Sunday, 27 September 2015

Degree of Guilt - Richard North Patterson

photo courtesy: waterstones.com
A classic reminder of why this author is one of my favourites.

Despite being disappointed with some of his last reads, this is an extremely enjoyable, one that reiterarated my faith in the author.

I love his style and the way he delves into the psychological aspect of the characters. It is said that he is similar to John Grisham, but I disagree. I think the similarity is due to the courtroom scenes but that's it. I find him different since he focusses more on behind the scenes rather than the courtroom scenes themselves.

Gist: 

Christopher Paget, a lawyer of repute, lives with his son Carlo. Mary Carelli, the boy's mother, is a television journalist who leads a separate life. However, one day she calls up Paget asking for help when she is accused of killing a well known author. She claims rape and self defence and wants Paget to defend her.

What follows then is Paget's attempt to prove her innocence which also involves a complex ride down the memory lane. Together with his assistant Theresa, they try to piece together what might have happened amid the publicity and the difficulty of the case.

What works:
  • It is a good plot and rape as a subject is carefully handled. Patterson is known to have used certain topics like rape, abortion and gun crime as the basis for his books.
  • The story has such an authentic ring to it that it reminds the reader of the author's background as a lawyer. His characters with their flawed personalities are distinct and identifiable. 
  • The narrative is smooth and gently eases the readers into a complex plot.
  • Once the pace gets going, the reader is taken into the inner workings of the characters which adds to the charm of the story.
  • The twists are great and unforseen which make them very enjoyable.
What doesn't:
  • The background behind certain events bogs down the plot. But having said that, the details add another dimension to the story and the reader cannot complain that the author is cutting any corners.    
Overall a great read. This is a typical Patterson kind of book with lawyer protagnists trying to prove one's guilt or innocence while questioning the real reason for the motives.

Recommended.





Eye of the Needle - Ken Follet

A fantastic read from a master storyteller.

Ken Follett is my guilty pleasure read. I pick him up when I feel like treating myself to some spicy, fast food like entertainment.

I was going through some heavy dose literary reads and this book turned up at a time when I was desperate for some light and easy stuff.

This is one of Ken Follett's famous works and written quite sometime back. However, the popularity of the author has ensured that his earlier books have survived as well as his latest ones.

Sometime back, I watched a Hindi movie version of the work. Though the principal characters were the same, the story had been adapted to suit the Hindi audience. I was glad to watched the movie before I opened the book. It helped me appreciate the Ken Follett's story better.

Gist:

Set in the world war II, the English army is spreading false word about a large army ready for invasion. Actually it is a ploy designed to deceive the Germans. However, Needle, a German spy gets the wind of it and dashes off to inform the Germans. However, in his attempt to race from one end of the country to another he leaves behind a murderous trail. Rough weather on the sea washes him up to to Storm island, where a brave woman and her family take him in. What happens is a race against time to see if the English intelligence are able to thwart Faber or let their secret get to the Germans.

What Works:
  • A racy read. A thriller that is filled with twists or turns to keep the reader up till late in the night.
  • The characters are very well etched out and the dialogue and narrative are in line with the world war II era.
What doesn't:
  • It is a typical commercial plot -driven thriller and promises nothing more than a great escapism. If the reader is looking for some exalted, complex plot then he or she may be disappointed.
A Ken Follett book with sex, adventure and action. A masala fare that offers you entertainment on a platter.






Friday, 18 September 2015

Brutal - Uday Satpathy

photo courtesy: amazon.com
A taut debut by a promising writer.

I love reading new authors and this is a great time to be reading them. More and more local names are coming out with some great original stories or with a twist on the traditional ones. On my annual trips to India, I make it a point to browse through new names and invariably pick out promising books to take back with me.

It is great to see choice of genres too. Chick lit, crime mythology, you name it and Indian names are out there making their mark. Also, there are more avenues for these writers, to reach out to the readers and get a chance to prove themselves.

Therefore, I was elated when Writer's Ezine announced that I had won this book in a giveaway. With crime being a current favourite genre, I was looking forward to this Indian crime story. However, even before I opened the book, my initial thoughts were heavily influenced by the book jacket. Going by its cover, I braced myself to expect a good deal of violence in its pages.

I was not wrong.

What I found was violence accompanied with a gripping storyline and some great writing.

Gist:

A teacher is accused of carrying out a massacre at a school. Covering the case in court is Prakash a journalist, who has just recovered from a perilous assignment and is getting back on his feet after a hiatus. He hopes that this routine assignment will ease him back into work.

What seems like a predictable job turns into a deadly game of survival when the prime accused is shot dead in public. Prakash decides to delve into it and unearths some deadly truths. Along with his colleagues Seema and Mrinal, Prakash becomes an unwilling participatant in a game that threatens to be fatal for them all.

What works:
  • Right from page 1, the reader is glued to his seat and treated to a roller coaster ride of events.
  • There is always some action happening and before you realise, you are a part of it, chasing the truth with Prakash and his friends.
  • The book is a short one and can be easily finished in one sitting, ideal for those train and car journeys.
  • The pace is quick and the narrative races through places and events keeping the reader occupied.
What doesn't:
  • What I love about crime novels, apart from the whodunnit bit, is a parallel storyline about the protagnist himself. That doesn't seem to be happening here. Although there is information about Prakash and his past, the myopic vision of the fast paced action prevents Prakash from endearing himself to the reader. 
  • The passive voice that fills the reader in with the information jars a bit.  the paragraph just goes on and on loaded with information. 
  • Typo errors in the pages are a bit of a turn off.
  • Too much focus on the plot, less on building of characters. Seema, Mrinal are such fascinating characters but although we are told about them, we do not have the luxury of knowing them better. The info is too brief for us to engage with their lives.
That said, it cannot be argued it is a taut thriller, full of action and a compelling contemporary storyline. The plot is well executed and has a sound structure. It must not have been easy dealing with a crime action paced story. However, the descriptions are very graphic and the narrative flows well. The writing also offers great verbal visuals whether it is about the chase or some of the gory elements that are a part of the story.

Hats off to the team what worked with the author in launching this edge-of-the-seat thriller. However, a bit of proofreading would not have gone amiss.

Overall a racy read. A promising debut. Recommended.


Sunday, 13 September 2015

Sweet and Simple Kind - Yasmin Goonaratne

Amazon.co.uk
A great novel about two girls growing up in Srilanka, living through the changes that transformed its landscape.

This book was appealing after I learned that it was shortlisted for the Commonwealth prize. I fell in love with Srilanka after I read Nyomi Munaweera's An Island of Thousand Mirrors. So when I came by this one that showcased a similar promise, I couldn't resist dunking into it.

Gist:

Latha and Tsunami are two cousins growing up in the 50s and 60s Srilanka in an sprawling estate, nestled in beautiful countryside. Theirs is an idyllic childhood, spent in the company of books and nature. However, certain events in their childhood severs their relationship temporarily and consequently changes it forever. Growing up, they bond once again as they join the same university. However times are changing. The once tolerant society is simmering with racial conflict and Tsunami and Latha find their lives affected by it, one way or another.

What works:
  • It is a very well written and a beautiful novel about a much happier time in the beautiful country of Srilanka. 
  • The story seems partly autobiographical as the author, like Latha, has a similar academic background and hails from a political family.
  • There is a certain indulgence especially when it comes to the Peredeniya parts, where the author seems to revel in the academic life of the campus.
  • The story gathers pace when the girls get to the university and are exposed to a broader canvas of life.
  • Despite an old school style the writing brings out the author's love for her country and her characters. 
  • Latha and Tsunami are loveable characters and the names show a lot of insight into their personalities. Although, not all readers may be able to connect to them, but it is easy to empathise with their characters.
What doesn't:
  •  I began this book hoping to gain more insight into the Srilankan conflict. Although this book touches upon the issues concerning the Tamil and Sinhalese, the story doesn't go beyond the individual and refrains from becoming a national experience.
  • Latha and Tsunami find themselves indirect victims of the conflict. In Tsunami's case it is Daniel Rajratnam and in Latha's case it is Paula and Rajan Phillips. However, the story sticks to their individual lives and choices and does not shed more light on the conflict. I felt a bit disapppppointed on that score.
  • The pace is slow in the beginning. It reads moree like a memoir of idyllic childhood spent at the family home and the author seems to savour it as she devotes pages to it. The only thing that kept it going was her fluid style and her ability to draw introduce interesting characters.
Overall an enjoyable novel. It is a good story about two women in a conservative Srilankan society of the 50s and 60s. 

A well written story about women and their position in a changing society. Do not expect much insight into the Srilankan conflict and it is an enjoyable read. 

Escape the Night - Richard North Patterson

Interesting plot, however let down by a dated style.

Being an ardent Richard Patterson fan, I picked up unmindful of what the story was. I was disappointed. This seems like Patterson's earlier novels.

Gist:

The story is about a publishing magnate family, the Careys and how events within the family and outside changes their fortunes.
Peter Carey, heir to inherit a publishing empire, carries ghosts of his past. He suffers from nightmares after surviving an accident that killed his parents. The accident left his psyche so deeply hurt that it effects his future relationships as well. Now as he stands to take over his inheritance, there are forces that want to stop from getting to the helm.

What works:
  • Patterson has a way with his characters. His characters are well etched and the reader has the chance to understand them very well and connect to their psyche.
  • The story starts off interesting. The patriach Carey's relationship with his two sons Charles and Phillips and the relationship between Charles and Peter is shown with great depth and insight.
  • His stories are always high on the psychological aspect and this story is well embeded in the psychological goings of the main characters. 
What doesn't:
  • The plot thought starts well, gets too mired in the psychological aspect of it all.
  • So much of it is focussed in the mind, that it affects the pace of the novel.
  • A good story always makes you want to turn that one page more before closing it for the moment. This one doesn't.
  • The story gets so convulted at places, that it takes determination on the part of the reader to hold steadfast with the story.
  • The book was written way back in 1983. Perhaps that explains the dated style which does not add to the story in any way.
I was surprised the good reviews that this book has got on other sites. I don't know what they got that was lost on me. However, I will stick to my feelings and maintain my stand. 

Patterson has many others which are more enjoyable that this one. This one just did not work for me.



Wednesday, 9 September 2015

When the gang of "Dacoits" turned up....

photo courtesy godolphin.org
was excited about our annual trip to India this year. His college reunion was top of the agenda. I, however,  was sceptical.

"Are you sure the kids and I won't be out of place?"

"Of course not. It has been designed to be a family thing," P said, with his usual conviction.

Reluctantly conceding, I could imagine it already. Lost in a sea of new faces, I would be the wallflower, yawning away in a corner. P would be busy reminiscing "those days". I would be left to fend for Cheeky and Aadi and my lonely self.

On paper, the itineiry sounded glossy although I was unconvinced. A posh resort was the venue with rooms for overnight stay, laced with a promise of great entertainment for kids and adults.

Reaching there on a hot afternoon, as we walked up, the kids faces lit on seeing the bouncy castle.

 That's them sorted. What about me? My thoughts were swirling around as I watched over them.

Suddenly, there was a pat at my shoulder. I turned around to see a face smiling at me.

"Hi, I am P's batch mate and it's good to meet you finally. I hope you are enjoying yourself." she said.

We chatted for a while and found myself being introduced to some of the other new arrivals as well.

It was a interesting visual before me. Bright eyed youngsters who had left college had returned back as professionals and parents. Many had travelled a good part of the day to be there and introductions were flying around.

Now that acquaintances were made, people were slowly warming up to each other. As the evening wore on, people began to relax. Unihibited kids were having a great time. For many, talking about children served as an ice breaker offering a common ground for conversation.

wallspapercraft.com
After dinner, many slumped on the seats to collect their thoughts.  The evening and the dinner had offered a great chance to register the changes in themselves and their friends, in the last two decades.

There was a moment of trepidation when the lights dimmed. Soon, the DJ began playing a selection of numbers, deigned to turn reluctant shakers into uninhibited dancers.

Initially, only a courageous and confident few got on the floor. But then the songs changed, uncoiling emotions and moves. People began filling the floor, taking solace in the growing crowd, to enjoy themselves without feeling awkward.I found myself getting into the rhythm and danced my heart out.

Taking a break between numbers, I caught a sight that has stayed with me since. In a corner, a former student was watching the dancers, with an expectant gaze. Hardened by years of domestic and career demands, she was stirred by the tempo but reluctant to join in. Clearly, it had been ages since she had let her guard down and indulged in carefree revelry.

 Tapping her feet to the music, she was drawn to, yet resisting the pull of the dance floor. Then as a popular friendship song began to play, something snapped, releasing her, as she broke into a short run across the floor, to join her batch mates in the chorus.

Despite busy lives, various obligations, the evening had managed to draw out the spontaneity in people, bring back that buoyant student of '95 in them.

The song ended and people began to disperse. P stayed back for a late night chat with friends;  I headed back, dragging my knackered body and a happy heart to bed.

Next day, when we met for breakfast, it was like meeting old acquaintances- our shared experience of last evening had bound us together, creating a history of its own.

Bidding our goodbyes, we parted as new friends, with the promise to meet again like old mates!