact that the Kauravas could have been pure evil and the Pandavascould be complete innocents. Something was always amiss for me. I have read different versions, but every version ended with good over evil, Pandavas won over Kauravas. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in the epic. Just that I always felt a lot of disconnections in the story. But now I can positively say I am very clear about my thoughts on the epic after reading the Ajaya series by AnandNeelakantan.

The book argues from the side of the Kauravas, putting forward their perspective, narrating their point of view. The best part of the book is the balance the author maintains. The book never argues that Kauravas were right and Pandavas were wrong. The book merely narrates how both sides believed they were right, how both sides believed they were fighting for dharma and how both sides believed their rule would bring a much better future for India. The book throws lot of questions that are worth pondering about, especially on the topic of Dharma. The book brilliantly narrates beyond the victory, what happened after the victory, which none of the versions I have read had done. Was there really jubilation?  Were the Pandavas able to bring about the dharmic revolution they dreamt of? Portraying Duryodhana aka Suyodhana as a gentle yet arrogant human wasn’t definitely out of place, but it made a lot of sense to the entire story. Every incident in Mahabharata, which were always told from the Panadavas perspective, when read from the Kauravas perspective made it more logical. Mind you, I am not telling Kauravas were right in every incident. I am just saying, the reasons behind every incident, the background information, gives more meaning after reading.

Every character has been given a lot of depth, both their positive side and their not so positive side clearly put down. It’s just not the main characters, but characters like Bhishma, Vidura, Eklavya, Aswathama and mainly Jara add so much interest to the entire reading. Reading the life of Gandhari, Kunti, Draupadi, Bhanumati, Subhadra, Vrishali and even Sushala brings up the strong women power among the men folk. They didn’t fight the Kurushektrawar on the field, but they had their own wars going on. The author has done a great job in including the smallest of the characters in the book, showing how small incidents involving Samba, Krishna’s son and Suyodhana’s daughter Lakshmana had laid down stones for the war. Of course, I felt the entire war was a war between two masterminds, Krishna and Shakuni. The actions of both had a reason, a reason till before reading the bookwas unknown to me. You actually start to enjoy both their mind games at one point of time. The author is able to successfully immerse the reader into his world of Mahabharata. Every character is relatable. The narration of every incident has been written poignantly. The pace of the narration is really good. The story does go without much action for some time in the second book making the reader grow impatient, but once the action gets back, the importance of the non-action portions are realised.

The book makes you think, makes you think a lot before you can decide which side you want to support. Honestly, I am still unable to decide which side I am actually on. Both sides had made their own share of mistakes. Every move of Pandavas during the war, which were always portrayed as smart moves of Krishna before, comes across as just moves of deceit to end the war quickly, planting the seeds for confusion in my mind once again. Was the war battled fairly? Did Pandavas win fairly? Would the Pandavas have won if Krishna wasn’t there on their side? Did Krishna just use the Pandavas to restore the dharma he believed in? A new set of questions crop up at the end of the book.   At the end, the entire epic Mahabharata is a sad story, an unnecessary war that was fought because there was no mutual respect for each other’s beliefs, a war with caste as its basis.It also eventually makes you think of the current situation our country is in with respect to caste. The author cleverly tells how the winner of the war would go down in history as the purest souls while the other would become the evil. In case the Kauravas had won, Pandavas would have been the evil guys. Conclusion- The beliefs of Kauravas weren’t evil as it was claimed. The term dharma in itself cannot have a fixed definition.

The bits which I absolutely loved reading. The beginning of the first book with Bhishma abducting Gandhari. The author’s description of Gandhari and Bhishma, and the foundation laid for both the characters were really impressive. The interactions between Balrama and Suyodhana left a smile. Every chapter involving the friendship among Aswathama, Karna and Suyodhana gave a nice positive feeling.  Dhridharastra’s clever ploy of projecting himself as the fool was a surprise. Honestly, the book made me realise that even after the war, it was Dhridharastra who was the King and not Yudishtar. Emotions flow at the death of every great warrior during the war, immaterial of which side they belonged too. Finally, Aswathama stole the show for me. I wouldn’t divulge more there.

To a person who is open to varied views about Mahabharata would love this series. The book doesn’t ship Kauravas, but just puts forward the reasons behind their actions which in general are ignored.  One cannot change the epic story, but to read and experience how different the story can sound when heard from the other side was an amazing experience. A must read for mythological fans.

The Sialkot Saga

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Rating: 2/5

When Ashwin Sanghi’s next was up for pre-order on Flipkart and Amazon, my excitement knew no bounds. I have always enjoyed his work- a good mixture of history and contemporary lives interwined. Chanakya’s Chant made me sit in awe with the brilliant parallelism yarned between the yesteryear’s untouchable genius, Chanakya and someone with the same cunning intelligence in today’s time. With The Sialkot Saga, I expected the same. History connected to today’s times. Did the book click? Let’s find out.

The Sialkot Saga basically revolves around the two central characters, Arvind and Arbaaz and their lives from rags to riches. Where the former is business minded, the latter is a political genius. Their lives cross paths after decades of penpal battles. Who overcomes whom? Who wins the final battle? How are their lives connected to something that happened in 250 BC? That constitutes the width of the book.

When I first saw the book divided into several sections according to time periods, I knew the book was going to be similar to Chanakya’s Chant. But I didn’t want to draw any comparison. The book continuously has a witty edge to it. Majority of the sections end with a clever line. I was purely entertained by these lines that I started looking forward for such lines at the end of every section. The narrative is fast paced with numerous characters emerging at a very short span of time. The lives or Aravind and Arbaaz move forward strongly and steadily, breezing through the years with acquaintances being made and interesting events getting painted on both sides. While Aravind’s life comes across as far more comfortable, Arbaaz’s is a struggle. There are many determined moments like the ones where Arbaaz takes revenge on the people who troubled him. Aravind’s moments has a more strategic victorious edge.

The first two decades, or perhaps even three, run very smoothly with ups and downs, and failures and triumphs ticked on both the parallel stories. Families emerge so do the businesses. Aravind becomes a successful businessman while Arbaaz becomes a mafia don (not menacing!) cum cabinet minister later. Business in our country always has a political affiliation and that is strongly put across. Bribery and money laundering is very common and is the key behind every political action. Every deal signed, every time the stock market goes up or down- everything is mastered by someone hidden behind the curtain somewhere.  A support system is placed for both the characters playing very important roles. While Abdul dada is Arbaaz’s mentor and a second father, Aravind depends mainly on his friends. Arbaaz keeps his family and friends together while Aravind doesn’t shy away from throwing them out of his lives. The contrast in the characters is well projected. Arbaaz seems clearer in his mind than Aravind. The methods implemented by both the men aren’t legal or moral. Conclusion- no one is white in this saga.

It becomes evident at one point that the lives of Aravind and Arbaaz would meet but somewhere the much awaited union lacks the intensity needed. Everything seems so simple and common in the second half of the book- years of hatred, conning each other at every opportunity, struggle with wife and children, betrayal, etc. As the pages are eaten and the end approaches, excitement begins to build. The leads have grown old and it is time for some action and revelation. I was waiting to read how the history was going to be connected to the present. I was disappointed. The revelation is a fizzle at the end. It makes no connection with the decades of story written before. It stands alone as a separate story at the end. The historical reference and the subsequent connection are forced too quickly at the end that it lacked the needed knockout punch. In fact, the history gets connected and actually referred only near the end. It would have been better if the connection was made evident throughout the narrative. When the revelation is reached, we are left with wanting more. ‘Sialkot’ plays its part but not to the extent expected.

The story also includes nearly all the major events of our nation, all the political leaders and their growth, calamities, movies and other events from across the world like the attack on WTC. While certain events are structured to be part of the story and has a role to play, most of the others are just passing cloud. It seemed like a list of all the events were made and was injected into the story.

The book stays neutral to most part of the incidents that our nation had faced in the past 50 years.

The book comes across very complex when compared to the author’s previous outings. The business strategies are very complicated to understand at many instances. Perhaps, it was a way to project Aravind’s genius mind. In addition, at the later end, science overtakes economics.

All the supporting casts leave a mark. Abdul Dada as mentor, wife Paromita, Murali his friend are Arbaaz’s support system. Aravind, on the other hand, doesn’t embrace support system and doesn’t shy away from throwing away people close to him- be it Joydeep or Satyapal or his own son.

Downside- the book had lot of errors which was surprising. The golden print in the cover also faded away with few handles.

The Sialkot Saga is not a bad read but definitely falls short of expectations. The book succeeds in building the interest for the first three decades and becomes repetitive after that. The witty lines which are the highlights of the first half becomes a rarity in the second. Characters and instances are forced and the narrative becomes hasty to cover all the nation’s events. Somewhere, the author loses the grip which he tries to recover at the end. The book would be a best seller no doubt, but if the story had been crisper with impactful situations, especially in the second half, when the two leads were involved, the book would have reached the benchmark set by the author’s other works.