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.