Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Book Review : ‘Private India’ by Ashwin Sanghi and James Patterson

I loved reading two of Ashwin Sanghi's previous works - Chanakya's Chants and The Krishna Key, and was thus eagerly looking forward to reading his next novel. Frankly speaking I was a bit apprehensive when I learnt that Sanghi and Patterson, two authors with rather distinct styles are collaborating. However, I must say that they have managed to come out with a novel that wonderfully blends the two styles.

'Private India' as the title suggests is the story of the India branch of the worldwide Private investigation agency whose other operations have been detailed in Patterson's previous books in the Private series such as Private LA, Private Games, Private Down Under and Private Berlin. As is now the trend with Sanghi, he has even come up with a YouTube trailer for the novel.

Private India book cover (James Patterson & Ashwin Sanghi)
My first impression of the novel wasn't all that great. Though the cover artwork looks impressive, the cover itself seemed too thin and had a very cheap feel to it. On 21st July it has only been released in India, (the cover mentions - edition for sale in India only) and it is only available for preorder as of now in stores abroad. While I am glad for an Indian edition (which I am assuming is a less pricey than other markets edition) I wish the publishers had gone for a better quality cover. It is interesting to note that Private India is the only Private Series novel cover in which the collaborating author’s name (Ashwin Sanghi) appears in a font size larger than Patterson’s! Perhaps that is the reason why, James Patterson’s official website has no mention of Private India at all! It neither finds a mention under the Private Series nor is it listed as an upcoming release. It did not find any mention on his Facebook page on the day of its India release either.

As you would expect from such a book, the novel starts with a murder the investigation of which is handed over to Private India by the police. The Private India team headed by Santosh Wagh, a detective with a murky past and a drinking problem soon discovers that the body discovered in the hotel is only the first in a long series of victims strangulated to death by a ritualistic serial killer. Ashwin Sanghi's usual touch of adding historical and mythological flavour to his thrillers comes to the fore as the investigators begin to unravel the mystery behind the killer's very elaborate rituals. While the murders remain the central theme of the novel, the tale soon branches out in a way that Private India is left to tackle not just a serial killer on the loose in Mumbai but also threats to its own existence.

The best part about the novel is how almost every chapter ends with a cliff hanger leaving you wondering what is about to happen next. The authors have managed to pepper the narrative with innumerable red herrings and the narration makes the reader constantly suspect different characters. The hints of betrayal of Private from within manages to keep the reader at the edge of his seat. About halfway through the novel, the Private India team is also joined by Jack Morgan, the worldwide head honco of Private. The book is divided into more than a hundred very short chapters. Most chapters are only about 4 pages long and the shortest one is just a couple of paragraphs. With each chapter the narration jumps from scene to scene and the narration from the point of view of the bad guys is scary enough to send a chill down the spine. Rapidly changing point of views along with the cliffhangers kept me completely hooked and I finished the book in much less than two days.

The trail of the killer takes the investigators around various Mumbai landmarks such as the Film City, Dharavi, Taj, Tower of Silence and onboard Mumbai's suburban trains. Here Sanghi manages to do complete justice to the city of his residence with detailed and vivid descriptions. He has also managed to weave into the plot begging networks, match fixing, bollywood romances and godmen-politician nexus, thus managing to capture every possible field of murky dealings happening in Mumbai.


The authors take us to an interesting end which is hard to predict or guess. However, while the story of the killer’s identity is satisfyingly concluded, its link with the terrorism related subplots seems rather tenuous at best. Having read Rowling's novel featuring another limp detective just a few days prior to reading Private India, I could not help but feel that the character development is slightly lacking apart from Santosh Wagh's character. I was also left wondering details such as how Jack is personally familiar with Mumbai's underworld dons and how Private continues to investigate without any clear indication of who is picking up the tab.

Despite some of these minor irritants, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Private India. Its rapidly changing points of view along with the awesome cliffhangers kept me completely hooked and I finished reading the novel in much less than 2 days. This 450 page tale is full of suspense and continuous drama and I would not be surprised if it is soon picked up for a film adaptation. A thriller's objective is to keep you turning the pages at the edge of your seat and despite its few shortcomings Private India manages to fulfill this role perfectly!

Rating : 7/10


Private India and other books from the Private Series are available on Flipkart and Amazon.in! Buy them now!

Disclosure : I was supplied with a review copy by Random House India.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Book Review – ‘The Silkworm’ by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling)

Hard to remember these days that there was a time you had to wait for the ink and paper reviews to see your work excoriated. With the invention of the internet, any subliterate cretin can be Michiko Kakutani.

-- Robert Galbraith, The Silkworm.

Cormoran Strikes Again!

Despite her pseudonym cover having been blown after her very first novel as Robert Galbraith, JK Rowling has returned as Robert Galbraith with another amazing whodunit, The Silkworm. It is the second novel (in what is now rumoured to be a seven novel series like Harry Potter) featuring the private investigator duo of Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott who first appeared in The Cuckoo’s Calling published in April 2013. The Silkworm has unfortunately received slightly less press and publicity than The Cuckoo’s Calling partly because of the surprise of the pseudonym having worn off and partly because the book’s sales and publicity have been hampered by the ongoing Amazon-Hachette dispute.

the_silkworm__spanThe novel opens with Strike unexpectedly entertaining Leonora Quine’s request to help look for her husband, the arrogant and eccentric author Owen Quine who is missing for several days and later turns up dead, turning it into a murder mystery. We slowly learn how the death has occured closely on the heels of the leak of his latest manuscript, Bombyx Mori which is a revengeful masterpiece. Bombyx Mori (Latin for The Silkworm) is a book full of thinly veiled references to almost all the people in his life, portraying his lovers, agent, publishers and editor is an extremely negative light. This book which has potential to libel almost everyone in Quine’s world thus opens up an extremely wide field of suspects who have a motive for murdering Quine. We are presented with a cast of several memorable characters, all complete with their own interesting idiosyncrasies. With most of the characters in the novel shown to be associated in one way or the other with the publishing industry, it is impossible to not wonder if Rowling has based some of them on persons she herself has dealt with in the publishing world.

While, Cormoran Strike the one-legged, gruff former military police (also son of a famous rockstar) who is described as a 6-feet 3-inches tall Cornish bloke with boxer's broad nose and thick, surly brows was already introduced in The Cuckoo’s Calling, in The Silkworm we learn more about his friends and family, many of whom he has to call upon to ease his way with the investigation. We also see him continuing to deal with the agony of having finally ended the matters with his extraordinarily beautiful, high society fiancé with whom he has been in a relationship off and on for sixteen long years. Showing the continuity from the previous book we also see him having to deal with the consequences of his unexpected fame following his success in unravelling the mystery of a super model’s death in the previous novel.

Strike continues to be aided by his assistant Robin, a pretty girl, tall and curvaceous, with long strawberry-blonde hair. In The Silkworm, now being a regular employee rather than a temp, Robin’s struggle between her relationship and work comes to the fore. Throughout the tale she has to work around the issue of both the important men in her life being dismissive of her career aspirations. Rowling has continued to use Robin to subtly highlight the problems faced by the working women while at the same time she also tantalises us with some moments of sexual tension between the two leads. Robin’s issues with her largely unsupportive fiancé and Strike’s misery over his ex-fiancé leaves the reader pining for a romantic angle between the two leads.

Strike’s approach to investigation is disciplined and consists of interviews with the suspects coupled with collection of clues and logical deductions. When the long series of interviews slowly begins to feel repetitive, we come across several red herrings strategically embedded in the narrative, to keep the reader guessing. The narrative moves much slower than many other popular crime novels or mysteries but the deft plotting ensures that the reader keeps flipping the pages. At 453 pages the novel does seem a tad bit too long for the limited story that it encompasses and might have felt better had it been slightly faster paced. The ending is beautifully crafted with a clever twist in the tale that I did not manage to anticipate. Only after reading the end do you see the clues scattered strategically through the narrative. However, Rowling reveals that the protagonists have cracked the mystery while the reader has to follow them through almost another 75 pages to discover how they deduced the identity of the killer. I find this style very annoying but with web of clues and leads unfolding, it is impossible not to continue reading.

Writing as Robert Galbraith, Rowling sheds her sanitized language of the Harry Potter series and the characters use expletives rather liberally. She has also not held back on any of the gory details and descriptions of death, making the scene where the dead body is discovered especially gut wrenching. Characters’ dialogue is also peppered with her views on various matters of contemporary interest. Strike and his lawyer friend mention the phone hacking scandal and the status of legal aid respectively while many of the other characters also reflect on the publishing industry. Some of the more memorable lines are -

If you want a lifetime of temporary alliances with peers who will glory in your every failure, write novels.

 You can’t plot murder like a novel. There are always loose ends in real life.

Like most writers, I tend to find out what I feel on a subject by writing about it. It is how we interpret the world, how we make sense of it.

Fancourt can't write women,' said Nina dismissively. 'He tries but he can't do it. His women are all temper, tits and tampons.

Though the book is slower than most novels that I love to read, it is an absolute joy and pleasure to read The Silkworm. Rowling is a master of character development and at the end I not only felt like I knew rhr protagonists for ages but also remembered the quirky details of all the minor characters whom she has so expertly fleshed out. Rowling's amazingly detailed descriptions coupled with her deft plotting which keeps you curious throughout ensured that the book was unputdownable.

All in all, it was a great read and I cannot wait to read about Strike and Robin's next case!

Rating : 8/10

You can buy The Silkworm & The Cuckoo's Calling for a discounted price at Flipkart!

Disclosure : I was supplied with a review copy by Hachette India.