Friday, November 17, 2017


Title: The Broken Girls
Author: Simone St James
Publisher: Berkley
Pages: 336
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This was a book that started slow and awkward. I almost gave it up. Thankfully, I didn't. 

I almost never give up on a book and my patience and determination to keep reading were rewarded with this slow burner that soon picked up pace. 

The Broken Girls turned out to be a thriller and murder mystery that went beyond its genre, growing to be an indictment of the Holocaust and its excesses, a paranormal ghost story, a tale of friendship spanning decades, a tale of justice denied and fought for.

Fiona Sheridan has not been able to get over the loss of her sister Deb, who was strangled and dumped at Idlewild Hall, an old, abandoned girl’s school which has been abandoned since 1979. Deb’s boyfriend, Tim Christopher, was tried and convicted of the crime, but that has not given Fiona closure. She is still haunted by the crime, unable to move on, even as Tim has spent 20 years in maximum security jail. She wonders if Tim killed Deb, or if someone else did.

Fiona gets herself an assignment, writing about the restoration of Idlewild. The new owners are Margaret Eden and her son, Anthony. Her efforts are supported by Jamie Creel, a cop and her boyfriend.

On a tour of the place, with Anthony, Fiona learns that another body has been discovered. The body of a school girl, Sonia Gallipeau, who was killed in 1950, and her body dumped in an old well.

Fiona, already grieving Deb, grieves also for Sonia, the 15-year-old orphan girl whose life had been brutally cut short. She becomes determined to find out who killed Sonia, while also seeking to find out who killed Deb.

But Jamie’s father, Garrett Creel, a former police chief, resents her attempt to revive the case. How far will he go to stymie her efforts. Will Fiona succeed? Will justice be served to Deb and Sonia?

After the Prologue set in November 1950, in which we learn that a young teenage girl is about to die, the story alternates between the 3rd person past tense viewpoint of Fiona in November 2014, and to those of Katie Winthrop, Roberta, CeCe and Sonia Gallipeau in October 1950.

In time, we get to know the four girls, room-mates turned friends, quite closely. We learn of their individual histories, of how they came to be at Idlewild Hall, the boarding school of last resort, where parents stashed their embarrassments, their failures, and their recalcitrant girls. 

Each of them had a strong story which came out well. I was particularly touched by what Sonia had gone through, having lived at Ravensbrück prison as a young child.

Through the twin narratives of Fiona and the Idlewild girls, we are acquainted with Mary Hand, a ghost who haunts the school. A ghost who is brings to life a person’s worst fears. A ghost who terrifies you with your worst horrors. Mary was a strong presence who left her mark on the story.

Initially, I found the writing banal. The devices the employed were old and worn out. For instance, we get Fiona’s description when she looks into her car’s rearview mirror. We find Jamie talking at length, about something that Fiona already knows, but that, she says, she wants him to talk about because it’s more fun to get information from you. How bland is that!

But gradually, it seems as if the author gets more comfortable with the story, and you settle down for the ride. Simone does a great job of creating a mood of suspense and terror. It is in the descriptions and the action sequences that she truly excels.  There is something forbidding, brooding about the descriptions. The landscape of Vermont comes alive, in a way that helps one imagine it.

After the first few chapters, the writing became more intense. The fear that the characters felt, the emotions and feelings they went through became more real to us. I felt a deep sense of compassion for the four friends in 1950, with no family to love them.

I didn’t quite take to Fiona initially. Her dad was more vigorous and alive, compared to her. But gradually I began to like her. Her character underwent a positive change. From being somebody who wrote fluffy lifestyle pieces, she began to want to write a story on Idlewild. 

I also appreciated the fact that even as she grieved for her own sister, she also grieved for Sonia, for the fact that no one had mourned her loss. Fiona’s tendency to not just want to whiz by, but to want to stop and truly see, also appealed to me.

I liked the description of Malcolm: Malcolm Sheridan had never done small talk — he was the kind of man who looked you in the eye on first meeting and said, Do you enjoy what you do? Do you find it fulfilling?  If you had the courage to answer, he’d listen like it was the most fascinating thing he’d ever heard.

Apart from these characters, I also found the four girls to be very strong and well drawn out. Jamie, on the other hand, I didn’t much care for, even though the author went on and on about his muscular arms. His character arc didn’t grow as well as Fiona’s had.

In contrast, even Lionel Charters, who plays a bit role, came out stronger.

The younger man-older woman pairing, 29 to 37, was bold. But the romance, in the initial chapters, was utterly lackluster. It was also a little unreal that Fiona felt absolutely no insecurity about the age gap. But then again, maybe it was because she had freethinking, hippie parents.

Once again this relationship also benefited from the improvement in the writing.

The book gently mocks old-time phrases, like being born on the wrong side of the blanket, as well as the girls' textbook, Latin Grammar for Girls. As Jamie says, “The good old days when apparently Latin was different if you were a girl.” And using the term ‘iron deficiency’ for having one’s period. 

The author makes fun of the outdated notions in a gentle but firm manner. It was not assumed that the housewives of the future needed to know much about science.

But there were some errors and some awkwardness that slipped past that should have been caught.

Early on, Fiona tells Jamie, “It pays to have a nosy journalist on your side,” and that’s funny. Fiona is far from nosy.

The name and surname, Charlotte Kankle, were repeated five times and Cindy Benshaw twice. Surely the author could have called her just Charlotte the second time onwards. On the other hand, we don’t get to know Roberta’s surname until 2014, as part of Fiona’s research. But these were minor errors in the larger scheme of things. 

The cover was beautiful. The intimidating image of Idlewild, as seen through a cracked window pane. 

The book was beautiful, and the women characters and their stories certainly deserve your attention.

(I received an ARC from First to Read).

Tuesday, November 14, 2017


Title: Missing Gems of the Taj Mahal
Author: Lyndon C
Publisher: Kindle edition
Pages: 105
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐

Sid Cooper, aged 11, and his dad are in Agra so his dad can attend a business meeting. Sid, a great history buff, with a fascination for the Taj, gets an opportunity to see the Taj, in the company of Raj Verma, the son of his dad’s colleague.

When his expensive camera falls and breaks, Sid buys a cheap camera from a man peddling junk outside the Taj Mahal. The camera is magical and the two boys are transported 350 years into the past when the magnificent monument was still being built.

They learn that some precious gems that were to be used in the intricate inlay work have gone missing. Hungry for adventure, the two boys decide to nab the thief and find the gems.

The blurb tells us that Shah Jahan is furious, but in the book, he seems remarkably unmoved and offers a reward to whoever finds the missing gems. This is the man of who it is said that he chopped off the arms of the workers who labored on the construction to ensure that they never worked on a similar project again. Wouldn’t it have been more in character if he were to demand that his men find the gems and the thief or risk being beheaded?

Nor does he seem perturbed at the sight of two 11-year-old boys casually strolling by, at the construction site. For a Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan is far too genial, politely enquiring about who they are, before letting them go. 

What’s more, once the mystery is solved, he generously hands out gifts to the boys. Not the smallest hint of curiosity about whose kids they are and how they happened to land there.

The blurb also tells us that the boys seek to save history and themselves. But the truth is that the boys are far from concerned about themselves. The past is an extension of their outing to the Taj. Not once do they worry about how they will return to their own time. It’s not as if they’ve experienced both ends of the time travel journey before, the going forth and the return. Their nonchalance is unreal.

The book takes far too long to tell its story. At 32% on the Kindle, Sid’s camera broke. He bought a new one at 42%. But it wasn’t until 59%, that they went back in time. Too much time was wasted just reaching the past.

At one point, Sid and Raj watch Shah Jahan speaking to the supervising architect. Raj translates the Hindi conversation for Sid’s benefit. He tells Sid that the emperor spoke to Puruji. How did Raj know the name of the architect? Errors like these should have been caught in time.

The mystery in this book is utterly tame. There is no sense of danger or intrigue. The mystery itself is solved by the boys very easily, that too at the suggestion of a poor boy who works at the site.

In fact, the ease with which they slip into the past, without anyone suspecting them of being spies or strangers is amazing. Even their clothes are magically transformed into period costumes.

La Niña found it funny that Sid and Raj’s fathers were so cool with the idea of two 11-year-olds going to the Taj all by themselves, without a responsible grownup in attendance. She wanted to know if I would have let her go alone.

The bulk of the book is taken up by facts relating to the Taj Mahal, which was interesting at first. It would have been better if these nuggets of information had been seamlessly woven into the story, rather than having Sid read them out from a book or having Raj show off his knowledge.

The illustrations by fifth-grader Ananya Chopra were beautiful. This kid is really talented.

As an idea, time travel is always very exciting. Here the potential inherent in it is completely lost.

Monday, November 13, 2017


Title: The French Girl
Author: Lexie Elliott
Publisher: Berkley Books
Pages: 304

The French Girl by Lexie Elliott will inevitably get some of the fame that devolves upon all books with the word, girl, in their titles. But beyond that, these books must strive to make their own way.

The summer after they finished university, six friends, Kate Channing, Caroline Horridge, Tom, Seb, Theo and Lara Petersson, go on a holiday to a French farmhouse owned by Theo’s dad. They are friends, but they are also in relationships. Kate with Seb, Tom with Lara. Only Theo and Caro are not in a relationship.

Severine Dupas, a 19-year-old French girl, who lives next door to the farmhouse, often drops in to use their pool.

Ten years later her body is discovered in a well behind the farmhouse. A well that was filled on Saturday, the day the six left the farmhouse to return to London.

The friends have moved on with their lives. Seb has been married 3 years, Tom has split from long-time girlfriend, Jenna, Lara is happily promiscuous. Kate runs her own legal recruitment firm. Caro has as a career as a lawyer in Haft and Weil, one of the most prestigious legal companies. Only Theo has died in battle in the interim.

The case is reopened by French policeman, Alain Modan, and suspicion begins to settle upon Kate. It seems that her then boyfriend, Seb, slept with Severine on their last night there.

Kate’s self-owned legal head-hunting business, Channing Associates, is about to strike a deal with Gordon Farrow, managing partner of Haft and Weil, a prestigious law firm, and Caro’s father. Kate gets the contract, a deal that saves her business from financial ruin.

When rumours of an imminent arrest spread, Kate wonders how long it would be before her life is upended.

The story is written in the first person present tense point of view of Kate. A number of flashbacks are woven through her piece, enabling us to understand how she met Seb, with whom she broke up soon after that holiday; how her business is in danger of closing down.

It seems that Severine got under Kate’s skin a little too much. There is a hint of something dark.

I liked Kate. She was direct, a trait that causes Farrow to respect and admire her. She is also feisty and loyal to her friends, particularly to Tom and Lara. She is good at her job and doesn’t feel intimidated advising Gordon. I also liked the conversations Kate has with the reader
I also liked the characterization of Tom who gives really good hugs.

What I liked most about this book was the word descriptions of the characters.

Kate says of Caro, The extra years have gnawed away any softness. Now she appears brittle.

Of Alain Modan, the French detective: His handwriting is like tiny spiders multiplying across the page.

Of Paul, Kate's partner: His trenchant defeatism curls around him like a fog; being near him brings a chill.

Of Alain again: His active brain working away behind those dark, ironic eyes; scurrying like a rat in a maze to explore all potential avenues.

While the book is a murder mystery and the focus is on the murder, and how the renewed investigation threatens to disrupt their lives, as a reader, I could not help feeling that it is more romance than mystery.

The investigator, Modan, is not quite neutral in his investigation. Ten years ago, he had refused to sleep with Lara. Now, both he and Lara are waiting for him to clear all five of any suspicion, so they can begin a relationship together.

Kate persists in believing that Tom still has feelings for Lara, while Tom has long admired another woman.

Seb’s marriage is being threatened by another woman.

What I found odd was Severine being a disembodied presence around Kate. Not exactly haunting her in the paranormal sense, but definitely one that insinuated herself into every conversation and thought of Kate’s.

The London locale is established through descriptions about what it is like on the Tube, as also smooth yet passing references to how Americans differ from the British.

I felt a little lost when the technicalities of legal procedure came up.

The ending was a let-down for me. Also, the manner in which the mystery was resolved was unreal. There were no clues. Everything was  explained too hastily.

Also, while the book was sweet, it was more than a little slow. 

(I received an ARC from First to Read).

Friday, November 03, 2017


Title: The Grave of Katherine Embry
Author: Renee Ross
Publisher: Great Owl
Pages: 340
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐

The story starts in New London, Connecticut, in 1892, and is written in the third person point of view of Kate Embry. 

Seventeen-year-old Kate and her older brother, Edward, are travelling to New Hampshire where Kate will live with Olivia Windham, the maternal grandmother she has never met, while Edward pursues his studies in medicine. Their mother died in childbirth after giving birth to Kate, and their father died a few weeks ago.

They arrive at Windcliff, an imposing mansion that is their grandmother’s home. Kate is shown to her room, a beautiful and luxurious one, where she sleeps one night. 

The next morning, after Edward leaves, Kate is moved to her ‘new’ room, a dingy place that contains a narrow cot, a wash stand, a desk and a cabinet. Kate is now the new serving maid. Working as a scullery and kitchen maid is hard work, but Kate tries her best. She makes friends with fellow maid, Clara, and stable hand, Will.

She writes to Edward to inform him about this strange situation she is in, but he never responds. As her grandmother’s hostility continues, Kate is determined to find out why she hates her.

When she finds a grave in the family graveyard with her own name on it, Kate decides to do whatever it takes to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Who is buried in the grave? Why does her grandmother hate her so much? And why is Clara behaving so strangely with her?

The author drops a few details here and there about Kate, which helps us to gain a fuller picture of her. 

Interestingly, the author speaks of Kate in an amused, teasing tone that I liked. When the rain rolls off her bonnet’s brim, she felt like a human fountain. At one time, Kate wishes that they could travel on top of the train, then changes her mind when it begins to rain.

There were plenty of errors. She had ‘borne’ became ‘born’; a ‘contiguous’ facility became a ‘contagious’ facility; 'coarse’ blanket becomes ‘course’ and how she was ‘faring’ became ‘fairing’. 

The book would have been shorter and tighter had much of it been edited out.

None of the characters were strong. The heroine, Kate, was downright annoying. When she wasn’t playing He-loves-me-He-loves-me-not games on behalf of Clara, she was playing them for herself. We never find ourselves rooting for her.

For a romantic hero, with two women vying for his attention, Will is rather bland and insipid.

And then there is the annoying badly managed sweetheart ball.

The twist was a damp squib, one that ten out of ten readers would have easily guessed. I would have expected a solid reason for Olivia’s hatred of Kate, but there wasn’t any.

The author should at least have ended the book with Olivia feeling some sort of grudging respect for Kate, but even that doesn’t happen. And the villain track was so badly constructed.

All in all, neither a strong Gothic mystery nor a strong romance.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Book Review: HIDE AND SEEK

Title: Hide and Seek (Helen Grace #6)
Author: MJ Arlidge
Publisher: Berkley Books
Pages: 416
My GoodReads Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐

Hide and Seek takes us forward on a story arc that began with Little Boy Blue (Helen Grace #5). At the end of that book, we saw Helen Grace in prison, awaiting trial for the brutal sexual assaults and murders of three people. The murders were done by Robert Stonehill, her nephew, who framed her for the crimes. Helen was aware that Robert was the killer but was unable to prove her innocence.

In Hide and Seek, we go inside Holloway Prison, where Helen is awaiting trial. As a former police officer who put many of the inmates behind bars, Helen is especially hated in the prison. She suffers petty insults and violence and is assigned to clean toilets, showers and medical waste.

When Leah, a convict serving time for killing a pregnant woman, is found murdered, her body mutilated, it sends shock waves throughout Holloway.

While everyone thinks that Leah’s death and mutilation are prison justice, Helen feels that it is a ritual killing, and that there is a message. The strongest signals in prison were those without words.

Helen knows that in order to stay alive in prison, a place where you’ve got to have eyes in the back of your head, she must get to the bottom of things, find the killer or be killed. But finding a murderer in a sea of deeply damaged women won’t be easy.

Following Helen’s imprisonment, Detective Joanne Sanderson was appointed by Superintendent Jonathan Gardam to take over the department. Gardam, for reasons of his own, is especially keen that Helen pay the penalty for her crimes and is determined to quash any attempt to reopen Helen’s case. Charlie Brooks is the only officer who believes in Helen’s innocence. Charlie puts her job on the line, looking for Stonehill.

Meanwhile, Emilia Garanita, whose scoops helped nail Helen in the last book, is still gunning for her. The kind of journalist who would happily eschew morals for a scoop, she is now playing for high stakes. What complicates matters for Helen is that somebody inside Holloway is helping Garanita.

The mystery of Leah’s death is still unresolved, when another prisoner, Jordi, is killed in the same manner. Her murder is followed by that of Lucy, a transgender male, who has always protested being housed in the women’s prison. 

The multiple murders create a sense of panic and fear in the prison. Before long there is a full-scale riot. All hell literally breaks loose, and Helen has to find the killer before Emilia outside creates a fake story implicating her for these murders too.

Will Helen find the killer? And will Charlie manage to nab Stonehill or will she be fired for her pains?

Those are the questions that the gritty and hard narrative leads us to ask.

Holloway is a place where danger was only a heartbeat away. Life in the prison, we can see, is horrible. We see this through the behavior of the prison officers, especially Cameron Campbell, who is brutal and sadistic, through the treatment meted out to the prisoners, the infestation of reptiles and insects in the cells, the constant physical and mental abuses that vulnerable inmates suffer. Sarah Bradshaw and Mark Robins are other prison officers.

Prisoners also suffer abuses at the hands of fellow prisoners. The narrative of the violence, physical and otherwise, makes for painful reading.

The story is written in the third person past tense omniscient point of view. The language is stark, crisp, pacy. The chapters are short, 3½ pages max, and move fast between the characters, ratcheting up the tension.

We get caught up in the story. Before long, we find ourselves drawing up our own list of suspects, which includes almost everyone. After all, Stonehill, we know, is a killer. Celia, the prison governor, is addicted to alcohol. Leah was pregnant, so the father of her child is also a suspect. The prison inmates all have a history of violence.

The author’s skill in describing action helps us to feel a great sense of involvement. The scenes of the clash between Stonehill and Brooks are well described. As is the description of the riot in the prison. However, the description of the mutilation is gruesome and disturbing.

The author has done a great job with the characterization. We get to know the different kinds of people who have the power to influence a prisoner’s life. They are the police head, the governor of the prison, the prisoners who secure influence over others in prison, either through violence, or through money, or the sale and supply of drugs, and even the unscrupulous journalist, Garanita.

We come to know the various characters that people the women’s jail, and the angst that each of them suffers, the sordid lives they have led. Through these characters we come to know of the lack of privacy, the hostility and the appalling conditions suffered by people inside.

Amid these suffering prisoners is Andrew Holmes, the chaplain, who tells us that In prison it is the hope that kills you, not the despair.

While these characters are important, I did feel that there were altogether too many characters in this book. The author should have limited the numbers of characters that deserved their own chapters. For example, Leah’s five-year-old twin sons, Dylan and Caleb, have their own chapter. As do the daughters of Jordi. 

While their lives are important, they have no bearing on the story of Helen which is the mainstay of the book. Also, their stories begin and end abruptly, leaving us unable to make a lasting connection. But they do serve to remind us that It was always the families that suffered the most.

In the tradition of thriller fiction, Helen eschews common sense in favour of impetuosity, deliberately charging into the murdered woman’s cell even though she could be found at the scene of the crime.

My only grouse was that while the first half of the book was good, the book seemed to race ahead in the second part. The pace became uncomfortably fast, as if the author were rushing through things, getting them over with. If only the author hadn’t rushed us through.

(I received an ARC from First to Read).

Tuesday, October 31, 2017


Title: Keep Calm and Mommy On
Author: Dr Tanu Shree Singh
Publisher: Duckbill Books
Pages: 200
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Tanu Shree Singh has a PhD. Sound science determines her parenting style. I go by a mixture of instinct, and what I learned from my parents. 

And yet I found myself nodding vigorously in agreement with what she said.

In an age in which parents are pushing their kids into classes and highly evolved programmes to map and enhance their cognitive skills, I, like Tanu, am lagging behind when it comes to being a conventional Tiger Mom.

Sometimes it causes me to question my stance. As she says, Am I an adequate parent? …Have I ensured optimal levels of cognitive functioning? Have I charted their trajectories? I think the answer to all three questions is in the negative. I do not yet have my own trajectory in order!

Parenting a child in this age is like being prepared for battle. The best degrees, and Tanu has a PhD in Positive Psychology, can’t stand against the onslaught of a real child.

Generally, I have my act together but often I don’t. That’s why I hoped this book would help.

Tanu talks about the issues most likely to be felt in families everywhere. Of course, my kids are still in the single digit age. So a few of the issues that she talked about weren’t relevant to me at this stage. But at least, it’s good to know we are all in this together.

Each section begins with speech bubbles. Snippets of conversations that tell us about the topic, and the chapters that are dealt within it.

The topics are We are the World, Keeping Your Child Safe, Dealing with Friends and Family, How to keep your Child Happy, and Reading the World.

There are a range of chapters under each topic. For instance, the topic, We are the world, consists of chapters on the prejudices that children learn from grownups, ways to discipline kids, religious beliefs, how to build resilience, children who are abandoned or orphaned, and exposing children to reality as the newspapers portray it.

I found the chapter titled, Should Kids Read the Newspaper?, particularly helpful since I’d been thinking about the best way to introduce my kids to reading the newspaper.

Keeping your Child Safe talks about the difficult conversations we must inevitably have with our kids, especially once they near their teens, about teenage romances and sexuality, and dealing with peer pressure.

Dealing with Friends and Family discusses sibling rivalry, friendship across genders, death and grief, bullying, body shaming, raising responsible boys, about what happens when girls bully boys, lies and truth and cultivating empathy.

How to keep your child happy includes chapters on the importance of kids doing nothing (something I espouse too), learning respect from scratch, the needs of teenagers, addiction to digital devices, working independently, the education system, the definition of success. This section was where my personal beliefs aligned completely with the author’s.

Some chapters were named in a straightforward manner, others like The Other Side of the Coin were not. I thought there should have been some consistency.

What I liked about this book was that it wasn’t a ready reckoner on how to behave in any given situation, thought it does offer suggestions that parents could consider. Its greatest strength it that it raises the questions that few parents bother thinking about. I also liked the fact that the style was chatty, not written like a PhD thesis. The stories with Ishaan and Vivaan are interesting.

Tanu talks about the importance of keeping conversations going, not shirking from difficult conversations (children can smell parental unease with conversations), and invites us to remember that That little person you have is ideal for you, complete with her faults.

The tone is irreverent, but firm. Realise you are not a god: Even gods have beheaded their children (and fixed an elephant’s head in its place).

I don’t agree with everything she says. For instance, she says, Focus on unprotected sex and its repercussions—physical and emotional, not moral.
I believe the moral repercussions are just as important.

Careful proofreading would have helped. In the chapter on bullying, the examples of the early ’70s and the late ‘80s are described in present tense, while the example from 2013 is in past tense. There were a few cases of awkward sentence constructions. The language could certainly have been improved.

In the chapter on abuse, the author talks about beating by teachers. Children go through worse forms of physical abuse, which aren’t talked about here.

I appreciated her call to recognize the signs that indicate whether a child is being bullied and to remember that your own child could also be a bully. The tips she gives are good.

The chapter on body shaming was a necessary one. Things I appreciated: Resist praising your child for masculine or feminine stereotypes. Or calling your child too fat or too skinny.

I liked it when she saw herself as having a special responsibility to bring up boys who are respectful of women and treat them as true equals.

Like: The mechanism for crying is fairly similar, regardless of gender! Saying that a boy is crying like a girl tops the list of silliest but also most destructive things ever said. You are telling your son that men do not cry, so whatever is bothering him needs to be ignored, not resolved. And you are telling him that crying is an inferior thing to do, that girls cry and are, therefore, inferior.

She writes with a wisdom that knows when to step in and when to let the kids do what they would want to. All imbued with self-deprecating humour that I particularly liked. For instance, to the myth that bullying toughens kids up, she asks, Do you ask your doctor to inject typhoid-causing bacteria into your system so that you can toughen up your digestion?

One area that my kids don’t give me any trouble is what Tanu describes in Outsourcing creativity. When it comes to being arty and crafty, both my kids are way more creative than I am. Thank God for that! I shudder to think what would happen if they were dependent on me for jazzing up their projects.

I believe that every parenting experience is worthwhile, and could offer valuable lessons to others.

And this book, which combines her knowledge with instinct, and how they’ve worked with her boys, is quite helpful.

Friday, October 27, 2017


Title: Partho, the Unconventional Investigator -- The Mystery of the Missing Bags
Author: Rajib Mukherjee
Publisher: Kindle Edition (Self published)
Pages: 113
My GoodReads rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Partho, the Unconventional Investigator – The mystery of the missing bags was a sweet and charming story.

The story is written in the first person of Dev, whose background closely resembles that of the author. Dev’s sister, Ria, is married to Partho. Ria babies her husband, and Partho, Dev tells us, loves it.

Even though Dev tells us at the very outset that I never intended to be the Watson to any Holmes, that is exactly what he ends up becoming. Partho Ghosh is the Sherlock Holmes to Dev’s Dr Watson.

The events of the story begin inoffensively enough with Dev’s interest in an ad in the local paper relating to a black Travel Pro bag, exchanged by mistake at the airport.

The desire to solve this mystery catapults Partho and Dev into deep adventure and mortal danger, when gangsters called the Alfariqs become involved. What seems like a harmless investigation into missing bags for want of something better to do soon assumes grave overtones. 

The author puts in some interesting twists and turns, as the story picks up speed. What heightens the tension is the fact that one of the key characters has made a living well, and the mystery must be resolved within ten days, before the will decrees termination of his life support system.

On his way to fleshing out this charming mystery, the author touches upon some fascinating subjects such as living wills, the challenges inherent in archaeology and hudud law.

Partho, the desi Holmes, was adorable. I liked the traits with which the author sought to build him up. His practice of yoga and meditation, his ability to picture things in his mind as also his quirky personality, his endearing vulnerability (he shivers and is nursed by his wife in an almost motherly fashion) and his ability to design amazing gadgets that would cause James Bond to feel envious.

He isn’t, however, as unconventional as the author would have us believe. In fact, he follows quite closely in the convention of Sherlock Holmes.

In fact, in the vein of Holmes, he also leaves us with one bit of wisdom when he describes death as a change of state. He adds, Does the liquid water fear death when it changes to vapor or to ice? Not a single drop of water ever disappeared from the face of the planet; life, like that water droplet, is everlasting and imperishable.

The Baker’s Street sleuth, it was often said, lacked a woman’s benign influence in his life. Here, the author amends the situation with Ria. Ria serves as a good foil to him, following up on his ideas with her painstaking research and sound common sense.

They are supported by a colourful ensemble of characters such as Ryan, who does not mind sharing the credit, and Ahluwalia, the lawyer, besides Chandan Chatterjee, Thomas, Begum Sahiba etc. Of these other characters, I liked Ryan and Ahluwalia, both of who have the potential to walk out of this book and into another.

Ahluwalia’s character, all pretend cloak-and-dagger, was rendered more interesting on account of his needling of Ryan, the copy, and the cheeky aphorisms he spouts, which the narrator describes as his fortune cookie bits of wisdom.

These aphorisms are:
Face value has no value.

A man who measures life never knows his own measure.

And my favourite, There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.

And of course, who would write Partho’s adventures down but Dev?

Dev’s character was also well drawn. He has a thirst for adventure which dies as soon as the adventure leads him into awkward situations. Like Watson, he attempts to deduce facts from the sketchiest of information but misses the mark by a wide margin.

The only parts that seemed incomplete were the descriptions of locales. They came across as half-done.

The Middle East is not a region that I am familiar with and so I can’t comment on the descriptions with any certainty. But I found it strange that the fierce Islamists would take the desecration of a graveyard so lightly.

Also, the author has not indicated whether the graveyard is Christian or Muslim. Since the locale is Abu Dhabi, I assumed it is Muslim. If that is so, then the imagery of a cross on the grave, as displayed on the cover, is highly incorrect. The author should have pointed out which it is clearly.

Since the story is based in Kolkata for a large part, it would have been nice if Kolkata had played a greater role in the story. Few cities have as much character as Kolkata, and the author should consider bringing out the character of the city, if he ever thinks of a sequel.

There was one other error I spotted when they are all discussing their plans for Abu Dhabi. Tom asks, “Who goes and who stays?” and Ryan responds, “I believe Partho and you should go.” Since Tom has asked the question, it seems reasonable to think the ‘you’ refers to him. It is only when Dev speaks up that one realizes that Ryan was referring to Dev. This confusion could have been avoided.

These errors, however, do not take away from the pace of the book. Once it starts, the story rushes headlong with one thing leading quickly to another, and the original mystery of the missing travel bag finding its resolution in an event that, at first sight, seems completely far-fetched. 

Just like Holmes, it is Partho who helps us see the links between the seemingly unrelated events. It is as much his smart thinking as his gizmos that save the day for him and Dev.

The book was entertaining. Partho is the sort of character that can grow on a reader. I hope this isn’t his only adventure.

(I read a Kindle edition of this book through NetGalley.)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...