Tag Archives: mystery

Lock 14 by Georges Simenon

Lock 14 by Georges Simenon Title: Lock 14
Author: Georges Simenon
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-0143037279
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I always wanted to read a Simenon. I had but heard so much about him and his famous detective Maigret, but then there was also the need to start from the very beginning – the first novel in which Maigret makes an appearance and I finally got a chance to.

Unlike Christie’s Poirot, Maigret maybe does not have a sense of humour, but he is a very intelligent man and goes by logic (as all detectives do). He of course ranks high with Holmes and Poirot, but also in a very dark manner.

Simenon’s books are pure crime and that is why they are short, to the point and gripping, right till the last page.
“Lock 14” is the start to a swift series – the series being around 100 books (I cannot wait to read every single of them). At the heart of the book is of course a murder, of Mary Lampson, whose body is found in a stable in the vicinity of Lock 14. No one knows what she was doing there. What would such a woman of sophistication be doing in a place like this? And this is where Maigret comes to the rescue.

The language is highly descriptive and Maigret’s character shapes up really well. He is brooding and might seem cold, but the way the character develops is rather charming, in a very odd manner. The setting of the book is of prime importance and Simenon does not miss out on a single detail. In fact, at times it does become a tad bit boring, given the conditions of the lock and the ships, which the reader is unaware of.

The writing is crisp and sharp. The pages are just right for a mystery of this nature. And what is most interesting is that after all these years, this book is just as readable. It can be finished in one sitting and I bet you will want more of Maigret mysteries.

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Book Review: Drop Dead: A Niki Marwah Mystery by Swati Kaushal

Title: Drop Dead: A Niki Marwah Mystery
Author: Swati Kaushal
Publisher: Hachette India
ISBN: 9789350094495
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3.5/5

I do not read books from the mystery or the thriller genre all that much. It just somehow doesn’t fascinate me – the genre as a whole – so when I do pick up something from it, I expect to be knocked out by the writing or at least be engaged for the time I am reading the book. I picked up, “Drop Dead: A Niki Marwah Mystery” by Swati Kaushal without knowing who Niki Marwah was. This is the first Niki Marwah mystery, who is the Superintendent of Police, Shimla and is out to solve a crime with her team of investigators.

As it happens in all mysteries, there is an apparent murder and there is the uncovering of the crime which is the case in this book as well. The dead body in question: Rak Mehta, the hotshot President and CEO of a super-successful publishing company. The place where the body is found: The foothills of Sonargam (a fictitious place) hills of Himachal Pradesh, midway between Shimla and Kullu. So the scene is set. The clues are found – some relevant, some not so relevant and then begins the search for the criminal. A conference at a luxurious resort, a family, the rivalries, and the beauty of the hills, is what the reader is in for while reading this book. Not to forget Marwah’s intelligence, sense of adventure and eye for details.

I finished the book quickly. It was a mystery after all and demanded that one quick read, which it is. The writing though structured, seemed to be a bit jagged towards the end. It was almost like the author seemed rushed while writing it. Sonargam is described beautifully and in part that is what kept me going in the book. Kaushal’s sense of mystery comes from a traditional place, which I had no problem with. In fact I loved the idyllic setting and the sense of macabre that came with it. The characters were etched well and served their purpose.

Overall, Drop Dead is a breeze of a read and one doesn’t have to ponder so much about it and can finish it in a day. For me it was an average read. I did enjoy it in parts and I like how the Indian Writing in English genre has come of age, extending itself to other plots and places, than just sticking to the idea of how the West views India. A relaxed read for the times when you do not want to read something heavy or taxing. For readers who will enjoy it a lot, there is I am sure a couple of more Marwah mysteries in the line.

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Book Review: The Golden Scales: A Makana Mystery by Parker Bilal

Title: The Golden Scales : A Makana Mystery
Author: Parker Bilal
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
ISBN: 978-1608197941
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I love reading thrillers. They have this promise about them which most thriller and action writers live up to. Parker Bilal was a new name to me when it came to the thriller genre. Parker Bilal is the pseudonym of Jamal Mahjoub who has written six literary novels prior to the “Makana” mysteries. “The Golden Scales” is the first Makana mystery, which takes place in Cairo.

The ancient city of Cairo is the perfect backdrop for this story. Cairo is stepping into the new, with the old left behind. The rich and the poor co-exist. The corrupt and the honest are seen in its alleys and by-lanes. Cairo is a place, where secrets fester and are hidden and people disappear in the blink of an eye.

A lot is happening in this book. Makana, a former Sudanese policeman, forced to flee to Cairo is at the heart of this novel. He is now struggling to make his ends meet as a private detective. He is desperate enough to take on a case from Saad Hanafi, the mogul and filthy rich mobster and the owner of the Cairo Soccer Team. The case is that of finding one of the players of his Soccer Team that has been kidnapped. As Makana delves further into the case, things start spiraling out of control for him. He enters the treacherous underbelly of the city – encountering actresses, Muslim extremists, Russian gangsters, vengeful women, and a woman searching for a daughter after years – and the last incident is somehow linked to him and his past. This aspect was just to show that we can never leave the past behind. No matter how hard we try.

Bilal’s writing is sharp and funny in most places. It is structured the way a thriller should be – revealing the layers one at a time and not giving away the entire plot. The juxtaposition of a thriller with the Islamic world and the political volatility of a country and a city are done with great finesse and intelligence.

Makana’s character has various shades to it – he is not like the regular detective that we have been used to. That is what drew me to the book and made me kept turning the pages. The characterization is done with a lot of thought and effort by Bilal.

Cairo as a city is one of the central characters of the city. A reader can almost taste and smell the food and the aromas. The dark alleys can be conjured in a minute as you read the parts. This is the first Makana mystery that Bilal has written and I am sure after the second one (which will be out soon), there will be more to come. I am hoping that they are, because it will be a great series.

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Book Review: The Uninvited by Liz Jensen

Title: The Uninvited
Author: Liz Jensen
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
ISBN: 978-1608199921
Genre: Crime, Mystery, Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3.5/5

“The Uninvited” by Liz Jensen was a strange read to begin with. However, as I finished the prologue and the first chapter, I was hooked to it and that is the idea of the book anyway.

At the start of the book, a seven-year old puts a nail gun to her grandmother’s neck and fires. Similar incidents start happening across the world. Children are killing their families. The question that people are asking is: Is this contagious? No one is aware why this is happening and as usual things are in disarray, almost to the point of being ruled by children or so it seems.

As the murders continue, anthropologist Hesketh Lock has his own mystery to take care of, a scandal in the Taiwan timber industry, which ultimately leads to a murder and Lock gets involved in the “murderous children” incidents. He notices a behavioural change in his stepson Freddy and that is where his mind starts taking notice of things, which others wouldn’t notice. Lock suffers from Asperger’s syndrome and this makes it even more difficult for him. This is the plot in a nutshell.

I liked how Liz Jensen makes the book seem so effortless despite the harrowing scenes of murder and unexplained violence. It is scary to see children act this way, but at some point the dystopian nightmare is global and her writing gives you the understated trauma that family members are going through in the book.

The book is definitely not an upbeat one and is perfect for one of those cold nights when you actually want to get scared. Hesketh’s character is etched to perfection. From the standpoint of a father who doesn’t want to give up on his child and also from that of a citizen who wants the so-called common good. The conflicting emotions were brought out to forth without the book getting too soppy or sentimental.

All in all Liz Jensen paints a picture of the world that could be true and that frightens me. Of children doing what they want and what they choose to can’t be controlled by anyone. Liz Jensen gives it all to you in one book – mystery, thriller, an apocalyptic nightmare and above all an intriguing story to chew on.

Book Review: The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino

Title: The Devotion of Suspect X
Author: Keigo Higashino
Publisher: Abacus Books, Hachette Book Group
ISBN: 978-0349138732
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 384
Source: Blog Adda
Rating: 5/5

I love Japanese writers. Be it Murakami or the atmosphere created by Kobo Abe, or the prose of Junichiro Tanizaki, Japanese writers know their craft. Japanese novels of mystery and horror provide space to ponder the darker recesses of humanity.

Japanese mystery novels are not restricted to mystery alone. They explore the nature of humanity very subtly and make readers think about them as well. Mystery writer Keigo Higashino is currently one of the best-selling authors in Japan. Reading “The Devotion of Suspect X” provides understanding of his popularity and the reader knows exactly why the acclaim is only rightfully due. Higashino’s prose is both quietly poetic and noir-like adding to the fact that there is so much happening in the book. It almost reminded me of Dashiell Hammett and James M.Cain’s works.

The plot: Tetsuya Ishigami is a mathematics teacher with a boring routine. His unsuccessful attempts to motivate visibly bored and apathetic students discourage Ishigami, and his one true passion of solving a complex mathematical formula, lies outside of the classroom within the confines of his small apartment.

His life dramatically changes when Yasuko and her daughter Misato introduce themselves as his new neighbors. He imagines a fantasy life with them, listening to mother and daughter through the thin apartment walls and that is where the sinister perspective sets into the book. Within this context, Ishigami surprisingly exhibits a fierce desire to protect both mother and daughter, and so begins a bizarre tale that originates with the unexpected arrival of Yasuko’s nefarious ex-husband Togashi, which leads to murder and its revelation. The Devotion of Suspect X refers to Tetsuya’s life and how his devotion towards the mother and daughter is so great, almost bordering obsession.

In this book, several protagonists go through significant psychological deterioration as well, and I would have to say that Higashino is a match for Dostoevsky in how he works these transformations. There is this strange sembelance to The Brothers Karamazov in the sense of the way it is structured and how some linear narratives also get added in-between.

Higashino has a superb sense of place for Tokyo. Of course that is also because he is a resident. However, having said that, there are a number of repetitive paths taken by numerous characters, and by the end of the book, you will feel as if you have walked them as well. He also knows how to describe the sciences and what he does with the plot. I loved the structure of the novel – it was crisp and to the point. Higashino never once beats around the bush, which can happen when writing a mystery novel. More so the translation worked just fine for me as well.

I liked the way the Japanese line of thought was kept intact and the reader can almost sense the points of pure Japanese mystery, all thanks to the translator Alexander O. Smith. This is surprisingly the third mystery in the series written by the author, and this is probably the first translation amongst them. I am sure that more will be translated considering this one’s success. I enjoyed this read a lot, having completed it in one night. The Devotion of Suspect X is a kick-ass thriller/mystery and more books like these should be published, read and enjoyed by all.
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Book Review: Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter HØeg

Title: Smilla’s Sense of Snow
Author: Peter HØeg
Publisher: Picador USA
ISBN: 9781250002556
Genre: Literary Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 512
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Smilla’s Sense of Snow is a treat to read. There is everything in it which a book can offer – some great writing, mystery, literary fiction, and a sense of dry humour in certain parts. Peter HØeg proves that literature can be both entertaining and artful. Though on the surface, Smilla’s Sense of Snow is genre fiction, it is beyond just being a thriller.

Smilla’s Sense of Snow is based in Denmark and then takes the reader to the Arctic in order to solve a mystery. The book first released in 1993. I read it then and I have read it now and I must say that I enjoyed it more the second time round. Smilla Jaspersen – half Greenlander, half Dane, an unconventional loner and brilliant scientist, is struggling with her emotions (which she doesn’t display enough of) and is devastated when a young boy she had befriended mysteriously falls to his death from the roof of their apartment building. She doesn’t think it is an accident. From there on begins Smilla’s journey and the trail she follows to solve his murder.

The writing is good. The story is wonderfully told. (I do not read books that do not interest me; hence the books that I read are brilliant) The setting could not have been better. However, what stands out the most in this book is the characterization of Smilla. Smilla is an ordinary woman (do not mistake her to be that anyway). She is bold, clever, smart, instinctive and reckless at the same time. She is a rule-breaker (doing it all subtly) and is not afraid to say things the way they are. Peter HØeg has created a woman who will not opt for the role society expects her to play.

Smilla cannot connect with others and she knows that. She feels bad about it but she knows her limitations and that’s what I love about the character. May be that is why she wants to bring justice to the one friend she had made.

The descriptions are dense and required while writing a book that merges the setting and the mystery. One needs to mention the details and Peter HØeg has done a wonderful job of that. Smilla’s sense of Snow is not your regular mystery. It is surprising that at times it takes so much effort to read it, because of the intensity and how it is weaved through Smilla’s perspective and her way through the maze of questions and emotions.

Smilla’s musings are another dimension to the book. I loved reading them (as and when they came along). They added spice and character to the book.

Here’s one of them:

“Deep inside I know that trying to figure things out leads to blindness, that the desire to understand has a built-in brutality that erases what you seek to comprehend. Only experience is sensitive.”

In this world of Lisbeth Salander, I urge you to read Smilla’s Sense of Snow. It is as fresh and compelling as when it was first written. A brilliant feat.

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Book Review: Cloudland by Joseph Olshan

Title: Cloudland
Author: Joseph Olshan
Publisher: Minotaur Books
ISBN: 978-1-250-00017-0
Genre: Crime
Pages: 294
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Give me a good crime novel any day! The thing about crime novels is that one does not have to think too hard. Yes, the reader is involved all the time trying to solve the crime, but that is where the thinking ends. To a large extent that’s what crime readers want – the idea that they are involved and also that it does not compel them to think so much.

“Cloudland” by Joseph Olshan is one such book. It is but obviously a crime novel and a great one at that. Once having been a major reporter for a national newspaper, Catherine Winslow has retreated to the Upper Valley of Vermont to write a house-hold hints column. Her life is smooth sailing till one fine day; she discovers the dead body of a woman thawing in the snow, leaning against an apple tree, dressed in a pink parka. Catherine recognizes the woman as a victim of a serial-killing spree who was reportedly missing since a couple of weeks in a blizzard.

She further gets embroiled in the case, when she discovers her neighbour – a forensic psychiatrist is working on it. The mystery gets further intense when she realizes that the serial killer is taking his/her tips of a rare and unfinished Wilkie Collins novel, which is missing from her personal library. To add to this drama, Catherine’s ex-younger lover surfaces, wanting to win her affections and has a mean glint about him.

This is the basic premise of the story. There are more layers to it, which I cannot reveal as it would then kill the fun of reading this book. The book is also complicated but in a nice way (yes that is possible). What I liked about the book is that the book is not just about mystery – it is also about fascinating characters and some side-stories. The plot gradually builds up and I can safely say it is one of the edge-of-the-seat thrillers. The writing is crisp and once in a while it is great to sit with a tub of popcorn and enjoy a thriller.

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