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The queen of crime strikes again with two easy to read detective novels-‘Elephants Can Remember‘ and ‘Lord Edgware Dies.’ Both are a thrill to read and have trademark Agatha Christie elements and both are Poirot novels. However, the former is rather predictable.Perhaps this comes from having read several Christie novels.

Elephants Can Remember‘ rakes up an old case of a double suicide of the Ravenscrofts. The police had declared that the husband and wife had perhaps entered a suicide pact and either could have killed the other and then oneself.  However, the godmother to their daughter, Mrs. Oliver, an esteemed detective writer herself, is asked by Mrs. Burton Cox at a literary luncheon whether it was the mother or the father that had committed the crime. This query seems initially very trivial and unnecessary but gradually gets Mrs. Oliver’s grey cells rolling as well. She gets her friend Hercule Poirot to help and relies on all her acquaintances who might have known the Ravenscrofts to help her find out what really happened between the doomed couple. The novel looks into the past  and relies on the memories of ‘elephants’ to solve this peculiar case. An interesting aspect of ‘Elephants Can Remember‘ is that Mrs. Oliver is a writer in general and a detective novelist at that. Also, the play on elephants is quite amusing.

Lord Edgware Dies‘ has all the essential things one needs for a mystery-money, love, marriage, the film community, the rich and famous and plenty of motives for murder. One day, Lord Edgware is found murdered and his wife and famous actress, Jane Wilkinson, is suspected because not only did she the night before claim that she would have no qualms about killing him but the butler of the Lord’s house recognized Jane entering the house. In fact, Jane  announced herself and went into Edgware’s room that very night. The police are cocksure about the case being very straightforward. However, the one glitch is that Jane was present at a dinner party that very night. How could she be at two places? The plot begins to boil and thicken with two more murders and a chance remark comes to the rescue of Poirot’s flummoxed grey cells.

Taken from openlibrary.org

They may not be her best work but are a breezy read nonetheless. All Agatha Christie, Poirot and detective novel fans will love them. And if any reader is smart enough, she/he can easily predict the killer in both the books. The suspense is much muted and even though the reader will most probably not be hanging at the edge of their seat, ‘Elephants Can Remember‘ and ‘Lord Edgware Dies‘ are bound to be good reading companions to while away the time or when one has absolutely nothing to do!

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Indian Railways are an important part of our country’s landscape, a necessity that moves life, that helps travelling. Yet, we hardly have many stories on them or about them or them figuring prominently in a novel/story. Most kids know about the famous, ‘Railway Children,’ by Edith Nesbit but Indian railway stories are hard to come by.

Taken from penguinbooksindia.com

I recently came across, a wonderful collection of short stories about Indian railways titled, ‘The Penguin Book of Indian Railway Stories,’ edited by Ruskin Bond. I was delighted to read it as trains are an everyday part of my life.

The Penguin Book of Indian Railway Stories,’ is divided into two sections:

I) Stories Before Independence

II) Stories after Independence.

The book is fabulous from start to the end. Even the short poem,’ A Traveller’s Tale’ by A.G. Shirreff (1917) right at the beginning as well as the beautiful introduction written by Ruskin Bond helps to draw the reader into the right mood so she/he can plunge into the depths of each carefully chosen short story.

Through the 18 stories, we can sense the transition of the Indian railways from during the British period to after India’s independence. Some of the stories are extracts like R. K . Laxman’s ‘Railway Reverie’ or Khushwant Singh’s ‘Mano Majra Station.’ Some are stand alone stories. Nonetheless, all of them are equally mesmerising and enjoyable and some even have a slight mysterious element. Some brilliantly capture the railway’s ubiquitous presence and charm and its importance.

I will refrain from elaborating on all the 18 stories mostly because it will be too tedious and a pain to all reading the review. But I do want to mention that my favourites are ‘Cherry Choo-Choo’ by Victor Banerjee and ‘Barin Bhowmik’s Ailment’ by Satyajit Ray. The former is a nostalgic story of a defunct train called locally as ‘Cherry Choo Choo’ which was an admired and much loved train during its lifetime. The latter story is a brilliant story of a unique coincidence occurring in a train carriage. There are a few stories that are very technical and only those who are knowledgeable about railway jargon may understand  it better. There are few stories, because they are written in the pre-independence era, have certain racial aspects which are disconcerting yet if one overlooks that, then the story turns to a good one.

All in all, this collection is a must read. Even though it does not talk of local trains of Mumbai, it reminds us of how railways helped this mighty nation to develop and how trains have a special place in our hearts and the collection of the short stories helps to ignite that love in our heart’s special for trains. The book is a great read and for best results, it is best to read it while travelling in a train. It just helps to add to the atmosphere, to the setting and the mood of each story.

Happy journey and happy reading!

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.

The book ‘ The Historian‘ was hailed as a thriller, a splendid debut by Elizabeth Kostova. Every time I read a review of this book, I felt I would adore this book which was steeped in history with apparently a daughter in search for her roots. The summary appealed to me but unfortunately, the book did not live upto my expectations.

Taken From sodahead.com

The story begins with the daughter proclaiming about the legacy her father left her behind. Then the 1st chapter goes on to how she stumbled upon this legacy. The story then continues with the father, Paul, narrating stories from his past that are connected to his horrific legacy. Paul had happened to come into possession during his university days, a book with only a single woodcut of a dragon. His curiosity led him to his academic adviser, Barthlomew Rossi, who infact had the same book! Rossi’s curiosity and his own book had led him deeper into a mystery of vampires, of Vlad Dracul, the inspiration behind Bram Stoker’s novel, ‘Dracula.’ Rossi’s disappearance, soon after this meeting plunges Paul into a wild goose chase across most of Europe where he is being watched and followed by either vampires or communist party members. The story keeps shifting from past to present as and when Paul narrates. In the present, Paul’s daughter, after Paul is finished narrating his story, sets out to find more of this intriguing brutal, medieval legacy.

Firstly, the book’s exploration into history is brilliant. It is obviously well researched. Of course, not all of it is true. But simply the fact that Elizabeth Kostova has put history in the forefront of a way to delve into past mysteries makes the subject, often hailed as redundant, quite relevant. This historical aspect that suffuses the book is superb. One of the few good points of this novel.

The negative points however are a long list. Firstly, the story is rather slow paced. For a thriller, such a pace can do nothing but disappoint the reader. The pace picks up only after 200 pages or so and then slows down again.

Secondly, the book seems more like a tourist magazine in the initial pages. Kostova spends many pages describing each place that Paul goes to in great, rich detail. While there is nothing immediately wrong with this, it however does hamper the story’s pace.

Kostova tries hard to use shock tactics to enchant the reader. They do work initially but later on she reiterates the same tactics- like ending the chapter with an appearance of a man who looks gaunt, scary with fangs or having Dracula’s or the dragon’s image at the end of the chapter. These do elicit shock in the beginning but they soon become monotonous and the shock wears off. The reader can even easily predict when she will use those same tactics.

Another disappointment was the discrepancy in the simultaneous narration of the father and daughter’s story. Kostova tends to run away with the former’s story as if she has forgotten about the latter completely. She also seems to have a penchant for libraries and librarians because there are descriptions of several of them and form a major part of the story but somehow it seems a bit inappropriate. The book should have been called ‘The Librarian’ instead of ‘The Historian.’

To conclude, ‘The Historian‘ is not a completely pathetic or ridiculous book. It is worth reading once. It has a unique scholarly touch to it, a great historical novel but in terms of literature or writing skills, ‘The Historian‘ could be a great disappointment. It is also not exactly a thriller, does not pump the reader with jabs of excitement. It is a rather careful narration of a different perspective on one of the most cruelest rulers of the middle ages and his alluring legends that draws writers to pen down stories about him!

Doomsday Conspiracy‘ is the mother of all Sidney Sheldon books I have read so far. Sheldon stretches his own limits of writing thrillers in this book. It goes beyond any of his books I have read so far in terms of its pace, mystery, characterization, suspense and plot.

Taken from fantasticfiction.co.uk

The story has all the ingredients that any suspense novel in general and Sidney Sheldon novel in particular will have. So what makes it stand out in my eyes? The heightened speed and pace of the story. It never slows down, infact the reader has to constantly keep up to avoid the story from running away! Its like Sheldon has put a foot on the accelerator of the story continuously. The plot rushes fast, barely allowing the reader to breathe.

So now the story of ‘Doomsday Conspiracy‘ goes something like this:

Robert Bellamy is the protagonist. He is the Commander in ONI-Office of Naval Intelligence. He had served in Vietnam where he found his love, Susan, a nurse in the hospital he was admitted to with no hope for survival. One ordinary day, Bellamy is summoned to the office of the NSA-National Security Agency-where General Hillard assigns him an extremely odd and seemingly tough task-to find the witnesses in a tour bus, who saw a weather balloon crash which contained secret weapons of mass destruction.

So what’s do difficult about this? (SPOILER)

Bellamy has no idea who these people are, what tour bus it was, what their names were, how many there were-absolutely nothing! All he is given is loads of cash and a warning to not take any outside help(SPOILER COMPLETE). As Robert goes deeper and deeper finding one witness after another, some pieces fit together while some seem increasingly bizarre. After his success, Bellamy realises that the hunter has become the hunted(This phrase is over used in today’s world, isn’t it? Ah…well..I can’t help it!). All security agencies are on his tail.

BUT WHY?-is what Bellamy himself does not know.

Bellamy, being the best officer, knows all the tricks in the book and does his best to successfully avoid capture. Entire chapters devoted to Robert on the run from the authorities are thrilling and super exciting. The reader runs with him to all possible places, hides deftly with him and just as Robert has no time to sleep and relax, so does the reader. The reader feels the tension building, the suspense lengthen and the fatigue that gnaws at Robert.

Doomsday Conspiracy‘ also conveys a message-to be good to the environment and save out planet Earth(Its like a pre-cursor to the film ‘Avatar’ in this sense). This is the unique feature of the book. Sheldon’s brilliant ability to entwine a suspense novel with a raging environmental issue speaks volumes of his talent as a thriller writer. This makes the book not only a contemporary one but also nothing short of a masterpiece.

The last verdict-If you haven’t guessed yet- the book is a must read ten times over. You won’t regret picking up ‘Doomsday Conspiracy‘. Its unputdownable.

 

 

Sidney Sheldon’s books are famed for their super exciting pace. The novel, ‘The Sky Is Falling’ lives upto that fame. Its an awesome thriller which rapidly navigates through the book’s murder mystery.

taken from fantasticfiction.co.uk

In ‘The Sky Is Falling’, the protagonist is a famous TV reporter, Dana Evans, who has just come back from her stint on war coverage in Sarajevo. The Winthrop family’s last member, Gary Winthrop is murdered in his home by a couple of burglars. This gruesome act sends shock waves through the world as the whole family had been wiped out in less than a year in several accidents. Dana Evans strongly believes that the deaths of the Winthrop family were not coincidental and believes that they were all murdered. She is determined to find out and begins her investigation. It makes her travel to all possible places like Italy, France, Russia etc. Her mission gets more and more dangerous as she gets closer to the truth. Will she find out the cold-blooded killer or will she get eliminated in the process?

‘The Sky Is Falling’ is a thrilling read, a well written, rapid paced novel. A definite treat for all who love reading thrillers. All the innumerable twists and turns keeps us guessing wildly till the end and shocks us with its unpredictability and surprise!

I had heard that Lee Child was a good author in the thriller genre. So when I came across his books in my college library I quickly borrowed one. ‘Die Trying’ was the first Lee Child book I read and it totally lived upto my expectations. Its an explosive read, very gritty and fast paced.

The story is about a high profile kidnap of Holly Johnson,a FBI agent and the daughter of an American government hotshot, General Johnson, in which Lee Child’s popular protagonist, Jack Reacher inadvertently gets involved. Reacher easily surmises that the kidnappers want something from Holly and when they reach their hideout, they come face to face with a bunch of well organized , well armed militia that is bent on gaining independence from the US government.  Meanwhile, the FBI, General Johnson do everything in their power to get Holly back safe and sound. The book is exciting for most parts and reaches its crescendo at the end with a brilliant chase scene.

‘Die Trying’ is a treat for all lovers of thriller and crime fiction. Its hard to keep the book down. The pace is upbeat, the story is action packed with guns, missiles, military, kidnaps, torture, brutality, violence etc. The writing is not like a masterpiece but rather contemporary, fast and comprehensible. However, Lee Child could have used less of military jargon which for a laywoman like me is hard to understand.

But all in all, I will give the book two thumbs up and rate it at 8 out of 10. ‘Die Trying’ is a really terrific thriller. A must for all who like and adore this genre.

‘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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