The Alphabet Killer

This is a review I’ve been meaning to write for a loo…ng time. I read Prachi Sharma’s The Alphabet Killer at least two months ago, but haven’t had a chance to sit and write a prachireview. First off, let me just say: writing crime thrillers is tough, and writing a good crime thriller even more so.

The book is the story of Mia Santos, a successful author and editor of an international feminist magazine. Someone is raping and killing the women she works with, one by one, and Mia’s getting taunted and tormented by someone who claims to be the killer, a killer from her own dark past. The book follows Mia’s life and what happens when she confronts the killer who’s adamant on exposing her past and ruining her life.

What I liked:

  • The story is believable. The characters aren’t too “embellished” as they often tend to be in fiction.
  • The plot is racy and manages to retain interest at almost every step.
  • The author invests enough time and effort in fleshing out her main characters and telling the reader why they are the way they are. A mark of a well fleshed-out character is that you feel as though you “know” the person, and Mia’s character definitely comes across that way.
  • The back story. I especially liked this bit, the history of Mia. For any character’s story to have a good foundation, his or her back story needs to have substance. I will not say any more than that!

What I didn’t like:

  • The editing could’ve been tighter.
  • Some things in the novel (to me) appear irrelevant, such as the fact that Mia is writing another novel. This would make sense only to those who’ve read the book and unfortunately I can’t explain more without giving away valuable matter.
  • The dialogue between Mia and Damien (a police officer she’s working with to solve the case) feels a little stilted at times.

In a nutshell, The Alphabet Killer is worth a read. I’d recommend it for the storytelling skill more than anything else.

Title: The Alphabet Killer
Author: Prachi Sharma
Publisher: Half Baked Beans
Price: Rs. 199
Get it here.

Advertisements

These Circuses That Sweep Through The Landscapes

By its very nature, a short story is instantly gratifying. A great short story, however, 81etb3k4vgllingers on. It reaches into the inner recesses of your mind, tickles you and comes back to haunt you over and over again. And Tejaswini Apte-Rahm’s debut collection of stories, These Circuses That Sweep Through The Landscape, does just that.

Her characters are unassuming — a wife, who despite being dumped by her husband and children, looks for ways to win them back, lovers turned friends who meet again after years, a little girl who longs for her mother’s attention, two couples whose friendship is laced with strange undercurrents — ordinary beings that we probably cross paths with every day.

There’s nothing unassuming about the lives they lead, though. Continue reading

Closed Casket

When a rich, eccentric authoress Lady Athelinda Playford, names her dying secretary Joseph Scotcher as the new heir, pandemonium erupts. The same night, Scotcher is bludgeoned to death and who should be invited to solve the murder but the inimitable closedcasketHercule Poirot? In Closed Casket by Sophie Hannah, Agatha Christie’s beloved sleuth is assisted by Scotland Yard detective Edward Catchpool to single out the murderer from a pool of suspects, each of whom has motive and is equally suspicious.

What I liked:

  • It’s no mean feat to step into Christie’s shoes a second time, but Hannah does it with ease, as far as the plot goes. The characters are fleshed out with painstaking detail and she does a tremendous job of evoking the reader’s reaction towards each of them — whether it’s disgust for the Athie’s daughter Claudia, disdain for the son, Harry or pity for poor old Scotcher.
  • Despite the graveness of it all, Poirot’s humour, peppered here and there, keeps one entertained.

What I didn’t like:

  • In spite of piquing the reader’s curiosity to find out the murderer, the motive of the culprit leaves one feeling a bit ho-hum, even though the act itself is quite brilliant.

Is it face-paced? Yes. Intriguing? Definitely. Does it leave you sated? Not really. If you’re reading this for Poirot, it’ll most probably leave you wanting for a little more of the delightful, self-deprecating, trademark Poirot wit. Still, the acclaim Hannah’s received for this book is much-deserved.

Title: Closed Casket: A New Hercule Poirot Mystery
Author: Sophie Hannah
Publisher: Harper Collins
Price:  INR 200.00

A Midsummer’s Equation

To put it in the simplest words, a good book urges you turn its pages. And Keigo Higashino’s A
Midsummer’s Equation does so. The Japanese writer’s latest offering is his third crime thriller in
the Detective Galileo series. The novel follows physicist Manabu Yukawa as he secretly a-midsummers-equationinvestigates the mysterious death of a man at Green Rock Inn who apparently comes to Hari Cove for a conference on an under-water mining operation. While cops find the reason of death accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, Yukawa suspects more. He digs deep and finds that behind the friendly facade of the inn owner, Narumi Kawahata’s family, lies a sinister story from 16 years ago, which is linked to the murder.

If you’re a Higashino fan, chances are you know his style — simple yet intriguing with a kicker at the end. In that sense, this book doesn’t disappoint. It’s got all the trademarks of a Higashino novel: A seemingly open-and-shut case with a niggling hole, a slow and steady unravelling and a climax that leaves you going ‘whoa’. But if you had to nitpick, the characters don’t seem as complex as his previous ones, such as Tetsuya Ishigami in The Devotion of Suspect X; and the premise itself seems a tad forced and unconvincing. The character of Yukawa can’t be faulted, though. Higashino writes him perfectly as the aloof, sometimes kind and almost always maddeningly cryptic detective.

Should you read it? Yes. Will you love it? If you’re a die-hard Higashino fan, perhaps not, but you’ll still like it.

Title: A Midsummer’s Equation
Author: Keigo Higashino
Publication: Hachette India
Price: 399

After Hours

What do you do when the day gets over? When the sun tires and gladly slips into the welcome arms of the night? For some, night is the end, for others it’s the beHSNWVol5FrontCoverginning of the day. For some, it’s the time to kick back and nurse a drink, tell bedtime stories, catch up with friends or simply vegetate in front of the TV. For others, it’s time to guard the sleeping, to thieve, to escape, to remove the mask they wear for the world.

The latest anthology of Helter Skelter is a bouquet of stories that embrace night and is aptly named After Hours. Like its previous issues, this one too attempts to introduce new and emerging writers with distinctive writing styles.

And distinctive they are: take for instance the concrete poem by the writer Won-tolla. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, this is what a concrete poem looks like:

concrete poem

(source: Pinterest)

Those who love poetry will also enjoy the book. Unfortunately, I’m a little dense about poetry, but even I found some of them very interesting: Chopstick Fumble At Hawker Centre by Rohan Naidu, Shiva of the Skull by Mahithi Pillay and Cigarette by Sonia Thomas. Among my favourite stories was the endearing tale My Grandmother Talks About Shit by Srividya Tadepalli and Chiaroscuro by Neil Julian Balthazar.

What I liked:

  • Each story has a unique flavour, no two stories are similar.
  • The language is stellar.

What I didn’t like:

  • Nothing.

If you want a dose of freshness to your reading list, pick this one up. They are “quiet” stories that don’t scream for attention but deserve it nevertheless. And you’ll understand what that means only if you read them.

Name: After Hours, The Helter Skelter Anthology of New Writing Vol 5
Publisher: Helter Skelter magazine
Price: Rs. 400
More details: http://helterskelter.in/newwriting/vol5/
Buy it here

I SEE YOU

One of the many things I realized when I started reading Aindrila Roy’s I See You was that I shouldn’t have read it at night. Not just because it was difficult to put the book down whichi_see_u resulted in lesser-than-usual number of sleeping hours but also because she manages to deliver a few horror punches that made it difficult to get up in the night in case I had to use the bathroom.

I See You is a story of Liam, a strapping young man from a rich family, who is being plagued by severe headaches followed by strange dreams and hallucinations. To make those worse is Lily, his ex-girlfriend who seems to be out to get back at him for dumping her unceremoniously. There’s only bright spot – Aliana who casts a spell over him with her enigmatic personality and beauty. But as he tries to get closer to her, he starts discovering something puzzling about her. As Liam sinks deeper and deeper into madness, all hell breaks loose. Will he survive it?

I really liked that the story gets to the point, no dilly-dallying about the weather or the colour of the grass. We’re immediately introduced to all the key characters and the writer gets down to business. The build-up is slow and steady, almost making you want to skip the pages and get to the action — almost. The writing, though, is so good that you don’t. The writer also has a way with imagery, powerful and sharp, and has a knack for describing sounds and smell. After a couple of chapters, things start getting really interesting. You will turn the pages till the end – that’s for sure.

What I liked:

  • The subject, of course. Always up for reading horror.
  • I like how every character is described — the cat included — in enough detail that you feel like you know them and that they don’t feel superficial.
  • The language — given the quality of some self published books these days, the writer’s hold over vocabulary is very good. Sure, there are a few errors here and there but hopefully they will be sorted in the coming editions.

What I didn’t like:

  • It takes some time before things get moving. For a long time, I felt as though there was too much about Liam’s constant headaches and Nyx’s ‘antics’.
  • I’m not sure how the character of Nyx really contributed to the plot – even at the end when it is all explained. It did have a ‘creep’ factor but I couldn’t understand its involvement in the plot.
  • I wish the plot had been stronger. Or that the end had been explained better: Was there a concept of re-birth involved? I can’t talk more about this without revealing anything!

P.S: A special mention for the cover – simple, intriguing and uncluttered. Really like it. Blurb could’ve been slightly better to give a hint of horror, but thumbs-up for the cover.

Author: Aindrila Roy
Publisher: Amazon
Kindle Price: Rs. 130
Buy it on Amazon here.

Follow You Home

It has been a long time since I’ve picked up a book in the morning and finished it by night – Mark Edwards’ Follow You Home was this book. I picked it up thinking it was an out and out horror but it wasn’t. It was so much more.Follow You Home

Follow You Home is a story of a couple, Laura and Daniel, who decide to take a trip around the world before settling down. The last leg of their journey, though, gets cut short. They’re forced to get down at a railway station in a village in Romania in the middle of nowhere. They find an abandoned, decrepit house in the middle of the forest – and there begins a series of bizarre experiences that leave them scarred forever. Cut to present day, Daniel and Laura are not together anymore, their relationship strained by their experiences. To make things worse, they start to feel as if something is haunting them. But what? Or who?

Edwards is a clever, clever storyteller. The first 2-3 pages don’t really hook you but the cover is enough to intrigue you to keep reading. The true strength in his writing is in the descriptions – they are long but not once do you feel that he is going over the top or he’s going into too much detail. The imagery is really powerful.

Sample this: Laura headed towards the staircase and I followed her. We trod as quietly as we could. The stairs were disintegrating in places, the floorboards loose and springy. I noticed something snagged on one of the steps and, looking closer, saw that it was a clump of hair.

Almost every single chapter ends on a cliffhanger, and that’s no mean feat. The book starts off with what looks like a horror story and stays that way till about three quarters of the book, till it transitions into psychological horror, which is just as disturbing, and then graduates into a completely different plot. One book with multiple sub-plots woven together really well. It stands the risk of having too much of everything but I loved it regardless.

After a certain point, I knew which way the book was headed but that didn’t deter me from turning the pages. As if the numerous surprises were not enough, Edwards leaves you with one final blow at the end, which in my opinion felt like an anticlimax but didn’t bother me too much. There were a couple of scenes that didn’t feel convincing enough; unfortunately I can’t reveal these without compromising the story. So I won’t.

What I liked:

  • The language: it’s not simple, it’s not difficult, it’s just right.
  • The way he switches between first person and third person effortlessly – this would be a good example for those who often wonder how to switch between POVs.
  • The visuals – really, really liked these.

What I didn’t like:

  • Laura’s character isn’t convincing at times, especially towards the end.

In a nutshell: I really liked this book. Would recommend picking it up.

Author: Mark Edwards
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Kindle Price: Rs. 129
Buy it on Amazon here.

Aarushi

In the recent years gone by, few criminal cases have shocked and intrigued Indians as much as the Aarushi Talwar case – and for good reason. That two parents could be so depraved and inhuman so as to murder their only child to safeguard their ‘honour’, that a 14-year-old could beaarushi-book having a sordid affair with her middle-aged servant, that one of the parents could be having an affair with someone; the case has all the trappings of a headliner.

After seven years since the incident, though, Avirook Sen has come up with a book that goes beyond it all and reveals what really happened. Of course, some readers might think ‘You can’t say that’s what really happened; it is after all one man’s narration’. But that’s the great thing about the book, it is so ‘clinical’ in its writing, in that the facts are hard and cold, laid out bare for everyone to see that you won’t for a minute doubt that it’s anything but the truth. Agreed, the book seems to have been written heavily in favour of the Talwars but Sen presents every reason to do so.

Throughout the course of the book, the one thing that remains with you is the shoddy nature of the investigation and how the police would rather fabricate a story that fits conveniently into the puzzle rather than the other way round. For instance, the police finding Aarushi’s online chats with a boyfriend and labelling her a fallen girl so that her “affair” with Hemraj the servant could seem plausible. The same thing also throws ample light on how we, as a society, function.

We judge, we believe the worst. Policemen are humans too, so their prejudices end up affecting investigations too. Case in point, after the judgement, when the Talwars submitted a plea for an opportunity to appeal, the presiding judge refused. When the couple’s lawyer argued that the two have been model citizens, with no past criminal record and weren’t going to repeat the crime they had supposedly committed, the judge replied, “Your clients cannot repeat the crime because they don’t have another daughter to murder.”

The book offers some serious WTF moments too. Here we go:

  1. The creation of an email id ‘hemraj.jalvayuvihar@gmail.com’ created by an officer to send e-mails to the Talwars so that they’d feel ‘guilty’ every time they answered to it. A pressure tactic.
  2. The police ‘changing’ the weapon of offence from hammer to khukri to a 4 iron golf club to 5 iron golf club.
  3. Casting aspersions on Talwars’ characters because they ‘ate non-veg on Thursdays’.
  4. Naresh Raj’s testimony that Hemraj had or was about to have sex with Aarushi before he was murdered or while he was murdered was based on “the experience of my marriage”. When the defence pointed out the ridiculousness of this testimony, he replied, “It is incorrect to suggest that my marriage and experiences of my marriage have nothing to do with the swelling I found in Hemraj’s penis.”
  5. Judge Shyaam Lal’s obsession with the English language that drove him to write this as the introduction of his judgement: “The cynosure of judicial determination is the fluctuating fortunes of the dentist couple Dr Rajesh Talwar and Dr Nupur Talwar, who have been arraigned for committing and secreting as also deracinating the evidence of commission of the murder of their adolescent daughter.” Go figure.
  6. The fact that the judge started writing this judgement even before the defence had started arguing the case.

Sen’s book also shows the utter lack of restraint and sensitivity of media in the country. Agreed, there are two sides to a coin – that media has helped unearth many a case but the amount of damage that was done to the Talwar case by the media is simply irreversible. Newspapers and tabloids were as much responsible for the character assassination of the Talwar family as the law and order system of India. In fact, one person in the book clearly admits that the police had no motivation to twist the case the way it did, it was simply ‘utter stupidity’. During the time that I read the book, it was heartening to see good, credible, honest people involved in the case but the truth is that they were like solitary drops in a vast ocean of corruption.

What I liked

  • The depth of it all. The research is astounding.
  • The lack of emotion. At no point, at least in my reading, did I feel that Sen deliberately tries to make his reader feel. He leaves that to the reader. He questions, probes, analyses but never decides.

What I did not like

  • The editing is not up to the mark. Time and again, there have been debates about this and the tendency to leave errors in a book, that too by a noted publishing house, is increasing. Given the subject of the book and the sheer avalanche of facts that are thrown at the reader, it should have been imperative to structure the book better. It goes back and forth so many times (and it needs to) that it ended up confusing me for some time.

Aarushi is a deeply, deeply disturbing book, it’ll wreak havoc with your mind for long after you’ve read it. I personally felt as if it would be a crime to raise my child in this country. It may or may not impact the Talwars’ case but the book did what it set out to: expose the underbelly of the law and order system in this country. Aarushi, just for this, is worth picking up.

Author: Avirook Sen
Publisher: Penguin India
Price: Rs. 175 (Kindle)
Buy it on Amazon here.

The Narrow Road To Palem

Let me start off by saying that I am biased towards short stories. They appeal to the impatient soul in me that wants to “get there” quickly. Sharath Komarraju’s collection of short

Sharath Komarajju's 'The Narrow Road To Palem'

Sharath Komarajju’s ‘The Narrow Road To Palem’

stories, replete with characters that have all kinds of personalities — jealous, cruel, shrewd, chronically depressed — carry a generous pinch of dark. Yet, they are earthy and charming. When you read the stories, you tend to get the impression that you’re standing right there, albeit a short distance away. It feels like the author really knows the surroundings, his language has ample local flavour and the prose is simple yet elegant.

Some think that great writers also use big words, but (and this is my personal opinion) for me, great writing is simple words woven well; they won’t have you reaching for the dictionary every few pages. I loved the simplicity of the language. Granted, there are few places where the choice of words is odd, but in the grander scheme of things, it’s easy to overlook them and accept The Narrow Road to Palem for what it is – a charming set of stories that make for a perfect accompaniment to a hot cup of tea on a cold, rainy day.

What I liked

  • The simplicity of the language.
  • The thread of dark that runs through the stories.
  • The rather interesting themes of the story.

What I didn’t like

  • I know you’re supposed to suspend belief in reading sometimes, but there were some places in a few stories that were hard to digest – like in Malli, her sudden possessiveness of her son, for which there isn’t much background (not that it’s difficult to understand).
  • There were some editing errors, not a lot. Still, it’s a major eyesore when you’re reading something really good and that experience is taken away by an error that could’ve been avoided with a good round of proofing.

I do recommend picking this one up when you want to read something quick, something light and something quite entertaining.

Format: Kindle Edition
Publisher: Sharath Komarraju
Price: Rs. 99
Buy it on Amazon here.
Read more about Sharath here.

Maya’s New Husband

There are many things in this world we don’t know much about, like aliens and ghosts. There are, however, things we do know well, such as our friends, family, lovers — or do we? The Maya's New Husbandscariest realisation you come to after reading Neil D’Silva’s Maya’s New Husband is that it could be (and probably is) perfectly plausible that we live amid people who could be anybody, a voodoo priest, a cannibal, even a sex maniac.

In Maya’s New Husband, Maya, a 30-something woman meets and eventually falls in love with a suspicious, brooding character called Bhaskar. While all is well until he courts her, sinister incidents start to unravel post marriage (as they do in regular marriages as well, but a tad differently).

Maya’s… is a page turner, above everything else. It’s a psychological horror that goes beyond ghosts and goblins. The author takes time to sketch both characters in depth and although Maya is the protagonist, it’s Bhaskar who shines.

What I liked

  • Neil doesn’t shy away from establishing the depravity of his character; at a point or two, you really begin to despise him and that shows a job well done by the writer.
  • Anuradha’s character; granted she’s whiny, seems regressive but she’s also courageous, unlike Maya, who’s shown to be spunky in the beginning but turns surprisingly meek later on.
  • The twist at the end – I was not expecting this and it’s a great way of keeping the reader hungry.

What I didn’t like

  • Because he is thorough about introducing you to every character, it tends to make the reader a bit impatient but once you hit the turning point, things really begin to speed up.
  • I wish the relationship between Bhaskar and his father had been portrayed a little more convincingly. I think compared to the groundwork he laid in establishing the relationship of Maya with her mother, the one between Bhaskar and his father seemed a tad incomplete.
  • The language at times is a bit flowery where simpler and snappier sentences could’ve done a much better job – this might be a personal pet peeve given the nature of my own stories but well, a review is personal.

The book’s biggest strength is perhaps the subject itself. Is it a good story? Yes. Is the writing good? Undoubtedly. But the most commendable fact is that the book ventures into a space that few Indian writers have bothered to explore, despite India’s deep ties to ancient myths, rites, folklore and legends. Suffice to say that if you’d like an insight into a well-written Indian psychological horror, this one’s a great choice.

Paperback: 258 pages
Price: Rs. 250
Language: English
Publisher: Authors’ Ink Publications; 1ST edition (2015)
Buy the book at Amazon here.
Read more about the author here.