Category Archives: Literary Thriller

Read 3 of 2023. Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor

Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor

Title: Age of Vice
Author: Deepti Kapoor
Publisher: Juggernaut Books
ISBN: 978-9393986481
Genre: Thriller, Contemporary Fiction, Literary Fiction
Pages: 560
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Age of Vice is a book that doesn’t cut corners. It doesn’t hold back from saying what it wants to about the vast difference between the haves and the have-nots in the Indian society, and what happens because of that. At the same time, it is heartfelt in the way the story unfolds sometimes. Mind you, those times are very rare in the book, so when you find them, you are overwhelmed, broken, and realise your failings as a person, in comparison to that of the well-nuanced, messy, struggling-with-life, and fractured characters that inhabit these five-hundred-and-forty pages.

Age of Vice is set in Delhi – the book opens with a crime – and Kapoor doesn’t shy from showing us how it was done – getting into the gory details, and the intended result of that crime that takes place in 2004, but the story begins in 1991 with Ajay – a boy of eight – a boy from a lower caste – a Dalit, and what happens to him till and after he starts working for Sunny Wadia, the heir to the Wadia empire and its nefarious dealings. Basically, a crime syndicate, and how inextricably the stories of Ajay and Sunny will be linked for years to come. And in all of this, there is Neda, the headstrong journalist, whose gumption is tested to the point of it not being there, whose moral compass is uprooted, and how she becomes a part of the world inhabited by Sunny.

There is opulence, decadence, wealth that one cannot imagine – brands being dropped constantly on every other page, and while initially I thought what was happening, I realised very soon that it was much-needed. To show the farmhouse culture of Delhi, to understand the poor, we must understand the wealthy. Kapoor has this insider-outsider perspective – there is biting satire that unravels itself slowly and quite deliciously. As a reader, you must wait, you must go through the finer details of living – and losing, and the sheer heartbreak of the story – of Sunny and Neda’s love, of how as humans we will go to any stretch sometimes to ensure we have the one elusive characteristic that places us on the top of it all – POWER.

Power to claim people, to make them see where they belong in the larger scheme of things, to rule them all (Bunty Wadia and his brother, Vicky Wadia’s constant pursuit), to understand who must be manipulated and controlled to what extent, the plot of Age of Vice races on full-throttle mode. Incidents happen swiftly – people die at the drop of a hat, injustices take place and no one dare utter a word because of the “crime family” at the helm, and Kapoor’s Delhi seethes, and spectates, and we move from place to place with guilt, the idea of freedom in the minds of the characters, never letting go of privilege, of understanding its worth, of being punched in the face with self-awareness, and to then bear the burden of living.

Deepti Kapoor takes us through Goa, the hills of Himachal, Nepal, back to Delhi, to Italy even, to the center of it all – Uttar Pradesh, and all the places to make us understand the futility of living – there is no higher purpose anyway. There are truths and lies, and in-between the ones – the living who tell them daily, to live after all.

Age of Vice is about decaying – the rotting that takes place spectacularly, on such a grand level that the ones involved, the ones watching from the sidelines, and the ones encouraging it also perhaps – know it all – they are aware of what is going on and yet cannot take their gaze away, they cannot walk away – they must endure. Deepti’s writing is sharp, incisive, and makes no bones about how it is. “It is what it is” – this phrase came to my mind so many times as I turned the pages, and it sticks – the indifference of the phrase lingers throughout the book, and in this indifference stems the need to seek validation, to make something of your life, to make it worth it, to make it count – whether for Ajay it is the idea of family, or for Sunny it is about validation – the strong sense of urgency to do good or the idea of it, and ultimately for Neda – to try so hard to be right and yet constantly failing to her own lofty ideas about living.

The back and forth between the sacred, the profane, the good, the bad, the moralistic, the amoral makes Age of Vice what it is – a reflection of our times, of the Kalyug that Deepti mentions at the beginning of the book, the dark times, of the doomsday cometh, of pain and pleasure – both unbearable – the complexity of living, and the simple ways of death – Kapoor’s writing astounded me, made me want to get up and slap a few characters, to show them the way, to play God even, only to quickly realize that as a reader I had been given no power at all – so I enjoyed the read, lapped it all up, thought about the book for days to come, and cannot wait for the next two instalments of this fantastic trilogy.

The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda

The Last House Guest

Title: The Last House Guest
Author: Megan Miranda
Publisher: Atlantic Books
ISBN: 978-1786492913
Imprint: Corvus
Genre: Thriller
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

I’d forgotten how much fun it is to read a thriller. I was too caught up reading literary fiction, till I picked up this thriller I had requested from Atlantic Books UK, and couldn’t stop reading it until I was done. That’s the true worth of a great thriller, I guess. You have to read it in one-sitting. The Last Guest House has all the tropes of a good thriller – environment, the right kind of pace, characters that are being looked on with suspicion, police that are clueless and earnest at the same time, and a local detective who seems to know it all.

The Last House Guest is about a wealthy woman named Sadie who dies unexpectedly on a holiday. The destination: Littleport, Maine – a vacation spot for the wealthy, and the people in the town who take care of them. Friendship strikes between a visitor and a local – Sadie Loman and Avery Greer. A solid friendship – that comes to an abrupt end when Sadie is found dead, and well of course the one under big-time suspicion is Avery.

You might think you know how this will pan out (as did I) but you are wrong (as was I). The thriller elements of The Last House Guest , like I said are just about right – including the timeline jump – past to present which works all the time for me as a reader. The twists and turns seemed generic sometimes, but I am willing to let go of that because the story reads in a very straightforward manner and that helps. The book does pack in the right amount of punch (apologies for using this word), just that sometimes you also wish that there was more of the characters’ backstory and motivations. All in all, a great read – a thriller I enjoyed after a long time.

Tangerine by Christine Mangan

Tangerine by Christine Mangan
Title: Tangerine
Author: Christine Mangan
Publisher: Ecco, HarperCollins
ISBN: 978-0062686664
Genre: Literary Fiction, Suspense
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3 Stars

I am a sucker for literature in an exotic setting. Also, when it is a thriller that is set in a location so removed. That was the case with “Tangerine”. It is racy, sparse and written the way a noir novel should be – atmospheric, dark and gritty to the bone. Having said that, there are also portions in the book that seem to drag and not go anywhere, but the prose is just as brilliant.

“Tangerine” is a story about Alice Shipley, who has moved to Tangier with her new husband John. Enter, her once upon a time close friend and roommate Lucy Mason who she least expected to see there, given the circumstances in which the fallout occurred. Things but of course go haywire with Lucy’s presence. She is as usual controlling. Alice sees herself dependent on her a lot more. One fine day John suddenly disappears and Alice finds herself questioning everything and everyone around her.

This is the plot of the book. Sure there is more, but I am not going to give any spoilers. The writing has its moments of brilliance and then sometimes you think it isn’t going anywhere, but it redeems itself right back. Mangan creates and builds on an entirely new Tangier in tandem with where the story is set. It is that of the mind – place is again of great importance in Alice’s mind and even Lucy for that matter, which shines through the book.

“Tangirine” when I started reading it felt like just another book that I had read in the past. Thakfully, it wasn’t that. You need to give it a chance past fifty pages for sure for the book to grow on you. It is the kind of book that builds on everything rather slowly, but once it does, it sure does make an impression and stays.

 

 

Force of Nature by Jane Harper

Force of Nature by Jane Harper Title: Force of Nature
Author: Jane Harper
Publisher: Flatiron Books, Macmillan USA
ISBN: 978-1250191663
Genre: Thriller and Suspense, Crime
Pages: 326
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3 Stars

I have not read “The Dry” yet. Please do not make a face at that statement. Please do not be prepared to kill me either, or for that matter be a snob about having read the debut of Jane Harper. Having said this (and thank God it is now out of the way), I thoroughly enjoyed, “Force of Nature”, her second book in the Aaron Falk (Federal Agent) series. So, calm down, because I will but obviously read, “The Dry” this month itself. Now back to this one!

I am not the kind to read suspense or thriller novels, but this one sure did catch my attention with its synopsis and I knew I had to devour this and devour I did. At the same time, while I thought it was well-written, I also found it to be quite slow and dragging in most places. So, this is what happens with suspense novels: You want to know what happened so badly, that perhaps it seems that the book is slow, or it may be really is very slow. “Force of Nature” for me belonged to the latter category.

Jane Harper builds the atmosphere superbly but somewhere down the line, I thought that the characters needed some more build-up. The plot is intriguing: Five women reluctantly head out on a forest hike and only four come out on the other side. What happened on the trail? What went wrong? To add to that, these five women are colleagues and know each other and also have some grudges to bear. The hike is arranged by the company (which is family-owned) for five men and five women and in all of this, the action plays out against Australia’s bushland.

Harper is a master of description. There is way too much of it, which only means that she successfully transports you Australia and its landscape. From the trees to the local falls to the animals and birds, you end up going on the hike yourself. In all of this, is the entry of Federal Police Agent, Aaron Falk (made his first appearance in The Dry) who has a vested interest in the whereabouts of the missing woman, Alice Russell, who also happened to be a whistleblower in his latest case involving the company she is working for.

“Force of Nature” starts off fantastically and ends on a high as well, but somewhere along the middle, I really did feel it could’ve ended sooner. At the same time, there is a lot going on in the book – all the interpersonal relationships that are glimpsed into but not spoon-fed (which is again very intelligent), leave you wanting more. I will for sure pick up “The Dry” sometime soon.

Time is a Killer by Michel Bussi. Translated from the French by Shaun Whiteside.

Time Is A Killer Title: Time is a Killer
Author: Michel Bussi
Translated from the French by Shaun Whiteside
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN:978-1609454425
Genre: Thriller, Noir
Pages: 512
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I remember reading Michel Bussi’s, “After the Crash” in one night. I remember not sleeping (thank god it was a weekend, so I eventually did catch up on some sleep) and before I knew it, it was dawn and the book was done. And what a read it was! The same did not happen this time. I loved, “Time is a Killer” but the book was way too long for me to pull an all-nighter and finish it. At 512 pages, not once did I find it dull, boring, or insipid. At the same time, if anything, I just wanted more and more.

Set on Corsica, “Time is a Killer” is a book about murder, revenge, loss, and most of all memories, home and identity. I loved how Bussi very cleverly, quite almost makes this a literary thriller and yet it isn’t that. The book alternates between the summers of 1989 and 2016.

Clotilde Idrissi, the 15-year-old daughter of a Corsican father and a Franco-Hungarian mother, is the only survivor of a terrible automobile accident that takes the lives of her parents and older brother Nicolas in August 1989. Twenty-seven years later, Clotilde is back on the island with her husband Franck and her 15-year-old daughter, Valentine and things aren’t what they seem. While all seems changed on the island, some secrets of that night and accident reveal themselves to Clotilde (of course I won’t tell you through who) and her life is never the same.

Bussi has a knack of merging the present with the past. He has done it in his earlier works as well and does it stupendously in this one too. While sometimes, it might seem a bit tedious to read this book, however, let nothing deter you. It is undoubtedly one of the best noir books I’ve read so far, this year. The mystery is hidden superbly and will have you guessing right down till the last page. It will immerse you and just as I was, so will you be enchanted by the beauty of Corsica, as described by Bussi.

“Time is a Killer” is a great read. It is fast-paced, has the necessary elements of relationships and how sometimes we don’t communicate enough and a good plot. All the makings of a great summer read. Do not miss out on this one!