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Rephrasing the famous opening line from, ‘Pride and Prejudice’, ‘it a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of

power, must be in want of more power.’ Power and money are often themes around which entire books or series revolve. Power and money are often motives around which detective stories revolve. But when Jeffrey Archer uses these two aspects in his best-seller, ‘Kane And Abel‘, he fuses other aspects as well such as a bildungsroman theme, ego, hatred, economic empires, economic clout and a concise history of America from the 1900s’ to the 1960s’. This curious fusion creates a thrilling page turner in the form of ‘Kane And Abel.’

The plot is as simple as can be. Two infants-William Kane and Wladek Koskiewicz- are born on the same day on two different continents: Kane with a silver spoon  in America and Wladek to a nameless mother in Poland. While William’s life is set out for him by his father who is the chairman of Kane and Cabot bank, Wladek’s life is fraught with difficulties and struggles in the light of which he discovers his strengths and weaknesses as well as his father’s identity. Kane steadily rises to the positions of power in America while Wladek embarks on a life changing journey to America to make a name and a fortune. Kane becomes part of the board of directors in his own bank while Wladek runs a hotel in Chicago after a lot of struggling in low paying jobs. Gradually, these two rise in power and stature, get to know each other by quirks of fate which cements their relation of hate and turns both on to a path to destroy each other. Are they successful in their personal vendettas? Read up the novel to find out more.

Some say that ‘Kane And Abel‘ is Archer’s best work so far. Having read only 1 other book by him, ‘Prisoner Of Birth’, I can’t really affirm this particular claim. What I can vouch for is that the novel will keep you engrossed with its breakneck speed, compelling plot, grasping writing, the twists and turns and the clearly etched out characters and situations. Spanning 60 years, ‘Kane And Abel‘ not only narrates the story of the titular characters but intersperses them with the historic moments of American history- the sinking of the Titanic, World War 1 and 2, Great Depression etc.. This proffers the reader interesting nuggets of history and manifests how history shapes human lives to a large extent.

The downside of the novel is that Archer tries too hard to make the two characters collide. There are too many coincidences that are strewn throughout the story through which their paths cross. After a point, these get too hard to believe. The occurrences of so many coincidences in real life is next to impossible. Archer also has tried to create sympathy for the two characters which at times is at odds with their sole aim for power and destruction. Moreover, there is also an impossible paradox to believe: Both William and Wladek helped each other at some point or the other despite the fact they were hell bent to destroy each other financially and emotionally. This is rather hard to digest.

The worst drawback of the novel is that it is male centric. Women have hardly any role to play in the story other than being mothers,grandmothers, daughters and wives. The only exception is Wladek’s daughter who is assertive and a working woman and not just a rich man’s submissive daughter. Perhaps to make up for this male centric vision of the novel, Archer has extended the story of Wladek’s daughter in the sequel, ‘The Prodigal Daughter.’ This constant association of power with men reiterates the stereotype of empires and power and money being a man’s domain with women only playing arm candy to the men.

Barring the above downsides, ‘Kane And Abel‘ is a fine piece of fiction, one that you can breeze through in a couple of days and elicit oodles of excitement from it as well.

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P.D James’ bestseller, ‘Devices and Desires’ is unlike any detective/thriller I have read. It is a completely atypical crime story that breaks away from tried and tested detective story conventions. Yet James manages to create an equally thrilling and compelling read.

Taken from filmizer.com

At the core of the story is a creepy serial woman killer who goes by the name of Whistler. The killings have rocked the fictional Norfolk coast and have scared the women from venturing alone at night. Then the killer strikes at Larkosen- a picturesque town of Norfolk-with one of the female workers at the Larkosen Nuclear Power Station murdered. Adam Dalgliesh of the New Scotland Yard was on a holiday at Larkosen to settle all the affairs of his aunt’s death-including blowing her ashes and taking care of the the fortune and the windmill she bequeathed him. He invariably gets enmeshed in the murders despite Norfolk not being his patch. When a 2nd murder hits Larkosen, the mystery deepens and fresh troubles surface for Terry Rickards, the Chief Inspector of Norfolk in charge of solving the case, who is desperate to find the elusive killer at all costs.

The plot of ‘Devices and Desires’ sounds like the countless detective stories that come packaged in cheap paperbacks. Yet it is vastly different. Firstly, the pace is much gradual. James takes her own sweet time to build the story, to create tension and take it to a thrilling climax.  She is as interested in the characters and setting as the plot itself which is why the reader peruses pages devoted to establishing the desolate, wild yet beautiful atmosphere of the Norfolk coast in general and Larkosen in particular and to fleshing out characters who are not merely stock characters but individuals with their own unique viewpoint and thoughtful insights.For ex. Dalgliesh is often depicted as pondering over his melancholic and contradictory thoughts about his aunt. The novel is thus very descriptive which burdens it and thus tends to slow down the story’s pace. This may not be appealing to all kinds of readers especially those who are used to their weekly doses of fast paced thrillers. Nonetheless, the novel is still worth the shot because James makes sure that the reader is both aesthetically as well as sensationally pleased with her descriptions and intricate plot.The depth in characterization and the landscape gives this genre fiction novel a literary touch (which is heightened by several references to works of literature such as ‘Dover Beach’, a poem by Matthew Arnold.

James also creates skillful contrasting moods. One moment the reader is plunged into an anxiety ridden chapter of the Whistler’s to-be-victims’ thoughts and in the next the reader dives into the cool, organized thoughts of Dalgliesh or the thoughts of the other numerous inhabitants of Larkosen. James skillfully depicts the gruesome and horrifying aspects of murder and violence as well as manifests the vicious desires and passions of ordinary humans. She has a deft writing touch that marvelously depicts both with a talented ease.

What is jarring is the sudden burst of fast paced and unexpected thrill close to the end that awakens the reader from the stupor brought on by the book’s lulled pace itself. Here James style of alternating moods begins to fail. Its as if she has realised that she needs to quickly finish the story and reveal the murderer and not go on rambling about Larkosen’s beauty or its inhabitants’ idiosyncrasies. The continuation of the same smooth and lulling pace as the whole story would have been more appropriate rather than thrusting the reader into action and more murders that seem blatantly out of place. They seem to be there only to shock the reader or to create the conventional twists in the story.

Yet, apart from these few unexpected jolts, the actual unraveling does happen in a controlled, casual way almost as if a picnic was being discussed and not a murderer’s confession. ‘Devices and Desires’ is still a good, the narrative powerful and stimulating enough to hook all detective fiction lovers and fans.

Crime was never so bloodthirsty, brutality never so horrifying,loyalty never so exaggerated, mafia never so goddamn cunning than in the super famous, ‘The Godfather‘ penned by Mario Puzo. Everyone or almost everyone has read the book. It is included even on BBC’s top 100 books to read! For sure, it is a phenomenal novel that traces the American-Italian mafia in New York City with a chilling, nasty, story involving murders, shootings, family, loyalty, and the ubiquitous Mafia.

The story begins on a light note with assorted Americans asking Vito Don Corleone for help at his daughter, Connie’s wedding in 1945 just after WWII. However there is an unmistakable undertone of the macabre right from the beginning. The reader would quickly know that Don Corleone is a dignified, respected superior wields a powerful influence in New York, that his is an empire of crime and that he is a man not to be meddled with! This immediately sets the tone for something explosive to happen, something thrilling. The story moves on while giving the reader a quick, brief bird’s eye view of the characters and the situations. Then, a meeting with Vincent Sollozo, who wants Don’s help in starting a drug business, goes awry as the Don refuses to help out feeling that the drug business is too risky. Don being too old fashioned would rather stick to gambling, bookmaking etc. An all out war ensues between the five mafia families of New York wherein a lot of blood is shed and Don’s two sons, Sonny and Michael are unwittingly dragged. There are losses on both the sides and the Corleone family goes into decline and eventually the Don offers peace quite reluctantly only after a great personal loss which he promises not to avenge. But, being a foresighted man, he sees to it that all of Corleone’s families losses are restored and all revenges settled in the future. His son, Michael, takes up this job quite successfully and recovers the power and influence of the Family as it was in the pre-war days.

This 450 odd pages family cum Mafia saga is an intricate novel that will engage all sorts of readers of all ages. While it is at times violent and rather graphic, it is nonetheless a brilliant work of fiction that chills the bone with its lightning speed narrative and excessive doses of murders, crimes, beat ups and revenges. The writing style helps increase the speed-it is precise, to the point, does not meander and sticks to the point and Puzo does not go into elaborate descriptions when unnecessary. The pace of the story thus never slows down- a must for any thriller novel to be worth a read!

The story though quite gruesome and seemingly murderous, is quite sophisticated with an awesome plot, an astonishing ending, a complex chronology and an elaborate and labyrinthine narrative that marks the zenith of an extremely captivating crime novel.

What is rather difficult to overlook is the male centered plot of the novel. Women characters have no substantial role to play except be loving, obedient, and religious.

Other than that, ‘The Godfather‘ is a must must must read for all as it is carefully written with an eeriness that is omniscient and suspense that will make everyone keep turning the pages. Its a recommendation you don’t want to refuse!

 

 

 

Reading Lolita in Tehran‘ is a poignant, personal story penned beautifully by the author, Azar Nafisi, about her own life during the revolution in Iran, her own touching memories, her remembrance of these times interspersed with the books she taught in her classes in Iran. An engrossing book, a moving story that provides a glimpse into not only the political turmoil in Iran but the torment and anguish experienced by Nafisi herself and many of her students.

The story begins with Nafisi’s formation of a secret class that studies literature, discusses it and puts those stories into the context of their lives. The members were chosen by Nafisi-all were females, former students who showed great interest and enthusiasm about literature. The narration then reverts back into the past, recording Nafisi’s early days, first in the U.S. and then when she returns to Iran-the beginning of strife, dissent and the eventual establishment of the revolution over the country. In this way, the story gives the reader a more intimate glimpse(although a one sided glimpse) into life during those times-an intimacy that no reporting could ever hope to accomplish. The novel ends with Nafisi going back to the U.S. with her husband and two children, leaving behind her secret classes with whom she had so personally become involved, yet persistently aiming to cherish those beautiful memories even after she leaves Iran.

As the title suggests-‘Reading Lolita in Tehran-A Memoir In Books,’ its a memoir but not just any memoir but rather a memoir that looks at her life through the lens of several literary books penned by Nabokov,Austen, Fitzgerald and James. Therefore, one condition for readers of this novel is that they should have a passion for literature, to comprehend literature’s ability to help people deal with their real life and gauge its shortcomings, only then will he reader appreciate the books and understand why Nafisi so effortlessly mixes her real world with that of the literary. Otherwise the book will appear like a sordid literature class, which is not Nafisi’s intention. Having read the books by the aforementioned authors will further widen the reader’s understanding of the interspersing of literary and real lives that Nafisi had incorporated in the book. ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran‘ is not just about her students, her secret classes and her life but also about how literature affects them and how it enables them to know each other and their lives better, allows them to live more freely etc.

The book also helps us to know the different views people held about the Islamic Republic of Iran, about the revolution, about the veil, about Ayatollah Khomeini etc. These opinions could be interpreted anyway that the reader wishes them though some are heavily colored by Nafisi’s own judgment. For example,initially, there is a constant repetition of the curtailment of women’s rights specifically of  being forced to wear the burkha/veil/chador. Nafisi mentions it in almost every sentence which is unnatural, almost like the publisher forced her to perpetually put them in along with her story so that it not only enlarges their suffering but also reinforces the West’s idea of how backward Islam is and how it must go and save these women from such atrocities. Its only later on that such repetitions reduce, that she begins giving concrete reasons for her defiant opposition to the rule forcing her to wear her veil. It is only then that the reader can see a broader context to the whole issue.  Nafisi was clearly against the totalitarian regime that the revolution ushered in that clamped down on women’s rights as well as freedom of expression and this is manifested in the book lucidly.

The parallels that Nafisi manages to make between their life in Iran and the great literary works shows her unbridled passion for literature. The novel is thus in parts a story narrating the author’s personal life before, during and after the revolution and in parts it is like a literature class fascinating in its own rights for it broadens the reader’s horizons of great works of English literature in an Iranian context.

Reading Lolita in Tehran‘ is a mesmerizing recollection of a life steeped in the love of literature and in inculcating and encouraging that love in other fellow students, in making others including the readers, see that literature’s role in real life is far more valuable then we believe.

Ken Follett is a well known writer. There is some famous trilogy of his which I am yet to read. He had recently come to a Mumbai bookstore too-I think it was Landmark but I can’t be sure. Anyway, so I heard a lot about him then. I vaguely knew his name too but somehow I associated him with only fantasy related novels which is a genre that after a good dose of Harry Potter, Ursula Le Guin, Narnia series, Eragon trilogy, Hobbit I do not want to read much. But when I read some interviews of his in the newspaper and then some blogs, I realised that my association of Ken Follett and fantasy novels was misguided. He seemed to write mystery novels and historical ones. This obviously got me interested!

Taken from goodreads.com

So I ended up reading ‘Modigliani Scandal‘ which I found in my library.  The book was really well written and I thoroughly enjoyed it and it was appropriate for my thriller/mystery taste of books.

The story is sort of complex with a smattering of characters that have interestingly just one purpose. The novel begins with Dee Sleign, an art historian, looking for a thesis and decides to do one on how drugs induced painters create different paintings than their usual ones. This line of thought somehow leads to a person her boyfriend knows who in turn gives her some information about some Modigliani paintings that are lost somewhere in this world. This gets her brains working and she decides to hunt this lost painting to start work on her thesis. She then feels an urge to tell someone about this. So she writes a postcard to her uncle, Charles Lampeth, a gallery owner. He obviously would love to get his hands on this painting as it would be a valuable prize to display in his gallery. He sends a detective to search for her.

Meanwhile, Dee sets out on a wild goose chase in search of that elusive painting. By coincidence or a pure quirk of fate, several other people get involved in this same mission like Peter Usher, an artist who wants to take revenge on Lampeth, his former employer; Julian Black, who wants to get this painting to impress his father-in-law so that he will invest in his art gallery and so many more people. Who will eventually get the Modigliani?
To find out, read the book yourselves.

Modigliani Scandal‘ is a good read, a treat for those who have a penchant for thrillers.

The book’s pace is always a good one. Follett introduces many characters initially and establishes their situation and their background in the plot. But this surprisingly does not drag the novel’s pace. It adds to its complexity and makes the plot thicken and bubble with an impending thrilling search for a lost treasure. A sense of foreboding about a mystery brewing is clearly established when after receiving Dee’s letter, Charles Lampeth hires a detective. The reader will want to turn the pages to know more and get to the end of this mysterious search.There are several loose ends that are also manifested with the introduction of so many myriad characters which Follett ties up brilliantly in the end. It is amazing to know that so many characters are connected in some way to each other and have one single aim that will fulfill their different goals.  The end brings all these connections a full circle. When the book is nearing its end, if the reader is smart enough, then she/he can guess who gets the painting and the ingenuity behind a well planned and money making scheme.

One small point I loved about this novel is its distinct sense of an old world charm, of history in the first few chapters which merges with the modern art world-its pros and cons.

Modigliani Scandal‘ is divided into four parts and the title of each one is related to painting and gives a glimpse of the basic core of that particular part. I found this aspect quite creative.

There’s one small negative point. Follett has put in several stereotypes about many natives of countries. This is uncalled for and it is sadly reminiscent of several other thriller novels that are liberally sprinkled with such stereotypes-be it about Italians, French, Oriental or British.

P.S. There may be some errors in the plot summary because I read the book long ago and my memory has faltered a bit. For example, I am not sure if Charles Lampeth is Dee’s uncle or father or some other relative. I am 75% sure he is the former.

Chetan Bhagat is quite a good and popular author in India. His books have been bestsellers and his latest book, ‘2 States-the story of my marriage’ followed suit. So even if I give a bad review, people will still buy and read the book and that is the power of Chetan Bhagat’s popularity. Well, thankfully, my review is a mixed one. I enjoyed ‘2 States’. It is a pleasurable read.

In a nutshell, ‘2 States’ is a love story that blooms in the IIM(Indian Institute of Management), Ahmedabad. Krish falls in love with Ananya Swaminathan who is ‘the best girl in the fresher batch.’ After a few conversations and good, humourous pick up lines, Ananya starts liking Krish. They want to get married but alas! marriage in India is not that simple. Love marriages are a big no-no. What’s more, Krish is a Punjabi and Ananya is a Tamil Brahmin. An inter regional love marriage? That’s an even bigger no-no. The two are caught between their love and their families. They are resolute to marry with their families’ blessing. So will they be able to convince their families to let them marry each other? That’s what the story is about.

‘2 States’ is a witty book, quite hilarious. It is light, fun novel and written in a contemporary style which any urban Indian will connect to. ‘2 States’ excites the reader with its romantic angle but it is only mediocre. Don’t get me wrong, the book is good but just not that good. For once, it is highly predictable and I don’t mean only in terms of predicting a happy ending but also in terms of  predicting how Krish and Ananya convince their parents to accept their love. At one point in the novel, the entire plot becomes clear. Secondly, it is replete with stereotypes about South Indians and Punjabis.

So, in all, ‘2 States’ is a good, mediocre, fun read but really nothing more than that. The hilarity and the wittiness saves the book from being a disastrous romance novel!

As I said in the post of ‘Keep Off The Grass’, that I love Indian writers and that there is something about their writing that I relate to. However with the book,’Oh Shit, Not Again!’ that is clearly not the case. Written by Mandar Kokate, it lacks in all departments-the storyline, the plot, writing style and the characterization. I will not recommend this book to anyone. The title says it all when it comes to the quality of the story. I wonder how it became a national bestseller.

The story is about four friends. Raj, Arti, Seema and Sam who get involved in all sorts of tricky situations form being caught watching porn or getting involved in murder. The story could have been better if the writing wasn’t so amateurish. It seems rather devoid of concreteness. The plot also fails miserably. It isn’t capturing, hilarious or twisted in any way. The characters have no depth except one or two major qualities. The story is also replete with numerous cliches and stereotypes. Raj’s character comes out not as a ‘flirt chap’ but as a complete pervert which is rather disconcerting.

Thus, Mandar Kokate should stick to civil engineering. He tries way too hard to sound like a writer in the book. And trust me, using big words doesn’t make one a writer. ‘Oh Shit, Not Again’ is a very poorly written book. I do not think it is worth reading. let alone buying!  So, just avoid it!

‘The Lost Symbol’ is Dan Brown’s latest book and it is not surprising to see that it is a bestseller and has ruled the book charts in many countries including India. With two big bestsellers, ‘Da Vinci Code’ and ‘Angels and Demons’, along with other equally exciting novels, it is no wonder that my expectations for ‘The Lost Symbol’ were sky-high. Unfortunately, the book was not really up to my expectations. Don’t get me wrong, it is a fantastic book but just lacks the magic that made me love his other books!

The hero of this novel is once again the renowned Harvard symbologist, Robert Langdon. And once again, he is unwittingly trapped in a thrilling, dangerous ride, one that would hopefully save his friend Peter Solomon. Once again Robert relies on the profound knowledge of his subject to get through the mazes of Masonic mystery. Well, in detail, the story goes thus: one day, Peter Solomon’s executive assistant asks Robert to make a speech in the National Statuary Hall in Washington D.C. Turns out Robert was fooled. Instead he was being invited in a rather peculiar way to save Peter Solomon, who was kidnapped for reasons only known to Langdon. As Langdon delves deeper into the mystery, connections between Peter being a Mason and his abduction start making sense, helping Langdon to find Peter and unearth a shocking secret.

The exciting pace of ‘The Lost Symbol’, its brilliant shocks, twists and turns, the audacity of the narrative all combine to form an excellent read. It is no doubt an awesome thriller but definitely not Dan Brown’s best. Firstly because the structure of the novel is pretty much the same as previous novels and the way the plot is revealed and uncovered is reminiscent of his previous novels as well. In that sense, it becomes a bit predictable because the reader knows when to expect some new secret or some new twists . Even the fact that Langdon teams up with the victim’s sister, Katherine, to solve the mystery gets monotonous if you have read Da Vinci Code or Angels and Demons where Langdon has a female to help him out.

Thus the negative point here is the sameness of the novel’s structure. Apart from that, ‘The Lost Symbol’ is a good as any thriller can get. A definite good read especially if this is your 1st Dan Brown book. Otherwise, if you have read his other books, then it is easy to spot the structural and plot similarities, There is nothing much refreshing in that.

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