Monday, September 01, 2014

Book Review: PRIVATE INDIA

Title: Private India
Author: James Patterson and Ashwin Sanghi
Publisher:
Pages: 470







Private India is a part of a franchise of Private stories, set in different countries, and there is the suitable combination of local and global flavours, like a McDonald’s offering, that might appeal to the mass market reader.

The Prologue brings up memories of the train bombings of 2006. Subsequently, the novel dives into the action, a murder of a doctor in a hotel room. A private investigative agency, Private India, headed by Santosh Wagh, is called in by the hotel to investigate the murder. The police, for an unconvincing reason, agree to let PI handle the investigation as long as information is shared with them and credit given to them entirely.

The next day, there is a second murder, followed by one murder every day. Each time, the victims are women. In each case, there are strange, incongruous objects arranged around the victims’ bodies. As the bodies pile up, the investigators step up their investigations, hoping to find the link between all the victims, and prevent another murder.

Midway through the story, Jack Morgan, the founder of Private and an ex-CIA agent, drops in and becomes embroiled in the story. The list of suspects grows, as does the killer’s appetite. Will Wagh be able to avenge the victims?

For readers starved for crime thrillers set in Mumbai, the reasonably authentic descriptions of the setting help. The 470 pages of the novel go by fast enough, thanks to the simple writing and the large point size, but tighter editing would have made this a better read. Whole chapters should have been done away with.

The chapters are short, but the pace is slow, picking up marginally after the second murder, and then floundering again with one too many murders. It is hard to imagine an individual hating nine women equally, hating them enough to want to kill them. After the fifth murder, I began to feel bored. At 116 chapters, a Prologue, that doesn’t quite fit in, and an Epilogue, this book is at least 2/5ths too long.

In keeping with clichéd tradition, the leading man, Santosh Wagh, head of PI, has a distressed past, a nightmarish car crash in which he lost his wife and son. He also has a severe drinking problem. It is to drive home his agonies that the narrative keeps going into flashback mode. Unfortunately, each flashback reveals more of the same, utterly failing to reveal the complexity of the character.

Wagh’s assistant, Nisha Gandhe, comes with her own baggage. As do the other members of Wagh’s team, Mubeen Yusuf, the forensics expert, and Hari Padhi, the computer specialist. All these guys are supposed to be the best in the business, but you wouldn't know that unless you were told. They are that good at hiding their brilliance.

There are far too many characters, all superficial and clichéd, and many of them coincidentally acquainted with each other. The character of the gangster, Munna, completely lacks punch and fails to come across as a fearful gangster. All the characters are painted in the same washed out colours. This is an example of lazy writing that failed to evoke any emotion in the reader.


In many places, the writing is poor, with grammatical errors. Dr Zafar, the state forensics doctor, says to Dr Mubeen, "Never knew you would come so late," when he should have said, "I never thought" or "I didn't think."

There are so many paragraphs that are loosely and lazily written. At the first crime scene, Nisha speaks of wanting to bag evidence: a single strand of hair, as though she already knew that the police would allow a private investigative agency on its turf. In another chapter, Dr Mubeen says that his medical estimate is that the second death happened between 8.30 and 10am. He then adds a fact that we learned a few pages before, that the cleaning lady discovered the body at 9.30am. Why didn’t his medical estimate take the fact into account?

There is far too much happening here. The underworld, a sleazy godman, Bollywood, terrorism via the Mujahideen and the ISI, drugs, the Thugee cult, transsexuality, the Tower of Silence, some sex scenes that made for extremely tedious reading. I began to lose interest midway through the novel.

I also found the narrative voice annoying. Wagh has an encyclopaedic memory but the omniscient narrator dismisses it as “information that no normal individual would bother to hold on to.” Surely a detective’s profession required such wide-ranging knowledge. Elsewhere, Wagh is described as answering “robotically.” The omniscient narrator is supposed to be neutral. Yet in speaking of the Shiva Spa Lounge, it comes across as sarcastic, when referring to a character.

There were many false leads that were thrown along the way with the attempt to mislead the reader, and at least one of them is not taken to a satisfactory conclusion. Padhi is projected as a suspect. He calls a husky female voice on the phone, and the brief conversation is rather mysterious in nature. Thereafter, the authors simply forget to explain this hitch away.

The painting in the home of Priyanka Talati, a singer and one of the victims, is worth $3 million. Her home is worth $20 million. Indians talk in terms of lakhs and crores. Weren’t the authors sure of the market they were trying to address with this book?

I have never read a James Patterson novel, though I’ve seen two films, both starring Morgan Freeman, based on his books. Considering how tightly the films were scripted, I can only conclude that this book is more Sanghi than Patterson, and that the latter’s only contribution is the franchise element of the novel. Patterson has earlier collaborated on such novels with other writers in the other Private books. This one is the 8th in the series.

While most of the book failed to thrill me, it was when the PoV turned to that of the killer that the writing turned markedly better, particularly when the killer spoke about feeling pleasured by the fabric used for the strangling. The chapters written from the killer’s PoV exuded the right touch of menace. Ideally, there should have been one after every murder.

The mystery of the killer, I thought, was handled well. It was the lead that was way too long and annoying. Also, the terror element, like an afterthought, didn’t do much to the story.


In sum, not a book I want to recommend.



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