Call Me Al by Sheheryar B. Sheikh: Book Review

Title: Call Me Al

Author: Sheheryar B. Sheikh

Genre: Political Satire

Call Me Al is pronounced a political satire and that’s precisely why I picked this book to read. Manipulation, power games and above all violently idiosyncratic characters, all these come together in a narrative that is brilliant in its rebellion of linear storytelling.

Call Me Al book cover

“The smallest distance from powerlessness in London to sovereignty in Islamabad is a double- murder and a riot.”

This sums up the story neatly, filling the blanks of how, who and what. Altamaash, a rising political power in Pakistan is forced into exile through the machinations of his political opponents. For decades, he bids his time, wanting to come back to Pakistan to reclaim the lost days of glory and to lead his nation. Curiously, he tries a sleight of hand through an elaborately planned double-murder for which he is never indicted and sets off a series of violent events in his homeland to engineer his return to a tumultuous nation as a saviour.

Review

The book seemed quite heavy in the first few chapters, obtuse even and I resigned myself to a slow paced book. However,
1/3 into the book, the narration flows. You realise that the book is not just a satire but with many layers of wit, some of which you may miss if you don’t pay attention.

There’s the case of names, of George Gary Gregory Jaffar, of Altamaash (a pun on ‘tamashaa’ and the song Call me Al) himself. Then there are the Angels, the Angel of Admittance and the Angel of Turning Away and the counterintuitive way the Divine One decides who gets hell and who gets heaven.

The book also has a number of monologues, all characters indulge in them to their hearts desire and more but they are perhaps needed to move the story further and to explain the going-ons which are usually too difficult to follow. But, it doesn’t get confusing. Rather the shift in narrative and through ‘seeing’ the past and future lives of Al, the story gets a new dimension and a distance from the protagonist which is a little relieving.

“When you look at the whole thing from the future, it will appear like a montage of images in stop-start slow-motion.”

The narration is interesting. The first 1/3rd of the book is through the voices of 2 characters and their PoV of one person, Al. After the two characters die, they are supposed to live out Al’s life right from that point in time to his past and his future.

The way the story moves forward is gripping in the sense that the author takes liberty with the narration, the narrative voice and pov, as also the omniscience through two dead people and the pace wherein the dead ones decide to view the past and future of Al. Through these narrative techniques, Al becomes the superhero that he is supposed to be all along in the book.

The song, call me Al by Paul Simons has inspired the title of the book. Is it because the protagonist Altamaash is undergoing a mid-life crisis, disillusioned and disheartened, making one last desperate jab to get back to the days of glory?

The characters are deeply flawed and oh-so-human. There are shades of grey all around, veering towards black and this is why the characters are so believable and memorable. Altamaash himself is larger-than-life and his twisted sense of logic and even ruthlessness is entertaining.

Sheheryar B. Sheikh mentions that he wanted to ‘create a narrative that enflamed the desire to devote life to literature’. In that respect, he has been successful. ‘Call Me Al’ has been one of the most satisfying reads for me this year. The storyline is familiar, set as it is in Pakistan but it is the narrative that is the redeeming and the inspiring factor.

The Gunslinger by Suchita Agarwal: Book Review

Title: The Gunslinger

Author: Suchita Agarwal

Genre: Western, Fiction

The Gunslinger is a fast paced, action packed Western with trigger happy gunslingers, chases and unusual relationships. It has a wonderful storyline and subplots that are tied up neatly towards the end.

The story

Lola, a ten year old is on the run after her parents are murdered brutally. She finds an unexpected protector in Hunter, the dreaded Gunslinger. It seems hate and revenge would catch up with them very soon as they run from impossible situations and formidable enemies. However, there are surprises in store. People who have been thought dead show up, enemies turn protectors and the final battle for revenge is much deeper and goes back much in time.

Review

The story sweeps you along in a great rush of words. It starts right in the middle of the action and works backwards and forwards with such ease that you are taken along with the flow of words.

Like a true western, it has great action- guns, killings, chases and the pace never slackens. The backstory too has a brevity that would be typical of a laconic gunslinger. There is a detachment as well, especially in the scenes that show violence and again that suits the story and the setting very well.

The first few pages sets the stage for a seemingly simple chase and escape story, with a generous dose of revenge but as the story moves on, it surprised me with its twists and turns.

“She should have known Eastwoods took their quests, love and betrayal very seriously.”

And herein begins the saga that has its genesis before Lola’s birth to the present-day.

Nature’s elements are present in full form. This element of dependence on and oneness with nature is a recurring element.

“When you live with nature, you learn to read the signs. And as a reward, nature warns you when trouble is headed your way.”

The story has a very satisfying closure in terms of redemption, both material and emotional. The relationship of Hunter and the kid is very delicately handled, bringing out the nuances of the unusual and unexpected attachment between them.

What works well

The setting is superbly drawn out. The Gunslinger has every element of a Western thriller. The landscape, the chases and the fights add to a feeling of authenticity for the reader.

The characters are very well developed, not just in terms of their physical characteristics and linguistic quirks but also in an emotional sense. There are little touches that make the characters come alive for you- Lincoln and his weak eyesight, Lanky whose tongue has been cut off, the anger that Lola gives in to by throwing chairs at windows.

There is a wit that shines through the narration. The names of places, Highso and Lowso and their apparent discrepancies, characters like Twitchy-variant and boy-variant made me appreciate the writing even more.

The language is beautiful. Every now and then, it slips into the lyrical.

“She could hear the house scraping, like an old man trying to settle in an equally old chair.”

I liked the brevity and the efficiency of words. The writing is very crisp; there is absolutely no verbosity to slow the pace.

“Once they were sure she was safe, and out of earshot, the good cheer was thrown away like a mask at the end of a masquerade ball. Lines were drawn, Maggie with Fences, Romeo undecided, and Hunter, back to being the lone wolf that he was so comfortable being.”

Verdict

A fast paced thriller with an adroit plotline and memorable characters, The Gunslinger delivers the very best that a Western can.

You can download the book here. It is free for a very limited time.

Vanara by Anand Neelakantan: Book Review

Title: Vanara: The Legend of Baali, Sugreeva and Tara

Author: Anand Neelakantan

Genre: Mythological Fiction

Vanara is an awe inspiring book, epic in its sweep and reach, evoking emotions that you normally keep under wraps. It is the story of Baali and Sugreeva, the brothers in the epic Ramayana and the woman in their lives, Tara.

The Story

Vanara, the title of the book refers to a tribe of Van Naras, the forest dwellers. Baali and Sugreeva are Van Naras, born in poverty and growing up as slaves. Fighting fate and going through tribulations, Baali, along with Sugreeva goes on to build a grand city, Kishkindha for his people so that they can escape slavery and discrimination.

But the peace and the fate of the city takes a turn for the worse because of a fraternal war between the once inseparable brothers. It is precipitated by the beautiful Tara who is desired by both the brothers.

Review

The story of Baali and Sugreeva, though steeped in mythology is stripped of fantasy elements and develops rationally. The story builds the world on the foundation of rationality and detail eg. why certain people were considered dasa (slaves), the intermingling of the races etc so that the reader needs no introduction to mythology. In fact, that is a huge plus point. I like to read books without delving much into the background of the main premise of the book. I like the book to unfold its own magic and Vanara did it so beautifully for me.

Vanara is a story that shows the viewpoint of the characters. There is no right or wrong, no hero or villain. The roles of the characters depends on their circumstances. There is a blurring of line between good and evil and this is what sets the book apart.

After reading the book, I am tempted to go in search of the various versions of stories around the main characters in mythology. From my meagre knowledge of these stories, heard and read sometime in my childhood, I recognised many different versions of the details. It is amazing to see how oral storytelling leads to the evolution of stories.

What works well

The descriptive passages in the book are so well written that the reader is immersed in the story. Every little detail counts, every rustle of leaves heard, the breeze felt, the flowers smelt; the writer evokes all the senses and more through the emotions of the characters.

The prose is delightfully lyrical. The scenes of the forest where the story is set are described so vividly. I could feel the moonlight, see the canopy of trees and shiver with anticipation.

“Through the cracks in the canopy, moonlight fell like butter oozing out of a sieve.”

The story is a sweeping analysis of the human psyche in that the emotions wash over you: anger, hatred, fear, oneness with nature. The characters are developed through the emotions they feel.

Some passages in the book are awe inspiring.

“From afar, a night bird sang a melodious note…The monkey song reverberated in the air, as free as the breeze and as fragrant as wild honey. It fell on them like rain, gentle, soothing and sweet. The forest responded with a vigour…Their songs merged and rose to the heaven…”

The pace of the story is excellent. For many books, there is a lull in the middle of the book. The characters are there, the setting set out, the conflict introduced. But for Vanara, the book gets engrossing by the middle and after that it just keeps getting better. At no point did I feel like putting down the book.

There is a strong and apt commentary on the social issues which are very relevant to us today. Untouchability, development of caste, nationalism that changes to jingoism, the justification of wrong actions under the garb of ideology, the futility of war, the degradation of values, the intolerance towards diversity, they are all dealt with and make the reader think.

The cover art is gorgeous, the few illustrations scattered around the book tease the reader.

What does not work so well

There are little inconsistencies strewn through the book which are jarring. Thankfully, these are minor, they do not have a bearing on the larger picture or the main story and I was able to move on without much trouble.

The story is set in a time period that goes back centuries so when the characters regress/progress to the modern day language, it’s a jolt and strikes a false note.

There is also plenty of ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’ the events, inner turmoil and emotions of the characters. This feels that the prose is unpolished and a little hurried so that the writer could get to the next part.

Verdict

Vanara is the ultimate celebration of the centuries old storytelling tradition of India that have myriad versions of mythology and many embellishments. Read it for the story, the description and the emotions.

I got a copy of this book for an honest and unbiased review. This review is written as part of the Blogchatter Book Review Program.

Through the Mist: Excerpts from the Stories

Through the Mist, the book that showcases collaborative writing is a collection of five short stories.

Here are the excerpts from the book, one from each story.

A Middle Class Story

Pari is a young, independent girl whose parents are looking for a match for her. But things take a funny turn when she goes on a vacation with her family.

They drove back up from the valley and resumed their journey. It was dark by the time they reached the resort; a 30 km drive from the varnival. Their resort was at the peak. “Hill Top Resort,” it was called. An apt name indeed.

Rehan was driving now. The rest of them were almost asleep. Pari dreamt of her spa weekend. Shan imagined they’d go trekking.

And Rehan, well Rehan only hoped he could somehow stop staring at Pari like a hopeless dog. The group advanced merrily, unaware of the chaos they were about to fall into.

Shan had forgotten to make a reservation.

A Strange Life

Aarya has a strange dream every night-of voices and silhouettes. Where will it all lead to?

She had the vision of her dream
once again.

Dark clouds. Strange voices. Tapping of the rain. A silhouette in the dark.

The strange voice tuned to a mellifluous voice. The voice was coming from the direction
of her bedroom. It seemed to be saying… no, singing something.
Yes, she could hear it clearly now.

The silhouette in the dark became visible. An image of a woman singing the lullaby to get Aarya to fall asleep, flitted through her mind.

Languish in Love

Love and Heartbreak in this beautiful story.

Those were the days. The days of
happiness. It was the most delightful phase of my life. When each hour seemed like divinity. When love danced in the spaces between each second. When life was painted with all the scintillating shades of magic.

Rain splashed against the rusty window panes. The tapping of the rain on the roof weaved a pitter-patter symphony. Nature
lightened up with the showers. The vibrant flowers in my garden swayed and the silvery drops adorned the leaves. The garden became all the more iridescent. As the rain cast a spell on nature, my memories cast a spell a spell on me.

The Lone Man

John has lost his wife Sarah. It has been a year but his nightmares won’t stop.

I reach the edge of the cliff. I look below, and there’s water everywhere. It feels like the cliff is floating on top of the water. I get the strange sensation that I am being watched.

Suddenly, a hand shoots up from the waters below. I crouch down to take a closer look. It’s beckoning to me, as if to ask for help. Maybe it is the strange man I saw earlier. Maybe he fell down, and is asking me to help him.

No sooner do I get up to help whoever it is, the hand shoots up in the air and falls back into
the water. And right in front of my eyes, the clear water slowly turns a shade of red.

Another bloodcurdling scream. This time, my own.

Turn of the Tides

Nature is mighty but can it subdue human spirit?

I lumber forward; losing my balance; my hands clawing the mist, clutching at nothing. The cold air hurts my lungs; my breath comes in rasps. I touch the rocks, feel my way blindly through the dense fog that comes rolling out from the sea.

It is hard to be on the shore when the young ‘uns are all weaving nets and getting the boats ready for the journey yonder. I want to be the one going out to the sea, feeling the wind on me, my blood roaring in my veins like them waves all my long, sea faring life.

I cry out as I lose my footing and fall, a seagull squawking hoarsely, its voice merging with the wind. The bad leg sprawls; the red stains the sand, leaving a wet track on this dry day.

Buy the Book from Amazon.

DareDreamers by Kartik Sharma and Ravi Sharma: Book Review

Title: DareDreamers: A Start-up of Super Heroes

Author: Kartik Sharma and Ravi ‘Nirmal’ Sharma

Genre: Fiction, Adventure

DareDreamers is a book about a venture that brings together a team of superheroes. It is a story of a corporate dream, that goes hand in hand with service to the society, keeping in line with high comittment and an even stronger adherence to ethics. At the same time, it is an exciting story of fantastic adventure and innovation.

Blurb

India’s first start-up of superheroes with a mission of saving lives is here to kick ass. Rasiq is riding the highs of life thanks to his successes as an investment banker. But his arrogance soon gets the better of him and he ends up losing everything he holds dear. Managing to salvage only his grit from the wreckage, Rasiq reboots his life and teams up with five uniquely talented superheroes to start a rescue venture DareDreamers. These superheroes Nick: a crazy inventor; Halka: an inhumanly strong man; Arjun: a champion shooter; Natasha: a Bollywood stunt-double; Dr. Vyom, a medical Sherlock Holmes; and, of course, Rasiq: the mastermind combine their unique talents to deliver spectacular rescue operations. Their skyrocketing success, however, comes at a price an enemy hell bent on tearing down their fame and reputation.Will DareDreamers defeat its wily adversary? Or will it become yet another failed start-up?Treachery, action and adventure come alive to make DareDreamers a page-turner.

Review

It is the story of Rasiq, the investment banker who throws away everything that he has worked hard for because he feels his dreams are being strangulated.

Enter his new avatar, the entrepreneur who has a novel idea to help save lives. Rasiq puts together a fabulous team of near superhuman individuals and therein begins a roller coaster ride of adventure and daredevilry that borders on the fantastic.

The situations and the incidents range from jaw dropping freakish to a laugh riot. It seemed to be a cross between the adventures of a Louis L’Amour protagonist and the hi tech Flash Gordon.

What works well

The writing style is excellent, the pacing never drops and there is plenty of romance and sentimentality to balance things out.

The characters are fleshed out very well. My favourite was Rasiq’s father with his jokes that were sometimes meant to fall flat. Rasiq’s team takes over from him in the second part of the book and the narration belongs to their exploits. I also liked other characters like Sandra and Ruchika who are sketched with intelligence and sensitivity.

The rest of the team in the DareDreamers are very relatable even though they mostly have extraordinary capabilities. Their dreams, aspirations and fears are presented in a way that they seem like the rest of us. The second part of the book rests on their shoulders and rightly so, because the start-up is about a team, not just about the leader.

The locations are also used very realistically. The beginning of the book captures the essence of the city of Mumbai, with the promenade of Marine Drive and the crowds on the roads. France is described not only through the places but also as an attitude, through the people who are there.

The book has been written jointly by the father-son duo and the storytelling and the dialogue is seamless. The story is paramount in the book and it has been developed extremely well.

Verdict

DareDreamers is a spicy, entertaining read that does not let you go till the last page.

Read it for the seamless storytelling of adventure.

Buy the book from Amazon.

This post is part of #MyFriendAlexa, an initiative by Blogchatter. I am taking my Alexa rank to the next level with Blogchatter.

Diwali Stories

This week I read a charming collection of stories, meant for preteens and early teens. It is good to see that children and teens today have a wide range of books to choose from. When I was a child, I had to make do with comics, not that I complained. Then there were the Enid Blytons and adventure series for teens but nearly all of them were by foreign authors.

It is heartening to see many Indian authors writing for children. It is a good way to introduce them to the richness and diversity of our country and culture. I like to read these books along with my daughter and we talk about the different customs and viewpoints she encounters in these books. It is not only a learning experience for her but also a time for us to converse from the heart and bond.

The book that we read is called Diwali Stories. Published by Scholastic (I find their books very educational and entertaining), it is a collection of four little stories. Here is what we liked about them.

Rocket of Doom by Kaushik Vishwanath
It has the wildly funny, crazy antics of Thatha, the sort of crazy Paatti, that is reminiscent of Roald Dahl. I loved it for its impossibility. My daughter loved it for its craziness. The nostalgia of large families, plenty of cousins and mindless fun reminded me of my carefree childhood.

Dracula’s Diwali by Monideepa Sahu
This story is about special bonds between strangers and of kindness. On a visit to Kolkata, the little girl Chandana befriends the old and sick Dragomir, who lives across the street. It is an unlikely bond, one that is sweet and emotional. This story is the only one with a neat ending which my daughter liked very much. In a way, it was eye opening to me. Children like things to be definite, we adults like slices of life.

Lights against the darkness by Umakrishnaswami

This one is my personal favourite. It is because of the theme of innocent friendship. Deepa and Bani are neighbours and bff. They fall out due to a little misunderstanding. The language is lovely; the shifting moods so well described, the emotions that the young girls don’t even know they have and cannot express. This is the only story that is set outside India, talking of the Indian diaspora. My daughter liked the concept of ‘unfriend’.

Jugnu’s ‘out of the world’ firecrackers by Vivek Tandon

This story is an out and out fantastic story of 6 yr old Jugnu, with a three armed, three legged and single eyed ET like Bluebob who has crash landed his space craft on Earth. The situation and the firecrackers are fantastical. But the child gets his celebration of Diwali-in-advance. This is the only one with an overt message.

The stories are bound together by the theme of the festival of Diwali. The settings and the characters have a wide and delightful range of settings. The stories are not overly moralistic. The language is appropriate for the age group it targets. It is an entertaining and engaging book. A good read for preteens.

Next on the reading list is Eid Stories. My daughter is already excited.

Do you read books to your children or along with them? Let us talk about your experiences.

This post is part of #MyFriendAlexa. I am taking my Alexa Rank to the next level with Blogchatter.

The Meeting

Coffee cup and sunglasses
Image Courtesy: foodiefactor.com

#Flash Fiction

I sat my sunglasses atop the coffee cup. It was flimsy, the paper cup and just like it, I felt my legs shake beneath the tiny table. Outside the sun was bright and the gleam off a parked car made me screw up my eyes.

And that was when I saw him. The same shuffling gait that was now accentuated as age caught up with him. He looked around the car park slowly, as if I would be waiting for him outside, and then started towards the entrance of the cafe. I watched him through the glass frontage, as he pushed open the creaky door, his face half hidden by the jacket he wore, inspite of the heat.

Suddenly, I wanted to be away from here. Agreeing to meet him after all these years had been foolish. Perhaps, I had been taken in by his silky smooth drawl on the phone that charmed me back then, but now, did I really want to spend more time with this… tramp?

Hastily, I picked up my sunglasses from the table and the coffee cup upturned. I ignored the spill and walked rapidly towards the door and out of it before he could recognise me and call me back. The door stuck as I pushed at it and I nearly collided with the man in a blue checked shirt and faded jeans. His hair was slicked back and in my hurry I saw something familiar in his eyes. But, no time before my ex recognised me and called me back.

My high heels skittered on the tarmac and I knew the man I had run into turned around to watch me. As I fumbled with the keys in my purse, he walked inside with a puzzled look.

“I am here to meet a young lady”, he drawled in a silky smooth voice to the man behind the counter.

This Flash Fiction is part of #MyFriendAlexa. I am taking my Alexa rank to the next level with Blogchatter.

My Haunted Bed & Breakfast by Phyllis Moore: Book Review

Title: My Haunted Bed & Breakfast

Author: Phyllis Moore

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Destiny Series

My Haunted Bed & Breakfast is a delightful novella of hauntings and ghosts and magic that bring in more fun than chills.

Eleanor Rune is a woman running from memories, wanting to bury her past and get on with her life. Trying to get over the sorrow of the death of her partner, she comes across a damaged house that she feels she can convert into a B & B and earn a living. What she does not know is that the house is haunted; it has three friendly ghosts who turn her sorrowful and purposeless life into a roller coaster of fun: earning money, finding a husband and the biggest of all: magic in her life.

Review

The best part of the book is the fun factor. The MC is able to accept the ghosts without much trouble. Even her guests at the B & B have more fun with the capers of the ghosts than feeling afraid because they feel that these are just special effects.

There are many other incidents of ghosts and magic that just bring a lot of childish fun and joy in people’s lives. So, the reader settles down to enjoy the good side of the magic.

The three ghosts and the haunted house guide the MC to unlikely places and people who are to become an important part of her life.

I liked the characters very much; they are well etched out, intriguing and engaging. Sarafine as the eccentric woman is the most lovable. The twins, Eleanor’s children, have very strong characterisation. The ghosts are well rounded too. I only wished that the husband Codere was etched out better.

The story is very interesting, engaging and at no point does the pace of the story slows down. Phyllis has a way of getting straight to the point, without much awkwardness and really that is a very strong point of this novella. It could have been a simple book about the ghosts at the haunted house, however, the author manages to bring a large chunk of the MC’s lifetime to this book, setting the story for further books in the series and for a deeper story and conflict.

Verdict

An entertaining novella about haunted houses and magic that brings more joy than scare.

Download the book from Amazon.

Deal of Death by Sonia Chatterjee: Book Review

Title: Deal of Death

Author: Sonia Chatterjee

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime, Detective

Deal of Death is an exciting mystery with a an intricate plot and an unconventional detective solving this whodunit.

Review

Raya Ray resigns from her hi flying marketing job when she encounters a personal tragedy. Moving cities and changing occupations, she starts her own detective agency. Battling the ennui of mundane cases of cheating spouses and missing pets, she decides to step out of Kolkata to help her housemaid’s sister who lives in faraway Munshiganj.

For Raya, it starts as a case to trace a missing newborn from a hospital but leads to being a labyrinth of lies and deceit that goes back generations. Evil thrives in this seemingly simple town and by the time Raya is close to solving the case, she discovers that things are not as they seem and people are not who they pretend to be.

What works well

This is exciting detective fiction, fast paced and well plotted with a refreshingly different setting and a well etched out protagonist.

Raya Ray, the corporate hi flier turned detective, battling her grief, concerned with body issues, helpful, trusting, deducing, relying on observation and instinct, is the well sketched protagonist that gets the reader attention and loyalty.

The setting is the quaint Munshiganj on the banks of the river Annapurna and a twin ghat of Diwanganj. It looks like a peaceful, sleepy town but there is plenty of royal intrigue woven into the town’s history. There is also the curious temple and the mosque flanking the sides of the Nawab’s tomb. The photos included in the book bring alive the place for the reader.

The plot is intricate. Like any mystery, there is a crime and there are unexpected perpetrators, yet the backstory and how events came to pass is novel.

This is an impressive debut book and the author, Sonia Chatterjee finished writing it in a record six days.

On the other hand

The protagonist is well etched out but sometimes she is plain lucky. She gets a lot of information too easily and too fast. Also, Raya seems to know too many things without a real knowledge of the events themselves.

The plot is well built but the execution seems rushed. Towards the end there is a lot of information, which also keeps shifting because of the different povs.

There are too many characters towards the end of the book. It would help if these characters are introduced early on.

Some things need to be figured out clearly in the plot. The events and incidents are sometimes not believable.

A few characters are sketchy. Adding physical characteristics would help a little bit of context and relatability.

Chapter length does not seen uniform, which is a little jarring. Some chapters are very short, just a few paragraphs and they seem hurriedly done just to give information to the reader. The formatting needs to be looked into. Some chapters don’t even start from a different page. The chapter names too seem a little random. There are days 1-4 and then we move on to day 8.

Some scenes would flow better if there is more of description and ‘showing’ the reader rather than ‘telling’.

Also, giving meanings of words, like jhalmuri, tonga in brackets affects the flow of the story. It would help if they are put as footnotes.

About the Author

An ex-banker and a self- confessed bibliophile, Sonia inherited her love of the written word from her Professor father. As a tribute to her late mother and a gift to her son on his second birthday, Sonia started blogging from September 2017. Married to a Doctor, Sonia is crazy about four things in life – books, food, travel and her uber-cute toddler. She currently works hard to realize her dream of becoming a best-selling author while secretly wishing harder for twelve hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Her work can be found at soniasmusings.com. She blogs about food, travel, movies, parenting, personal journeys and social issues.

Verdict

A fast paced detective story with an endearing MC and an intriguing setting. This debut book hits the right notes in the crime fiction.

Download the book here.

Eighty Hours To Save Karen by Sitharaam Jayakumar: Book Review

Title: Eighty Hours to Save Karen

Author: Sitharaam Jayakumar

Genre: Crime fiction, Thriller

Eighty Hours to Save Karen is a racy, engaging thriller that keeps the reader hooked and spooked till the last page.

Review

Retired Air Commodore, Matthew Williams lives in a remote hill village with his only surviving family member, his little granddaughter, Karen. When Karen is struck by a mysterious ailment under very suspicious circumstances, Matthew takes it upon himself to get to the root of her problem. It seems that there are forces beyond the natural that have a hand in unfortunate incidents; not only Karen’s illness but also a doctor’s death.

What works well

The title of the story sets the tone of urgency for the reader. The cover art is very apt for the book.

The characters are very well etched and are brought to life by an extensive backstory and an impressive attention to detail. The protagonist, the mature war veteran-turned-detective to save his granddaughter is very convincing.

The plotline is very credible and the setting of the little village is created well.

There is a good balance between the backstory and the action in the present so that the pacing stays fast. The tight narration ensures that the reader can finish the book in a single sitting.

The spook factor is high; there are plenty of thrilling moments sprinkled in the book. There are blood covered mysterious objects, cats tapping on windows in the middle of the night, unexplained accidents and many more. Yet, there is no morbid blood and gore.

On the other hand…

I kept waiting to understand the relevance of the no. of hours mentioned in the title to the book. It was only when the book was over that I realised that it probably refered to the entire timeline of the book.

I also could not get a clear picture of Karen from the book. It would have been good if her age and appearance had been mentioned so that she could be brought ‘alive’ in the reader’s mind.

I really enjoyed the traveling of the MC from the village to the state capital Shimla and then to Mumbai. But it rankled that a remote village in Himachal had shopkeepers selling ice, where it is probably cold the year round. Also, a retired Inspector living in a villa in Mumbai sounded far fetched.

The story moved very well but somehow I felt that Matthew held the cards too close to his chest. The case was cracked through his research on the internet. I wished the part about scientific research and cult leaders was expanded further for the story to have more nuances.

About the Author

Sitharaam Jayakumar is an Information Technology professional. He is a passionate reader of books on both fiction and non-fiction. He takes a keen interest in sports, especially cricket and tennis. In addition, he is also interested in politics and music. He loves to write about anything that catches his fancy in everyday life. His repertoire includes articles on social issues, crime, women’s empowerment, fiction and several other topics. He is a
published poet.

Verdict

Pick this fast paced crime thriller that turns spooky and psychological in turns. Very entertaining.

Download the book here.