Monday, August 17, 2015

BookReview: The Butcher of Benares, by Mahendra Jakhar

I shall have to give a very mixed review on this work. Some parts were good, some not so good, and yet others outright ridiculous.

The good:
Purely as a murder mystery, I think it has done justice to the genre. There is a serial killer roaming the streets of Benares, who with every kill leaves behind hints to the next, openly daring the police force to do whatever they can about it. Then follows the usual profiling and attempting to understand the reason for the murders and so forth. Is it a madman? Is it a fanatic? Is it a Hindu or a Christian? Pretty standard stuff, really. But the author indeed succeeds in keeping the reader guessing about the identity of the killer until the very end of the book. This was all that kept me reading to the end. Apart from this, I found nothing to count among its pros.

The not so good:
Readers who have also read The Da Vinci Code and are also familiar with the typical Bollywood masala productions will not fail to recognize that this book is a strange cross-breed. Set in Benares instead of Paris, on the banks of River Ganges rather than around the Louvre Museum, but otherwise very similar in many respects. The reader is given a leisurely tour of the various cremation grounds, temples and marijuana dens in Benares, and is also fed enough history about the place. Personally, I am quite easily bored by all such babble that has nothing to do with the actual story, so I simply skipped over such parts without losing the thread of the main story. A latent romance between the protagonist and an FBI agent is kept simmering throughout the tale, which also I simply skipped over such parts without losing the thread of the main story.

The outright ridiculous:
Though in general the character development was well-done, sometimes (and all of a sudden) they appear incredible or unbelievable. At some points this goes to the extremes. The protagonist  brings his father to Benares supposedly so that he may die peacefully, but prefers to spend his nights with the FBI agent rather than with his dying father. The father is bent on ending his life at Benares, but he makes his attempts only when his son is around to save him. Anyway--and this is not a spoiler--he does not die in Benares. In one scene the protagonist breaks open a bullet-proof glass-box by simply slamming it twice with his bare fist. The killer--who comes across as an efficient killing machine--throws away several chances of easily finishing off the protagonist for no apparent reason. The protagonist will not die no matter where he is shot (of course, we wouldn't have had this story if he had died right in the prologue).

But perhaps this is all expected of the author, who has been writing scripts for Bollywood and television since 2006, and was a crime reporter prior to that.

Apart from all that ridiculousness, there are some gaping holes in the premises of the plot and the story, which I shall not discuss lest I give away the mystery.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

BookReview: The Riddle of The Frozen Flame, by Thomas W Hanshew and Mary E Hanshew

A very good mystery, though a bit lengthy. The style is mostly straightforward--readers are walked through the events as they unfold, learning what the detective learns, and are given a sporting chance at competing with the detective if they so chose, or to simply enjoy the mystery.

In the backdrop, the police are trying to solve a series of bank robberies--theft of only gold reserves--to which there seem to be no clue at all. But that is by the way. The main case: A nobleman is suspected to having murdered his guest, with all evidence pointing against him and jealousy showing for motive. Detective Cleek investigates under cover--really under multiple covers--the case which right from the start seems dark against the nobleman. At one point he simply resigns! Or, does he?

Several possibilities are imaginable as we read, but what is true? Keeps the readers guessing throughout. Only at one or two places--and this only toward the very end--a petty fact or two are guarded from the readers for a few pages, but it is nothing of as much consequence as to grudge the author.

There is a budding love story intertwined, but I was glad it was formally bound and did not spoil the taste of the mystery.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

BookReview: The Mysterious Card (and) The Mysterious Card Unveiled, by Cleveland Muffett

One of the best mystery stories I've ever read, specially owing to how it is structured. It is written in two parts; the mystery is solved in the second part. The first part takes roughly about a quarter of an hour to read, but leaves the mind hunting hungrily for an answer.

Burwell, a New Yorker in Paris is inconspicuously given a card by a charming, elegant lady passing by his table with a gentleman. The card bore some French words written in purple ink. Not knowing that language, he was unable to make out the meaning. Returning at once to his hotel, he seeks the manager's help in translating the message on the card (roughly 20 words). The manager's face grows rigid as he reads it, and Burwell is asked to leave the hotel immediately. Burwell receives a similar reaction at the next hotel. Relentlessly pursuing the solution to the mystery of the card, he suffers a succession of unfortunate experiences. The story ends without a clear resolution, leaving the readers to ponder the mystery.

The author revealed the solution to this puzzle in the sequel, "The Mysterious Card Unveiled," which he didn't publish until the next year, to keep his readers in suspense. These stories were published in a magazine called The Black Cat, the first part in 1895 and the sequel in 1896.

Interesting Trivia: The magazine publisher in 1912 put the two parts together in one volume, with the second part sealed, and offered a refund to purchasers if they could return the book with the seal still unbroken. I'm not sure anyone actually returned the book without reading the second part.

If you decide to read this, don't cheat--guess a solution to the mystery before reading the sequel.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Book Review: A Cup of Murder, by Cam Larson

A good murder mystery. Keeps the reader guessing right through to the end. No boring moments, and the hint of a budding romance is kept within friend limits, which is what kept me reading till the end. How a team of cops had to be helped on the right scent by a coffee-house barista seemed to me a little unrealistic, but hey, this is fiction, after all, and it is otherwise written well, the mystery keeps building in layers as you go along, keeping it quite interesting... So overall I liked it.

Monday, July 20, 2015

So, What's The Position, Flipkart?

So it seems Flipkart is deciding to break up with one segment of its loyalists. While they are toying with the idea, there is precious little we can do but wait and watch. But we can share our views on the matter, and hope still that the final decision will not be totally unfavourable to any parties involved.

I understand their decision is based on a certain fact and a shrewd business-sense. The certain fact, indisputable as it may be, is that in recent times Flipkart is finding more profitable business via its mobile applications than the website. This, of course, stems from other certain facts that have recently reshaped the mobile technology market and the encouragement by the retail segment--in terms of special discounts--to their customers upon the use of the said technology. It also stems, at least to a small extent, from strategic partnerships among retailers, mobile device manufacturers and mobile signal carriers.

It seems, however, that the shrewd business sense is a sort of double-edged sword. Nobody could blame any service provider if it decided to discontinue its defunct or loss-making units or channels of business so that it may shift its complete focus on maintaining the profitable ones. Undoubtedly that would be a very sensible thing to do. However--in this particular case--to shut down one of the functional channels of revenue--I fail to understand how that could be good for business, specially when the said channel is more advantageous to retail customers.

Yes, websites and larger screen monitors offer advantages to a retail purchaser in comparison to a smart phone application. For instance, with websites one may compare multiple products side by side from different sources and vendors, be it within a retail outlet or across many. As another instance, with websites one may also view more clearly the features and larger images of the products under consideration as compared to the small screen of a smart phone, and this is not a small advantage.

On the whole, therefore, I agree with the facts of Flipkart, that presently almost 80% of its revenues are coming off mobile applications. However, I cannot agree that the remaining 20% of the market is "insignificant" or "irrelevant". Saying so, I think, is--shrewd or otherwise--certainly not very good business sense. We can only wait and watch what sort of business sense Flipart really upholds in the end.

If they do shut down their web-site for business, personally for me it would mark the end of online shopping, because I trust no other mode as much as I do websites, and no other online retail outlet as much as I do Flipkart.

Edit (Aug 2017):

Firstly, Flipkart has not shut down its website for e-commerce at least as yet, and it seems those concerns are no longer relevant. At least they are currently not being discussed.

Secondly, I found that Amazon and Pepperfry offer a much better shopping experience. Hereafter I couldn't care less what Flipkart does.

BookReview‬: The Purloined Letter, by Edgar Allan Poe

As far as detective stories go, this one stands out among the best I've read so far. For a change, in this tale the criminal's identity is made quite evident at the start, the nature of crime being a theft of a letter of great political importance; yet, the French police arrive at a dead-end when they cannot find the document on the person or in the residence of their suspect. So what remains for detective Dupin to do is to help the regular forces in recovering the purloined letter, which he does with a little help of psychology. The only reason I am giving it four stars instead of the full five is because I missed the real thrill of a who-dun-it mystery--the hunt for and the collection of evidence, the deductions, the chase, the confrontation--and so forth. But other than that, a lovely story.

BookReview‬: The Black Cat, by Edgar Allan Poe

This is a recorded confession of a man who loves animals, and who used to keep many pets. The animals loved him as much in return. However, a strange, inexplicable change gradually creeps into his personality. Overtaken by drunken fits of rage, he starts ill-treating his pets. Even his loving wife is forced to the receiving end of his ill temperament. One of the animals he brutally ill-treats is his favourite pet--a black cat. What follows is an even more gruesome confession, not only of ill-treatment, but also of murder, and the role his past plays against his designs to get away with it.

Some details in this tale are very graphic descriptions. Poe's words sketch very potent word-pictures that impress strongly upon the mind. Not recommended for the faint of heart. In any case not a bed-time read, unless you fancy disturbed sleep if not nightmares.

BookReview: The Descent Into The Maelstrom, by Edgar Allan Poe

An incredible, awesome sea storm survival adventure. Very well described by the author. Almost felt like I was there in the boat amidst the fishermen, like it was my own story. Ten times more appealing than (though still as unbelievable as) some of the modern attempts at similar tales.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Celebrating with colleagues and friends on completing a decade at the workplace. Punjabi Pind Restaurant, Hampankatta, Mangalore.

Friends through the decade

Chicken leg stuffed with mutton keema

The Punjabi Lassi

That's me! :)

Paan Shot -- One for the roads