Daily Archives: June 8, 2011

Book Review: Carte Blanche (James Bond Novel) by Jeffrey Deaver

Title: Carte Blanche (James Bond Novel)
Author: Jeffrey Deaver
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton, Hachette India
Genre: Thriller, Crime Fiction
ISBN: 978-1444716474
PP: 448 Pages
Price: Rs. 499
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

James Bond returns, rebooted, in this new novel set in the modern day, where he works for the ODG, a secret agency of the British government whose task is the ‘protect the realm’. When a text message is intercepted mentioning an attack and potentially thousands of deaths, 007 is called in and given carte blanche (the modern equivalent of his old licence to kill) to save the day.

The novel is presented as an interesting blend of author Jeffrey Deaver, and Bond-creator Ian Fleming’s writing styles. For the most part, Deaver’s language and plot structure comes through, but there are a few passages that are distinctly Fleming, some to the extent that I felt they could have been lifted straight from the original Bond books.

In this story, we will never look at our binmen in the same way again. Yet another eccentric businessman is intent on world domination – in his own way but thanks to the author’s craft, all is not what it seems. Most of the action takes place in South Africa with side trips to Belgrade and, of course, London itself. Bond has his usual fling though there seems something lacking in this part of the character’s behaviour. Not sure what but to his credit, the author manages to find odd but interesting names for some of the female participants. Of course, Moneypenny is still around though they’ve all undergone a radical rejuvenation to fit into Bond’s ability to deal with the all-action scenarios.

The characters, while slightly updated for the contemporary setting, are exactly those that Fleming gave us, especially Bond himself (fortunately not Daniel Craig) and M (back to the original male version), and a number of other familiar names crop up. This does become something of a cliché though in the first half of the book, where I found myself wondering which classic character would show up next rather than focussing on the plot.

I was very impressed by Deaver’s plot, which departed somewhat from what I had been led to expect from some of the early publicity around the book (a little distracting as it meant I was constantly expecting something that never came). It moves at the perfect pace to hook the reader while remaining true to the attention to detail of Fleming’s prose.

Twists and turns fly rapidly off the pages, however this is actually where I think the book is let down. There are several instances of what I consider to be Jeffery Deaver’s trademark suspense technique – resolving a cliffhanger by utilising something that happened earlier but his narrative didn’t tell us about. I find this really frustrating and it comes across as extremely lazy writing – especially when it affects a major part of the novel. In other places however, plot points are resolved without resorting to this method and I just can’t see why Deaver does it.

Overall though I must confess to being impressed – my feeling from reading a couple of other Deaver novels recently was one of trepidation, but this book has managed to impress. The die-hard 007 fan may not appreciate the effort Deaver has gone to in order to update the settings, but I found it tastefully done, and look forward to finding out who the publishers will select when James Bond returns.

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Carte blanche

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Book Review: My Korean Deli by Ben Ryder Howe

Title: My Korean Deli
Author: Ben Ryder Howe
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
ISBN: 978-0-8050-9343-8
Genre: Non-Fiction
PP: 320 pages
Price: $25.00
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

To me, the best memoirs begin with the author thinking and acting one way and through the course of the book, changes and comes out, if not a better person, at least a different person. Ben Ryder Howe seems to have done this very thing and he writes beautifully about it in “My Korean Deli: Risking it All for a Convenience Store”.

Ben, a WASP from many generations of Bostonians settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts, married his college girlfriend, Gab Pak. Ben is from a laid-back family but Gab, a lawyer by training, is the child of first generation Korean immigrants who have come to this country with a fierce can-do attitude. Nothing is impossible in this golden land of opportunity if you work hard enough. The Paks, Kay and Edward, have raised and educated three children, through the ethic of hard work. Ben and Gab, together for ten years when the book opens right after 9/11, have moved in with the Paks – in their basement on Staten Island – and are considering buying Kay Pac a deli she can manage, as a sort of “thank you” for raising Gab. Ben is an editor at the “Paris Review” and Gab has a job at a law firm, working long hours. They see the deli as a way of working together and making enough money to move out from their basement dwelling.

I don’t suppose you could find two societal opposites than the offices of the “Paris Review” and a Korean deli. It would be like going from the equator to the North Pole, yet both exist in today’s New York City. Ben straddles the two worlds – WASP and ethnic – for the three years he and his in-laws own and operate the deli they buy in Brooklyn. As Ben bounces from one place – and one life – to the other on a daily basis, he learns about himself and his possibilities in a very visceral way. But learning to accept the can-do immigrant spirit does not make him turn away from his own family and their values. He has learned to balance them by the end of the book.

Ben Howe is a marvelously fluent writer. There’s rarely a wasted sentence or thought. He introduces the reader to some very, um, “amusing” characters – from both worlds, yet he is never condescending in his treatment of a drinker, be it his boss at the “Paris Review”, George Plimpton, or the store’s employee, Dwayne. There’s not a mean-spirited thought in this book, but despite the charity given to most of the characters, they are still shown as real people.

Howe nails the difficulties of owning your own small business- the strain it puts on a marriage, the constant money worries- it’s a 24/7 responsibility, much like having a child, which Ben and Gab are also struggling to do. His tales of the deli, what it means to the neighborhood, to his family, and eventually to him, give the reader a real appreciation of small business owners. I loved his story of Gab trying to get from Queens to Brooklyn during a horrible snowstorm, and of keeping the store open during the big blackout. Howe is a gifted writer, and this book is one I would highly recommend. It’s a great American story.

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Book Review: The Cloud Messenger by Aamer Hussein

Title: The Cloud Messenger
Author: Aamer Hussein
Publisher: Telegram Books
Genre: Literary Fiction
ISBN: 978-9350291535
PP: 208 Pages
Price: Rs. 250
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

After reading, ‘Another Gulmohar Tree’ by Aamer Hussein, I was convinced that no one could write better about relationships than him and he yet again proved me right, as I turned the last page of ‘The Cloud Messenger’ with a lingering sadness in my heart. Aamer Hussein knows how to tug at those heart-strings and he does it with a magic so wonderfully woven that it becomes very difficult for the reader to not be under its spell.

The Cloud Messenger takes place in London – the distant rainy place that Mehran finds himself in after leaving Karachi in his teens. It is in London that most of his adult life unfolds – his loves, his work, his love for poetry and his hours spent dreaming, sending ‘cloud messages’ to other places and other lands.

Mehran does not seem to belong anywhere, no matter how hard he tries. He moves from lover to lover and from city to city, but no avail. What I loved about the book was the conflict, the deep-set insecurities that haunt us all and yet we do not admit to them – the book opened that window for me.

‘The Cloud Messenger’ is as much about the creative writing process as it is about lost love. Hussein is at his best when describing the hesitancy and doubts that assail Mehran as he tries to record certain memories from childhood. I suspect these passages may be partly autobiographical. Marvi, now Mehran’s lover, is dismissive, calling Mehran’s work ‘bourgeois indulgence that doesn’t take the reader anywhere”.

Mehran realises that he is not yet equipped to transform himself from a translator of poetry into a writer: ‘one day he would have to be a messenger to himself, carrying stories from the places of his past to his present place … to find himself a form, build a vehicle for his longing … not yet though. He isn’t ready.”

There is a lyrical quality to Hussein’s novel, and the snippets of love poetry he weaves into the narrative resonate with Mehran’s spiritual journey and his rites of passage as a writer. For me this was similar to Another Gulmohar Tree and highly entertaining without getting sentimental about love and its outcomes. There is no fixed ending to the book. It hangs without any structure – almost like love and poetry intermingling and no conclusion found. That was also one of the factors that drove me to think about the book and its characters at a deeper level. Read the book. Get transported to a different land. Of dreams and messages, and of love and its nature.