Crime fiction

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!

 

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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 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.

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.

The Girl in the Ice (Book Review)

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Rating: 5/5

This book was one of those which I started but never continued. Most of the times, those books come out as duds but not this one. I nearly cursed myself for not having read this one before when I had started. Nevertheless, I am glad I have now.

The Girl in the Ice is a pure crime investigation thriller. When Angela Douglas, a young girl from a rich family, is found brutally murdered and buried under ice, Detective Erika Foster is called on scene to lead. Erika returns from a break, after an encounter went wrong killing 5 of her own team including her husband. Plagued with guilt, Erika struggles to keep her emotions in control as she takes on this investigation. The crime scene is dotted with loads of forensic clues which questions a lot about Angela’s character. Erika faces restriction from questioning the Douglas family because of their grand connections with top level government. Jumping protocol, instinctive decisions and reckless sleuthing forces Marsh, Erika’s boss, to suspend her from the investigation. But with the help of her team, Erika continues her investigation leading her finally to the murderer. It’s really very difficult to say more about the story as that would fade the thrilling element of the book. So I wouldn’t go more into the details. All the supporting characters had different shades building suspicions in our minds.

Erika Foster, our protagonist, is a very interesting and strong character. I have always had my reservations reading woman detectives but this is the first one I thoroughly enjoyed. Erika’s pain and guilt are beautifully expressed by the author. I could easily connect to her. She is recuperating from the loss of her husband and wants to get her life back on track, but does she actually want to? That’s the dilemma she is in. She doesn’t have any motivating factor in life. Her work- she doesn’t trust herself anymore. She doubts her every action. She doesn’t have a proper place to live, doesn’t eat or sleep her well. Somehow, this state of Erika is almost similar to many other lead detectives we have on TV or books. A tragedy hit detective. Yet, Erika’s life and emotions are more authentic. I, as a reader, was definitely able to sympathize her and in a way wanted her to move on. Probably it’s because she is not an extraordinary detective. She is no Miss Marple or Sherlock Holmes or Poirot. She is an on-field officer who follows the clues and finds where it leads. She is definitely the reason behind the success of this book.

Apart from the protagonist, there were some really great, endearing moments which added a lot of feelings to the story. First and foremost would be the relationship between Erika and her father-in-law, Edward. Probably there were just 3 or 4 conversations between them but that was sufficient for Erika to realize she does have someone to care for her. Edward is a sweet, caring man who in spite of losing his son understands Erika’s state of mind. I am hoping to see more of them in the other books. Second is the bonding between Erika and Kate (Detective Constable). Erika finds a friend in her and the concern and respect Kate has for Erika is very warming to read.

The procedures and protocols police need to follow, which ultimately hinders their progress is very real.

The Girl in the Ice is a complete package- both thrilling and emotional. It had been a long time I was completely satisfied with a crime thriller. Highly recommended.

Cappuccinos, Cupcakes and a Corpse [Review]

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Rating: 4/5

Author: Harper Lin

The main reason I picked up this book was its cover. I know it sounds absurd but it’s true. Come on! It has a colourful pastry and an amazingly attractive coffee on its cover.  Appearances can be deceiving, as many say. Thank Goodness! It wasn’t the case with this book. The book was as delicious as cupcakes and as refreshing as a delightful cappuccino.

Corpse is a strong word and could automatically be associated with brutal murders. But this book doesn’t match the term. Don’t get me wrong. This book does have a murder, a corpse and an investigation but it’s not like those in our usual crime thrillers. This story is pleasant and the setting is magnificent. Cape Bay. The characters are adorable and you just don’t feel the time passing as you read this book.

Francessca aka Franny shifts to Cape Bay to take over the family Café after the demise of her mother. Her poor relationship choices and failure in her career supported her decision to move back to her hometown. Every day, she makes decorative cappuccinos and tasty pastries for her tourist customers. She is still low after the death of her mother and has plunged into work to distract herself from her distressed life. One day, on her way back home, she finds Mr Cardosi sitting in his garden. When she doesn’t get a response for her greetings, she checks him to find him dead. Initially, she doesn’t think about this death much but when suspicion dawns it to be a murder, Franny is interested. She finds a purpose for her life which she had been missing all the while. She gets the support of Mathew aka Matty, Mr Cardosi’s son, and the two of them begin their amateur investigation. Bold – Amateur. It’s really enjoyable to see them investigating in the most basic manner, like how a common man would think. They don’t have the resources; they don’t have the skill; but they have the determination. One small clue leads to another. They weave their own theories and hunt for proofs to back them. But all the while, the name of the murderer lies hidden within Mr Cardosi’s possessions.

The beauty of this story is the setting. Cape Bay. It’s a calm, peaceful tourist spot with a magnificent weather. It’s a small town. The neighbourhood is very friendly. Everyone knows everyone. They are all family. Even a small news spreads quickly. It’s really refreshing to read a locality like this considering the busy crowded life we live in. Equally adorable is the relationship between Franny and Matty. They are childhood friends. They have played together most of their growing up years. Education and career had taken them to different places and they had immersed in their own lives. The sudden death of Mr Cardosi brings them back together. They reminisce the wonderful time they had spent together, share their worries and sorrows. There are some very sweet and funny moments between them which are thoroughly enjoyable.

Characterwise- Franny and Matty are both so real. They are normal with no extraordinary traits. Franny is a depressed soul who is trying to fight her way back into a normal life. Matty’s entry into her life brings the much needed brightness. Her investigation is very engaging. Matty, on the other hand, is a calm and a sane man. Till before meeting Franny again, his life had only his work. He opens up to her and brings out his humorous side too. The supporting characters are nicely written. They have small roles of little significance to the story. One of my favourite parts of this story is the investigation conducted by the police and how they are out-smart the amateur investigators. Just because our leads are in pursuit of the murderer doesn’t mean their methods are correct. They cannot be better than the police, can they? At the same time, I was a little confused over the procedures. Wouldn’t the police have confiscated all the important belongings of the victim, those things which might present them with a clue to the murderer? How come everything was still at Mr Cardosi’s house for Franny and Matty to rummage through?

On the whole, Cappuccinos, Cupcakes and a Corpse is a refreshing read. It’s not extraordinary but it is so engaging that it’s difficult to put down. It’s light and entertaining. The investigation part is sufficient. The setting is soothing. It’s a quick read too. Recommended.