thriller Posts

Book Post 42: 21 July – 6 Aug 2019

Book Post 42 includes some of the titles received in the past few weeks. Wherever available Amazon’s Kindle widget has been embedded in the blog post. It will allow you to browse through the book before you decide to buy it.

8 Aug 2019

Book Post 41: 6- 20 July 2019

Book Post 41 includes some of the titles received in the past few weeks. Wherever available Amazon’s Kindle widget has been embedded in the blog post. It will allow you to browse through the book before you decide to buy it.

22 July 2019

Book Post 31: 17-27 March 2019

Every week I post some of the books I have received recently. In today’s Book Post 31 included are some of the titles I have received in the past few weeks.

28 March 2019

Kiran Manral’s “Missing, Presumed Dead”

Popular writer Kiran Manral’s latest novel is a thriller called Missing, Presumed Dead. It is about Aisha, a wife and a mother, who goes missing. She has a history of being “mentally” fragile although it is not very clear if it is a genetic inheritance from her mother or a bit of manipulation on her husband, Prithvi’s, part to keep Aisha heavily sedated. But this is not all the inheritance that Aisha has to contend with—it is also the very real fact of the property and other immoveable assets she stands to gain from her parents. A possible reason why Prithvi does not abandon her completely though he would rather spend days away from his family with a travel bag always ready in the boot of his car. He has also moved the family to a remote hill station in northern India, ostensibly for the protection of Aisha. It is not a happy marriage and Aisha remains very stressed. It is not made any easier for her husband and their two children by her OCD for maintaining cleanliness at home. Aisha’s place in the home is taken by her illegitimate half-sister, Heer, who had unexpectedly materialised at her Aisha’s doorstep. Coincidentally it happened a couple of days before Aisha’s mysterious disappearance. This is where the plot thickens.

Missing Presumed, Dead is a rivetting thriller for most parts of the novel particularly when it grapples with the puzzle of Aisha and Heer’s story and how Prithvi gets embroiled in it too.  Kiran Manral’s strength has been mostly writing romance novels with inevitably the women characters etched very well. These are her strengths. She understands the space they inhabit beautifully, how the silences of women communicate far more than it seems and how they negotiate spaces continuously every single day. She also understand the romance novel space very well with the perfect lightness of touch, moving the plot smartly without overdoing it with details but focused solely on the romancing couple. Transiting to writing thrillers ( and this is not her first thriller), Kiran Manral has got the right pace in plot movement, the characters are far from flat and are easily imagined in the flesh and blood, and though there are details in the novel to build suspense they are not entirely sufficient. Thrillers tend to be packed with tiny, tiny details that it is impossible to understand the plot if every little sentence is not read and understood. It is like a large canvas with tiny details etched in. Writers of thrillers leave little to the imagination and ensure that every detail in the room/space inhabited by the protagonist is described as is their interaction with other charcters. Also much of the fast paced plot is conversation driven. Parts of this are true for Missing Presumed, Dead making it captivating to read but something is still lacking. Perhaps if Missing Presumed, Dead had been a short story it would have been a fine example of crime fiction. Be that as it may it is still a good read for it is a confident step in the direction of seeing Kiran Manral blossom as a crime fiction writer.

2 October 2018 

“Chalk Man” by C. J. Tudor

C. J. Tudor’s debut Chalk Man is a thriller that begins promisingly well. It is sinister, fantastically atmospheric.The opening pages of the story are very well written with obvious care to the words selected. The opening scene is unforgettably creepy! Unfortunately as with most first books the energy spent in writing the first section of the novel dissipates fairly rapidly in the subsequent pages. C. J. Tudor’s author blurb reads “Her love of writing, especially the dark and macabre, started young. When her peers were reading Judy Blume, she was devouring Stephen King and James Herbert.” She got a dream debut with Stephen King endorsing her book.

Yet despite this extraordinarily generous blessing from legendary Stephen King Chalk Man does not quite hold together. Chalk Man holds promise but is not quite there as yet. Perhaps by her third novel C. J. Tudor will well and truly come into her own for she is undoubtedly a new writer to watch.

Having said that Chalk Man has been shortlisted for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger 2018 Shortlist.

 

 

Nevertheless read it if you enjoy reading thrillers.

Buy it on Amazon and Kindle 

A.J. Finn’s “The Woman in the Window”

[bwwpp_book sku=’97800626784160000000′]  A. J. Finn’s debut psychological thriller The Woman in the Window is about child psychologist Anna Fox who has a bad case of agoraphobia. Confined to her refurbished brownstone in Harlem she uses her Nikon to take photographs of her neighbours. It is very reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s storytelling particularly Rear Window. The resemblance is probably intentional as Dr Fox is addicted to watching black and white films of the past, many of the classic Hitchcock films are her perennial favourites. She suffers from depression as well so is constantly on a cocktail of prescription chemicals that are constantly being titrated by her doctor. He has to constantly advise her not take alcohol as she is fond of drinking Merlot. ( To her delight she has discovered that for an agoraphobic person like her it is convenient to order cartons of Merlot online and it will be delivered at home.) Otherwise she whiles away her time participating in online group chats with other agarophobic patients and playing chess.

The Woman in the Window is about Anna Fox who is confined at home out of choice and the supposed murder she witnesses across the street. Unfortunately she has a hard time persuading neighbours and the police that it is true and not a hallucination under the deadly influence of medicines and alcohol. The story takes a while to build up though the details are fascinating. It is only about 100 pages into the story that it zips along. It is being promoted to be a thriller in the same vein as Gone Girl and Girl on the Train. The chapters are short, sometimes only a few paragraphs, a form of writing apparently influenced by James Patterson’s writing.

A. J. Finn’s debut is being much talked about as it was sold in a hotly contested auction only to be won by William Morrow in a deal worth seven figures. The movie rights have been sold to Fox 2000 to Hollywood producer Scott Rudin who won an Oscar in 2008 for the adaptation of Tom McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men. It is rumoured that Kate Winslet is in the running for the lead role. So far the book has already been sold in 38 book markets. A.J. Finn is the nom de plume for publishing executive Daniel Mallory who used to work at William Morrow but after the runaway success of his manuscript he has quit his day job. Instead he is focussing on writing his next novel. he is being represented by Felicity Blunt, Curtis Brown Literary Agency, sister to actress Emily Blunt who acted in the film version of Girl on a Train.

The Woman in the Window is also the first debut novel to have made it immediately to the NYT Bestseller List in nearly 12 years. Undoubtedly the influence of Hitchcock exists in the story not necessarily due to the constant references to his films. Though the story is a story that has been told many times before and there are sufficient hints in this novel itself to old films to how the plot is going to develop, yet there it rings true for the character sketch of Anna Fox. Apparently Daniel Mallory suffers from bipolar disorder and had been misdiagnosed for a very long time. So the descriptions of Anna and her breakdown are to a large extent “authentic”. Otherwise the plot itself is very thin and relies heavily on many details being shielded from the reader until the explosive conclusion. A very old fashioned trick. Be that as it may it is a book that will be read, watched on screen and talked about for a long time for the richness of detail and the pitch perfect suspense.

A. J. Finn The Woman in the Window HarperCollins Publishers, London, 2018. Pb. pp. 430 Rs 399 

12 March 2018 

Novoneel Chakraborty “The Stranger Trilogy”

Amazon homepage on 6 June 2016 shows Novoneel Chakraborty’s book being amongst the top 25 bestsellers.

Novoneel Chakraborty is a successful commercial fiction writer who is known for his psycho-sexual or romantic thrillers. He is now a screenwriter for television too. He began writing in 2008 but since then has had phenomenal success with his books. He obviously has a knack for knowing what the readers/market desire and caters to it exceptionally well. His books are selling extremely well as testified by Amazon India’s banner on their homepage in June 2016.

His “Stranger Trilogy” consists of

 Marry me, Stranger;

All yours, Stranger

and Forget me not, Stranger. These are being sold as a boxed set.

This trilogy has been creating a buzz for a while. The stories are written in first person by the protagonist Rivanah Bannerjee and have a lot of sex. The stories are ostensibly about the mysterious identity of a stalker who regularly sexually assaults Rivanah and she assumes its her boyfriend. The trilogy comes across as very uneven writing. The sex scenes are written very confidently and quite bold but always seem as if they are strongly influenced by international thrillers. It would not be so evident if it were not for the “bridges” between the sex scenes that is actually the narrative. It crawls like a typical contemporary Indian novel written in English which relies considerably on mundane conversation. There is little in terms of psychological thriller that makes these stories distinctly their own except for the mysterious identity of the stalker and reasons for stalking. A blue-blooded psychological thriller is packed with details, working in layers and the suspense building slowly and steadily sometimes even with multiple perspectives embroiling the reader into an emotional space that teeters between empathy and curiosity and horror. Unfortunately “The Stranger Trilogy” does not quite meet the mark.

It is also distressing to discover that a book written in the first person by a woman incorporates the male fantasy gaze “appreciating” if not at times fantasing about the sexual acts that would otherwise be seen as a rape. It is disturbing to have such literature being published and obviously rapidly finding a readership/market because somewhere it is catering to these bizarre fantasies. In terms of creative licenses every author has the freedom of expression to write on any subject they like and in any manner. But this? Given the current scenarios of the horrific rapes and stalkings that are constantly being documented in India. Who can forget the rape of the young girl in December 2013 or the recent one in Kerala of a Dalit girl in April 2016?  Alas these two young women did not survive the horrific assaults. In 1983 Sohaila Abdulali had written about her experience of being gang-raped in Bombay and the article was published in Manushi. Here is the link: http://bit.ly/1r9YCMH In the past few weeks two very powerful posts by rape survivors have gone viral on the internet. They are extremely moving for the manner in which these women have survived their assaults, had the immense courage to write about the experience even though it must have been very painful to recall details and put it down in words. The first is by Jessica Knoll whose debut Luckiest Girl Alive smashed all bestseller charts for its story. (Reese Witherspoon has optioned the film rights.) Weeks after the book was published Jessica Knoll wrote this article in Lenny Letter  for the first time acknowledging being gang-raped as a teenager. ( http://bit.ly/1UCLhGR ) On 4 June 2016, the rape victim of a Stanford swimmer read this letter out aloud in court after the rapist was sentenced to a mere six months in jail because a longer sentence would have “a severe impact on him,” according to a judge. The letter was published on Buzzfeed. (http://bzfd.it/213lAkL ) And who can forget the Steubenville High School rape case on the night of August 11, 2012, when a high-school girl, incapacitated by alcohol, was publicly and repeatedly sexually assaulted by her peers, several of whom documented the acts on social media. The news exploded on social media creating a cyber-storm across geographies with widespread condemnation.

These rape cases highlight the horror of the act and that sexual assaults are a serious crime. Cultural collateral such as book products are an integral part of a complex social ecosystem. Presuming such stories exist as standalone entities meant solely for entertaining is unacceptable. These acts may be the fantasy of many and products peddling such sexual fantasies sell well even in the book market but The Stranger Trilogy is irresponsible publishing especially by a reputed firm.

Novoneel Chakraborty The Stranger Trilogy Random House India, Gurgaon, 2015. Pb. pp. 250. Rs. 175 each. 

6 June 2016

 

 

Michel Bussi, “After the Crash”

Michel BussiInteresting little book. It is a translation. A thriller. Detailed as you would expect mystery stories to be. Bulk of the action takes place in 48 hours, although the air crash and mixed-up identities around which the story revolves took place eighteen years earlier. It employs the literary technique of interspersing journal entries with the plot moving in real time as well. So it is not always the flashback technique in a straightforward narrative but text that appears at the right moment — just when the character reading the journal and  reader of After the Crash begin to have questions, they are neatly supplied by the journal. Many readers and critics of After the Crash are putting Michel Bussi in the same league as Steig Larsson and Joel Dicker. The comparison is inevitable since all three authors have written gripping thrillers, each unique in its treatment of plot, style and storytelling and curiously enough, the books are translations that seem to have transcended all cultural barriers and caught the imagination of readers worldwide. Michel Bussi too is a man worth reading. 

Michel Bussi After the Crash ( Translated from the French by Sam Taylor) Weidenfeld & Nicolson, Hachette, Great Britain, 2015. Pb. pp.390 Rs 399

1 September 2015

Paula Hawkins, “The Girl on the Train”

Girl on the train It is a thriller that has caught everyone’s imagination. It was released on 13 January 2015 but has rapidly climbed all charts for print and ebooks. It is a debut novel by Paula Hawkins about a girl on the train, Rachel. During her hourlong journey to London and back for work, she stares out of the window, watching the world go by. She even crosses her former home. But what always catches her attention is the young couple living four houses away from the home where Rachel and her ex-husband, Tom, stayed. (Now it is occupied by Tom and his new wife, Anna.) Rachel is fascinated by the neighbours, nicknaming them Jason and Jess. It is when the wife, Megan, disappears and it is reported in the newspapers that Rachel becomes immersed in the story. Slowly the story develops with three women sharing their perspectives — Rachel, Megan and Anna. It is a story told well in words but it will probably be better adapted as a film. It won’t be too long since Dreamworks has optioned it.

The marketing strategy for this book in America was brilliant. There were flash mobs organised to board trains in New York and had women readers holding up copies of the book. Note, there were no ereaders. It is easier to show the cover of a printed book!

Paula Hawkins The Girl on the Train Doubleday, Transworld Publishers, London, 2015. Pb. pp 320 

Guest post: Historicizing Myths, Mythologizing History, Sami Ahmad Khan

Guest post: Historicizing Myths, Mythologizing History, Sami Ahmad Khan

Sami Ahmad Khan( On 21 February 2014, during the World Book Fair, New Delhi, Sami Ahmad Khan was in conversation with thriller writer Aroon Raman and Sangeeta Bahadur. Aroon Raman had just released his latest novel, a historical thriller – The Treasure of Kafoor and Sangeeta Bahadur had published Jaal.  Both the authors are published by PanMacmillan India. Here is an account of the event sent by Sami Khan. ) 

Historicizing Myths, Mythologizing History

We’re a nation built around myths. Or maybe we’re just a myth built around a nation. Whatever the case may be, can we ascribe historicity to myths and study such mythologies as running parallel to certain socio-historical processes spawned by the material realities of their times? More importantly, where does mythology end and where does history begin?Aroon Raman

Similar questions raged in my mind as I strode towards the Authors’ Corner at Hall 10-11 of Pragati Maidan on February 21, 2014. The Delhi World Book Fair 2014 was in full swing and I was moderating a session scheduled to begin at 2.30 pm. Wading past Siren-esque stalls (that featured books on sale) and Charybdian crowds (replete with delightfully engrossed bookworms), I odysseyed to my destination to converse with two brilliant minds and wonderful writers – Sangeeta Bahadur and Aroon Raman.

I knew Aroon Raman from before, having read him earlier with much gusto. Raman had obtained his masters degree from JNU, Delhi, an MBA from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and was now an entrepreneur based out of Bengaluru. The Shadow Throne was Aroon Raman’s debut – an electrifying thriller involving the R&AW, ISI and an India-Pakistan nuclear standoff. The Treasure of Kafur, his second published novel, was incidentally written first. A fast-paced, historical thriller set in Mughal India, the novel fictionalized the treasure of Malik Kafur being sought after by contemporary figures such as Akbar, Rana Pratap, and (quasi-historical?) characters such as Asaf Baig (of Khandesh) to wage war for the control of Hindustan.

Sangeeta BahadurOn the other hand, it was the first time I was going to meet Sangeeta Bahadur, writer of Jaal and Vikraal. I was told she had graduated from Sophia College (Mumbai), an institution I admire a lot. Bahadur is an Indian Foreign Service officer who is currently posted as the Director of the Nehru Centre, London.  If Raman writes about politics, coming-of-age, and action, Bahadur too weaves a deep, engrossing web of inner conflict – this one around mythological fiction. She utilizes Indian spirituality and metaphysics, fuses them with the world created by her own mind, and comes up with a whole new mythos. Bahadur’s Jaal is the first of a trilogy – set in a syncretic, eclectic past where a young boy must train himself to become the ultimate fighting machine to combat the forces of Maya, the novel is a more spiritual version of LOTR set in a land that resembles India. A sequel called Vikraal will be out soon.

How do we comprehend, decode, and analyze mythological and historical fiction written by people from such varied backgrounds and visions? As Bruce Lincoln defines myth as “ideology in narrative form,” one of the first questions I asked Bahadur and Raman was how mythology and history interacted in their minds and in their texts – and if they chose their respective genres to enable them to fuse their narrative styles with the content, i.e. what (and how) they wanted to say.

Their answers were complementary to each other (an aspect that continued throughout the duration of the conversation) – both made me realize something I had so criminally overlooked – writers make genres, genres do not make writers. Both regarded writing as an act of unbridled creation – unfettered by the limitations of any genre. Yes, they wrote about mythology and history, but as fiction writers, they perceived both as two sides of the same coin. Both clarified that rather than being true to the narrative conventions of any genre, culture or style, they rather wanted to be true to the reader and to themselves. The end-result, for both Bahadur and Raman, was to use any template close to them that could give the readers a fast-paced, layered and interesting narrative for the reader.

I then raised the question of spirituality – both Bahadur and Raman draw upon Indian classical traditions. While Bahadur’s primary lens to synthesize different mythologies and traditions and further the plot is primarily aastik in its outlook, advaita-vedanta in particular (which becomes explicit at times), Raman has his implicit groundings in the naastik traditions of Buddhism. Both Jaal and Kafur have a dense spiritual/philosophical subtext that not only drives the plot further but also seeks to define why characters do what they do. It is their belief in fixed ideological structures that make these characters come alive – and shapes their behavioral patterns.

For individual questions, I asked Aroon Raman why his second book was markedly different from his first, and why he chose to jump across genres despite the commercial success of his debut venture. The Shadow Throne is a contemporary military/political thriller, whereas The Treasure of Kafur is historical fiction. Apart from reiterating that genres do not matter for a creator, and that thoughts and ideas rarely come to writers filtered and censored via the sieve of pre-existing notions and genres, Raman made me realize that the end-goal was to write a book that was fun to read, and that a writer should concern himself with creating without worrying about genre pigeonholing – and that the two books weren’t that different after all. Both his books have a central character caught in hostile surroundings and his constant striving to prevent evil from triumphing – the temporal dislocation does little to blunt this action-oriented narrative.

I then asked Bahadur that while Raman may write about ISI and RAW, she, as a serving government officer, cannot. So was this mythological fiction, replete with betrayals, realpolitik, machtpolitik, coups, warring kingdoms and political federations, actually a political allegory meant for the contemporary times? In response, while Bahadur graciously acknowledged that although historicity did shape some parts of Jaal, the novel was in no way a political allegory. She was not merely utilizing an already established ideological narrative, but creating a whole new ideating philosophy, politics, sociology and world in her head.

The two also talked about how, as writers, both were aware of the social implications of the outlooks of their characters. Raman talked about spending time in Tihar as a student-activist (and a member of the JNU Students’ Union) almost 30 years ago – but then accepted that now he was a capitalist entrepreneur, though that did not render him politically unconscious or reactionary. His characters, to prove a point, are strongly feminist, anti-casteist, pro-hoi polloi, progressive, and anti-parochial – people who speak up for the masses. Bahadur also has some similar characters who seek unity in diversity (rather than differences), and raise their voices against injustices and hegemony. This forms the basis for a layered characterization by both the writers.

The session concluded with both Sangeeta Bahadur and Aroon Raman giving the audience some tips about writing fiction. They urged budding writers to break free from the shackles of form and classification – and just go write a good story that was fun to read and did not spoon feed the reader what the writer thought.

It was great talking to these two thinkers – they just proved that to write one sentence, one must think an hour at least! Lastly, all this is based on my understanding on what the writers said and meant, not to mention a failing short-term memory – it may not wholly coincide with what they actually meant, but I hope I’ve been able to be true to their ideas.

I look forward to more such opportunities.

 Sami Ahmad Khan read Literature at Hindu College, Delhi University, completed his master’s in English at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and then went to the University of Iowa, USA, on a Fulbright grant. Currently, Sami teaches at IIT-Delhi, apart from being a Doctoral Candidate at JNU, where he is working on Techno-culture Studies. He has engaged in theater, writing, and teaching. His debut thriller Red Jihad won the “Muse India Young Writer (Runner-Up) Award” at the Hyderabad Literary Festival 2013 and Ministry of Human Resource Development/NBT’s “National Debut Youth Fiction Award – Excellence in Youth Fiction Writing” at the Delhi World Book Fair 2013. He is now working on a SF sequel to Red Jihad. He can be reached at sakhan1607@gmail.com

( On Sunday, 24 August 2014, Sheila Kumar wrote a lovely review of the novel in the Hindu Literary Review –  http://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/more-than-just-a-treasure-hunt/article6344815.ece . On 26 August 2014, Aroon Raman will be in conversation with Sumeet Shetty at Literati, SAP Labs Book Club, Bangalore. http://bit.ly/1pazgf4 )

26 August 2014