31 by Upendra Namburi
Book Review, Recently Posted, Thriller

31 by Upendra Namburi

31 upendra Namburi Corporate thriller

 

Imagine a situation where a Chanakya or a Machivalli would have thrived in a modern corporate…

Now imagine any organization you may have worked in – increase its size to global. Now imagine a financial crisis, a barely hidden extra marital affair, a wife in a professional and personal crisis, a fraud allegation, a traitor in the most trusted circle,  a very real chance of unemployment and financial ruin, a pregnancy, job interviews which seem to lead nowhere

Now imagine all of this happening within just 31 days!

And now imagine that the guy facing all of this in 31 days is nowhere close to a Chanakya or a Machiavelli. He is about as plain as you and me – grappling with the day as it comes…

Upendra Namburi, in his debit novel, has written a cracker of a book! And its not an easy genre to crack – Corporate thriller. And that too in an Indian setting

A good corporate thriller not only has to read like a racy John Grisham but from an Indian prespective, the book also needs to hit some chords with an audience that has faced atleast some, if not all of the problems that Ravi Shastry faced (if only in a much more extended period than in a month). Not only this, the book cannot take itself too seriously. Much of corporate humour is like gallows humour. The trick is get this brand of humour in a book…

And very satisfyingly Upendra succeeds in all of this in 31.

I had picked this book with some trepidation, not really knowing whether Indian writing had turned the corner on this brand of thriller. A corporate thriller hits close to home and if any of it seems even remotely fake or worse, seems like a lift from some US office situation, the book is an instant practice shot for the nearest dustbin!

And guess what – 31 is something I finished in a few hours.

And I realized something else. Here is an Indian book that you can finish in a 3 hour flight and it does not have to be juvenile writing. In fact, Upendra pulls off a tight script with enough twists and turns to leave you breathless enough to turn the next page.

While reading this, I was trying to remember when I had felt this irrestible urge to keep looking for the next button. Two came to mind – Prison Break and 24, the book’s almost namesake! Both of these left enough tantalized at the end of one episode to make you go begging to see the next one.

31 does the same with each page!

And the way that Upendra has structured the narrative  is another reason why the book turns out to be a page turner. Like the series 24, he has put time as heading of  each paragraph.

So it feels like a constant countdown happening. And you know the time left for Ravi Shastry is only till 31st March, only a few days left now!

Ravi Shastry is the regular performing guy in a regular large MNC bank. He indulges in polite politics, is hoping for a promotion soon, has had an affair on the side which almost caused a rift with his wife, a wife who is starting to feel neglected. All par for the course and seemingly normal existence (the affair, even, yes!). And then one fine monday it all goes topsy turvy and Ravi is now forced to race against time to save his career, his solvency, his marriage and his sanity

Along the way Ravi faces everything that anybody who has ever worked in a corporate enviroment in India would have faced – a snarky and over-demanding boss, a smug HR guy, colleagues and subordinates jostling for few scraps of positions, a constant looking over the shoulder for backstabbers, a top management devoid of brains interested only in the next paycheck. Its a bewildering maze of relationships and power equations lubricated with blackberrys that we are very familiar with. From our comfort zones, the best thrillers have arisen. Upendra Namburi ensures that he follows this trend nicely…

You, the reader, keep rooting for Ravi, inspite of all his follies and missteps. Because I guess, somewhere you feel a part of him, or him of you…

And then the litmus test, at least for me – the ending. The ending for me is the distilled flavour of the book that I retain. And 31 has one of the best possible endings – not a fairy tale ending nor a distressing one – but one that is real enough, an open ended one. And a nice end to all the breathtaking days and minutes of  countdown

Pick this one up. Its one unassuming book that for a short time will completely occupy whatever you are doing.

Standard
The Taj conspiracy
Book Review, Historical, Thriller

The Taj conspiracy by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar

The taj conspiracy The Taj conspiracy is a thriller from a genre in Indian writing that is just waking up to its potential – crime fiction. Also the fact that this is based on one of the perennial controversy surrounding the Taj Mahal – of its very authenticity, makes it a compelling pick

So far so good. The positioning is brilliant. The question then is – is the story and the writing to the mark? Read on…

As you start reading this, you get a sense of deja-vu. Which is confirmed as the first chapter goes by you and realize that "The Taj Conspiracy" is heavily inspired by "Da Vinci Code". The strong woman with a powerful sense of history, a murder victim who leaves clues with his own blood, a elderly intellectual who is steeped in the history of Taj Mahal, an investigator who starts believing as the story moves on…

The good thing about the inspiration is that it does not stretch too far. You see the obvious similarities but it is never a pale imitation. Instead the Indian context is brought out well. And after a few chapters, you forget about Da Vinci code and begin enjoying the book in its own right

And its time that we get a doughty and attractive women sleuth of our own!! Mehrunnisa Khosa, she of the exotic name and the exotic origin fits the bill.

The book opens with a murder right inside the Taj and unravels with a plot to destroy the Taj Mahal itself. And it only gets more exciting. Bringing in politicians and fringe fanatic groups, the story never loses steam through to its ending. There can be no joy in telling a story in a review, especially one like this. It just has to be picked up to be read!!

What the "Taj Conspiracy" does well is bringing to life the controversies surrounding Taj Mahal. And brings to life, how the conspiracies resonate to this day bringing in politicians and media and fringe groups of all hues. Its refreshing to see an Indian mystery/thriller based on historical intrigues. India's history is laden with riches just waiting to be mined by storytellers. Its a wonder why it has not happened on a large scale till now

This is where Manreet Sodhi Someshwar does well. The research is upto the mark and contributes a great deal to the readability. And Manreet succeeds where many authors falter – meshing the research with the storyline. Amidst all the running and shooting and killings and revelations, the wonder of the mystery is never far off.

In fact, this book will open up the Taj Mahal for the readers once again. I know that the next time I go there, I would beManreet sodhi seeing it with new eyes and not what the guide or the guide book tells me. And if a book can open up something new in something that seemed so familiar, I daresay that its worth reading…

I have a small gripe though. The character development could have been improved a little more. Manreet creates fascinating characters that could have been fleshed out a bit more. At the end of the book, the characters remained slightly one-dimensional.

But then, Manreet has planned a whole trilogy with Mehrunnisa Khosa. So lots of space to iron out the chinks…
Overall, a book worth picking up. And in the fledgling genre of Indian mystery, this quality book is a great step forward. Looking forward to see which mystery Manreet throws at us next…

Standard
Book Review, Science fiction, Thriller

Timeline by Michael Crichton

2 This was a book recommended to me by Wikipedia when I was reading up on string theory which naturally referred itself to parallel universes and hence to time travel. This and ‘Man in high castle’ by Philip K Dick, both of which I immediately lapped up on my Infibeam Pi.
 
This is a typical  Crichton novel – an interesting scientific possibility with a decent amount of research, a band of adventurers, an evil but high-tech corporation and a great story which as always is a page turner.
And most importantly, for me – a science fiction and history buff, a story that combines both. And like every story that combines them, this story too packs quite a punch.
 
So just immerse yourself into a world where it has become possible to travel into the past, which as Crichton reminds us, is not too much into the remote future anyway. A team of archaeologists in modern France excavating a site which saw action during the Hundred Years war (between France and England in the 14th century) are drawn into a1 larger game plan of the company sponsoring their study, when they find their professor’s glasses and a note spelling ‘Help’ while excavating a site that had not seen light in the last 600 years.
 

So begins an adventure that sees the group tumbling into 14th century France, into a world which all their scholarship could not prepared them for. And the period is one of the most volatile times in the region’s history – an invasion is taking place and with medieval casual brutality around every corner, the story soon takes a scorching pace. And then comes a very unexpected twist – they may not be the only 20th century people out there!!!
 
A great read for a rainy day when you want to be entertained and thrilled. Don't expect too much depth or great characterization, that's not what the book is for. The book is for entertainment, pure and simple, with a very interesting plot.
 
And yes, the movie they made out of this is terrible. Give it a miss, read the book instead…
 

 

Standard
Science fiction, Thriller

The Running Man written by Stephen King (as Richard Bachman)

300x300 I still cringe when people talk of Stephen King as a novelist exclusively of the horror or paranormal genre. It would seem that all the information deluge (or maybe because of the deluge) on the net is insufficient to wipe out the image carved out by popular media. This book is one which will not at all fit the stereotype. Set in a dystopian future (in 2025), this book owes its debt to Orwell rather than to Bela Lugosi…
 
I was lucky to start off on King by reading the novella – four seasons. There, in those four very different stories, you realize that above all, King is a master storyteller. And that is something that is common in all the books he has written. In fact I have liked his non-horror books more…
 
Ben Richards, the protagonist, is the classic quiet brooding angry man forced to play the part of the unwilling rebel in a world gone bad. And a world gone to extreme reality television. The proles in 1984 were kept in a state of zombification by lottery and sex magazines. Here the citizens are kept in a state of permanent television frenzy, with reality television becoming a permanent fabric of existence. The Games federation (which organizes the TV shows) is an unelected  quasi-government.

 

And the reality games have become actually that – a perverted terrifying reality. The greatest crowd puller over the centuries has been a public execution. The Games federation has just used this mob6a00d8345169e469e2011168c60571970c-250wi mentality and has come up with the “Running Man”, a game where men are hunted and killed- the longer the men stay alive, the more money they earn. And they have no shortage of takers. People are willing to put themselves on the show to earn money to feed their starving families, as Ben does.

Ben goes through the qualification process and finally proceeds to be selected for their star show, the ‘Running Man’, his often caustic comments and observations illuminating his world for us. He then has to find a way to stay alive and keep earning money for his wife and a sick daughter and somehow beat the system at the same time. Through his eyes, we begin to understand the world, its real nature and how it came to be as it is.
 
Like all King novels, this is a scorching page turner. And like all his novels, the characters come out well, especially Ben’s and all the people he meets along the way.
Stephen_King Though I would have liked a slightly less melodramatic ending, the book comes out very well in being both a great story and in setting out a bleak vision for a world that may very well be coming true in many shades today. This latter aspect, its relevant topicality, is what makes this book so interesting.
 
Looking at the world today, when big corporates have learnt that they need to control media and especially television for control (and control means money), when reality television seems to be getting weirder and weirder, a ‘Running Man’ may  not be far off…after all, a man getting killed in public is something that we have learnt to enjoy for many centuries. Its only a question  of bringing the beast out!!!
 
P.S- they made a movie out of this, with the same name, which leaves out the best elements of the book; made it into a typical mindless action flick. Avoid!!

 

 

 

Standard
The_Lost_Symbol
Book Review, Fiction, Thriller

The lost symbol written by Dan Brown

the-lost-symbol If a writer reaches his apogee  with a book that creates unimaginable fame for him, he or she is perhaps compelled to forever write in the same vein, in the same style unless he is bold or iconoclastic enough to change direction. Some like Rowling can manage it, both because she was writing a series and also because she had the courage to finish off something that has already made her the modern Enid Blyton (and much more than that).

However for some like Dan Brown, who ploughed magnificently  into the need for people to believe in mysteries and controversies with his ‘Da Vinci code’, the end of the road may have already been a few years back. Telling the same story by a different name may seem an easy way to continue sales but the lack of freshness may well trigger the literary equivalent of diminishing marginal utility. Which is something I felt strongly with his latest book “The Last symbol”

After you finish the book, you realize that the author still has a very potent touch when it comes to marrying action on the pages with deep mysteries and conspiracies that the characters are trying to solve before the time runs out. Which is what made Da Vinci code so engrossingly addictive. This book too is a furious page turner right from the first page.

But we soon run into problems. You get a powerful sense of Déjà-vu. The same sense of Langdon rushing headlong into a conspiracy that only he can decipher before everything goes awry. There is an intelligent good looking woman neck deep into everything who he has to accompany and occasionally save,  (you wonder what happened to the other two!!!). There is a powerful secret organization (in this case the Freemasons) whose secret is about to be unveiled for the better or worse. And there are clues strewn around (in this case in Washington DC) that Langdon has to put together, while being on the run from, well, virtually everyone!!! and there is the villain, some twisted, misunderstood, self mutilating outcaste who believes in miracles – rings a bell anyone?

But Washington is not Paris and the secret of the Freemasons does not exactly set your pulses racing as a secret about Jesus might. And a story twice told loses it zing. You feel you are watching a cover version of a book after some time. You know that something is going to be revealed at the end and its going to end happily. And well, it does…and though a good amount of research has gone into the book but the symbology jigsaw puzzle is not that exciting anymore as it was in Da Vinci.

Another problem is that I found the book to be exceedingly preachy. dan_brown You begin to feel that you are being told to believe than make up your own mind. The vision of noble founding fathers of America building the nation in the image of a utopian society, seeing themselves as helping humans attain god-like status by spreading knowledge begins to really jar on on you after a while. I mean hey, they kept slaves in the backyard and committed a few merry genocides on the way. If they were really following Masonic principles (Atom bomb dropping, Harry Truman was a mason, no less), the world would have had a few hours of quiet sleep today. The preaching becomes screechingly preachy towards the end when the characters talk of universal consciousness and Bible being a repository of deep knowledge (instead of being a political book). You almost feel you are in some New Age healing centre where you pay a small fortune to sit in groups to chant (and go back to the punishing work grind the next day!!)…

A book to read if you have nothing else to do and if you are immune to preachy writing that stops making too much real sense after a while. If you enjoyed Da Vinci code, give this a miss. It would be too painful to see an author trying to make money by piggybank on his fame by churning out a Xerox copy…

Standard
Book Review, Thriller

Oscar Wilde and ring of death by Gyles Brandreth

n258488 I didn’t know that Wilde has been positioned as a detective since I saw this one. That was the only reason I picked up this book!!! Oscar Wilde is one of my all time favourites. Its difficult to find a wit better than him even after a hundred years. I was curious to see how he has been treated in this new avatar.

Having finished the book, I am left with mixed feeling. The book is good overall, though as a detective novel, in my opinion, the book is not a scratch on the Poirots and Holmes of this world. The book is not racy and I found myself yawning through many parts of the book. The twists in the plot are not breath-taking and Wilde’s actual detection abilities are not on display. There is no Poirot flourish or a Holmes ‘its elementary’ moment. That is the book’s biggest weakness. You may capture the reader’s initial interest by putting Wilde in the unlikely role of a sleuth but if the story is not fleshed out properly, the great playwright’s aphorism wont save the day.

Which then brings me to the reason why I feel this book drags. The author tries too hard to bring Wilde’s personality on the pages – to the point that it feels artificial. Its distracting to be thrown an aphorism, which does not fit in the context, in the middle of a developing plot, just because the author felt that its time to remind the reader that its Oscar Wilde on the stage.  The personality of Wilde is brought on too strongly and is never allowed to mesh itself with the plot, with the result that Wilde seems like an outsider at times to the developments. What is more frustrating is that Wilde is never shown to have any great or unique detection abilities – as if charm and witty saying is enough to solve murders.

Its a pity because there was so much potential in the story and in the plot. You not only had Wilde but you also had other famous historical characters like Arthur Conan Doyle in the story (they being in the circle of friends of Wilde). The author could have informed and amused and given us an unforgettable story. Instead he tried too hard and all of it comes out as a bit of a farce…

Which, as I said, is a pity…

Standard