Category Archives: Literary Thriller

Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

Universal Harvester Title: Universal Harvester
Author: John Darnielle
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374282103
Genre: Literary Fiction, Literary Thriller
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3 Stars

I did not read his first novel “Wolf in White Van” but I will most certainly read it, because I absolutely loved “Universal Harvester”. The book is not only unusual in terms of its plot but also kind of edgy that it stays with you – and the horrific bits do. The book starts off normally – very usual plot of a small town and its people till it becomes something else mid-way and you are astounded at the turn of events.

It is the late 90s and something sinister is brewing in Nevada, Iowa. It creeps up on you suddenly as you are enjoying or doing something else. You are watching something on your VHS player (yes there is a rental store that rents out VHS tapes and I loved the time it is set it) and suddenly there is heaving breathing in the dark coming from it, as your movie gets interrupted. There are clips and more clips in different tapes that surface and for some reason Jeremy cannot help but watch. He works at the store and wants to get to the bottom of this mystery.

The book reminded me of House of Leaves to some extent – ust the setting and the atmosphere surrounding it, and due to this, I was even spooked out easy, I suppose. Darnielle’s form of writing is easy. It doesn’t make you think so much while reading the book as it does after. At the same time, I thought it was a bit too detailed even though I am a sucker for them. It just got a lot to take in by the time I reached the end. Jeremy’s character is brilliantly etched. You can sense the darkness looming and yet don’t want him getting to that side.

“Universal Harvester” is eerie, and yet hopeful. I just wish it wasn’t so rough at the edges and a bit clean with the details and other miniscule characters and emotions.

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Bombay Fever by Sidin Vadukut

51FWR4u6XwL._SX309_BO1,204,203,200_-2 Title: Bombay Fever
Author: Sidin Vadukut
Publisher: Simon and Schuster India
ISBN: 978-8193355282
Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Horror
Pages: 368
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

What are the elements of a good thriller? Pace, pace and more pace is what I would answer if someone asked me such a question. Also, the plot matters and that goes without saying. I like thrillers to be simple and not so complicated. Off-late, every thriller I picked up has had the element of too much happening in it, which kind of ruins the book for me. I like a story to be direct, perhaps even one-dimensional when it comes to this genre and not too complex that I don’t understand what’s going on after a point. It shouldn’t become the Interstellar of novels.

So when a copy of “Bombay Fever” by Sidin Vadukut found its way to be for review, I was a little skeptical to read it. I do not enjoy medical thrillers. I have read a couple of Robin Cooks as we all do when in college but that’s about it. Till I started reading this one and was completely taken in by it. The book starts in Switzerland and in the courtyard of a Hindu temple – a woman collapses in the arms of a visiting Indian journalist, and her body is nothing but blood. The same then continues to happen all over Mumbai – men, women, children, the young and the old die in the same way and no one knows why. It is a deadly disease but that’s all is known about it. What will happen next? Will the city be saved? Will the world be saved? Sidin makes you dig further and also smartly leaves clues all over the place as you turn the pages.

Vadukut’s writing till now has only been in the genre of humor and sarcasm, so maybe that is why I was skeptical to even read this one. Having said that, this book isn’t like any other thriller. I loved the research done by Sidin for this one – there is a lot of medical and historical trivia of the last century which was so essential to the plot. The writing is crisp and doesn’t amble now. The chapters are short (Thank God for small mercies) which is what is most needed when a thriller is being written or according to me one gets bored, if the chapters are too long. Also, what I loved about the book is that the writing is simple. Even the technical terms usage doesn’t impact the writing. Might I add, there is also some humor in the book which is much needed given the seriousness and tension that the book is layered with.

“Bombay Fever” hits the right spots at the right time. It makes you want to turn the pages and the plot twists and characters are all very plausible. At the same time, it is very scary to note that something like that could actually happen. An epidemic is only a reality that Sidin writes of, instilling that strange fear in you at 2 am in the morning as you turn the page.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

51PgEc+wSIL-2Title: Dark Matter
Author: Blake Crouch
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
ISBN: 9781509853786
Genre: Fiction, Science
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I don’t know what to say about this book. SupaarWoman from Twitter introduced me to it and then I didn’t bother with it. In fact, I didn’t even have it on my TBR pile or with me as well. But what I do know is that I read it this month and cannot get it out of my mind. So thank you Supaar for this recommendation. I can’t thank you enough.

Now coming to the most crucial part: What is the book about? Well, honestly, I cannot tell you more than what is already on the back cover of it. The gist is what I will give you and nothing more, because trust me, you have to read it to be wowed and in a trance that the book will leave you with.

Some might guess what it is by the title, but you might be surprised. Those who won’t be able to guess, will also be in for a surprise. Either way, you will be mesmerised by its plot and pace. All I can tell you is that Jason Dessen is living a great life with his wife Daniela and teenage son Charlie, till one fine day, his world (literally) changes and he is transported to a world that isn’t his but he is Jason – just not an ordinary college physics professor.

The book is a thriller which is closely connected to science. It is a science thriller. I will not call it science fiction, because to my mind it isn’t that. At the same time, to fit it loosely I will categorise it in the Fiction genre. Crouch’s writing is clear, lucid and simple. There is no convoluted plot or writing. It is a breezy read but like I said it will haunt you, so be prepared for it.

Murder in Mahim by Jerry Pinto

murder-in-mahim-by-jerry-pinto Title: Murder in Mahim
Author: Jerry Pinto
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
ISBN: 978-9385755293
Genre: Literary Fiction, Indian fiction, Crime fiction
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Before I begin this review let me tell you that this book is very different from ‘Em and the Big Hoom’ by the same author. If you are going to pick up ‘Murder in Mahim’ thinking it will be like his earlier novel, then don’t. It is different and refreshingly so. I would also like to add that it moves beyond just being a murder mystery (in the loose sense of the word) and goes to explore other themes, which I thought was very-well managed and achieved.

Being a Bombay (Yes, to me it will always be that) boy, I could identify to most of what is there in the book, in fact, even all of it – from the glitzy and glamorous to the dark underbelly, nothing was new and everything was a reminiscence of a time gone-by. This is precisely what I love about Jerry Pinto’s books – the description, the eye for detail, the nuances of not only the characters, but also the city (which also happened in Em and the Big Hoom in large doses) and that to me is some superlative craft.

I didn’t think much of the story in this one, but the only reason I kept turning the pages is because I cared for some characters and the language which is par excellence. Jerry Pinto’s writing embroils you in it, it makes you think, and before you know it you are also a part of its world.

So what is the plot of this book? A young man is found dead in the toilet of Matunga road station, with his stomach ripped open. Peter D’Souza, a retired journalist becomes a part of this investigation with his friend Inspector Jende and that’s when the story begins. It is also a book about unspoken love, about Peter’s fear that his son might be involved in the killings (yes, there are more than one) and it is about the city that never sleeps – the one that comforts and the one that can also be mercilessly cruel.

This is all I have to say about the plot. Now to the writing – I was taken in like I have mentioned earlier, by the raw energy of the city pulsating throughout the book. The nuances are meticulously and most certainly effortlessly thrown in – from the Barista at Shivaji Park, to the beaches, to the stench of urine and sweat at railway station platforms, and Marine Drive included. Mumbai (I have to call it that now) has come alive in this book.

Jerry’s writing is peppered with humour, sorrow and lots of ironic moments in the book which make you guffaw a lot. There is this straight-forwardness to his prose and yet the characters are more complex than ever. From Peter’s wife Millie who plays a minor role and yet shines with her complexities to Leslie (my personal favourite character) and the various shades there are to him, each character is crafted with a lot of deftness and logic. At one point, I felt as though I was in Bombay of my college years – there is no timeline as such in the book which works very well to its advantage. ‘Murder in Mahim’ is relevant, topical, fast-paced, and a book that will grab you by your throat.

Night Prayers by Santiago Gamboa

Layout 1 Title: Night Prayers
Author: Santiago Gamboa
Translator: Howard Curtis
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609453114
Genre: Literary Crime, Literary, Crime
Pages: 302
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Reading “Night Prayers” by Santiago Gambao is like watching a movie on adrenalin. It is not only a crime novel but also a literary crime novel that takes you through the heartland of Latin America. It is also a story of sibling love and so much happening in the background, that you don’t realize when you have come to the end of the book.

“Night Prayers” may seem like it isn’t an easy read when you begin it, however, once you start, you realize it is most simple and a fabulous read at that. The book is about Manuel, a Colombian philosophy student who gets arrested in Bangkok, accused of drug trafficking. He has a sister named Juana, who he hasn’t seen for years. He longs to see her. He doesn’t even care if he is executed. All he wants is to see her.

Juana’s life has been all about protecting her brother from the mean streets of Bogotá. She decides to take him away from Bogotá – as far as she can and she is unable to. All of this happened when Manuel was a student, a dreamer and great lover of literature. Things take an ugly turn and she has to leave her brother behind. In present day, she is married to a rich Japanese businessman and lives in Tokyo.

In all of this, the Colombian counsel in Delhi wants to help and reunite the siblings and all of this with the intrigue of Manuel’s case and what actually happened there. This is in short, the story of “Night Prayers”. Now, why must you read this book? Let me tell you the reasons.

Santiago is a writer who is so skillful that he cannot write anything mediocre or bad at all. I’ve read one of his other books, “Necropolis” and it shines – I kid you not when I say that. It is intricate (just like this one), layered and characters who stay with you long after. Manuel and Juana stop becoming mere characters and become people for the reader. As a reader, I was involved in everything they did or didn’t do – the choices made and the repercussions.

For me, what also worked very well in the novel were the secondary characters – from the counsel in Delhi to the underbelly goons of Bogotá, each of them had oodles of character and charm to sustain me throughout. Santiago’s writing is essentially as though you are watching a well-scripted movie. The plot points are tight and don’t waiver. The translation by Howard Curtis is precise and does not meander into rambling at any point. The prose is chic and stylish – the dialogues even more. “Night Prayers” is the kind of book that you will race through in the span of a weekend and I’m sure you would want more by Gamboa – in that case, please keep “Necropolis” handy as well. You have to read them consequently. All in all, please visit the nearest bookshop or order these two online, right now!