Category 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: The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie Title: The Mysterious Affair at Styles
Author: Agatha Christie
Publisher: Harper Collins
ISBN: 9780007282265
Genre: Mystery, Detective
Pages: 297
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

The perfect kind of reading when there is nothing to read is a good Agatha Christie. It just shakes you up and your day is then made. It does not even take too much time to get through one. And of course when it is a mystery that involves the adorable Belgian, Poirot, then you know you cannot go wrong. You will love the book. I decided to go through the entire Poirot collection and hopefully finish it by the end of this year. So, I started where it all began – “The Mysterious Affair at Styles”.

Poirot’s first case and the grand dame of crime does it like no other. The setting is World War I and in England (but obviously, to begin with at least). The Styles mansion residents wake up to find Emily Inglethorpe poisoned and long gone. Captain Hastings is at the scene and this is where his dear friend Poirot enters the scene and everyone is under suspicion. The family, The servants, The neighbors and the well-wishers. Almost everyone.

The writing but of course builds up only towards the middle of the book. The rest of the time it is all about creating the much needed atmosphere of the book. The characters are almost synchronized by Christie brilliantly and Poirot – the one who holds all the threads and cards. It is funny how out of all the Poirots, I had not read this one.

At some point, I thought it was too long for a mystery, but then again, I just had to get that thought of my mind and dive into the book once again. “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” is vintage Christie – it has all the elements of crime – a good setting, characters, and a great detective that is just been introduced. For those who have not read it, I strongly recommend this one . Enjoy.

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Book Review: By Blood by Ellen Ullman

By Blood by Ellen Ullman Title: By Blood
Author: Ellen Ullman
Publisher: Picador USA
ISBN: 9781250023964
Genre: Literary Fiction, Thriller
Pages: 384
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There are books that you have been wanting to read since a very long time but never got around to. They are just laying there on your shelf, waiting silently and more so patiently, so you can get to them. “By Blood” by Ellen Ullman was one of those books for me that just lay there for the longest time. I did not pick it up and even if I did, I would read a couple of pages and let it be there. Either something else would catch my fancy or there would be no inclination to read this one. When I finally did get around to reading this one, like most books that I read (and I would like to believe, often the best ones) this one also managed to take my breath away.

“By Blood” by Ellen Ullman is part-thriller, part-mystery, part-psychological novel and a literary fiction read like no other. This book definitely made me see why literature and reading was so important to me, maybe not because of the plot so much so, as the way it has been written. The book is set in San Francisco in the 70’s, at the height of the Zodiac Killer’s reign in the city. At the heart of this novel are three major characters whose lives somehow get connected and twisted to a very large extent. A professor who is wasted and done for in his life, over hears a lesbian (And that is not the complete identity of the woman. There is more to her which the reader will know in the book.) speaking with her therapist about wanting to find her parents and this is where the book begins. The professor wants to know more about the girl, and the girl is on her search, and the therapist’s life is embroiled deeply into the tale. At the backdrop is but definitely the serial killer and his on-goings which add to the novel from a holistic perspective.

These three characters are etched superbly and the book at times is so dark that you might just have to stop, breathe a little and then get back to the book. The book touches on so many issues at one time, that as a reader I had to go back and forth and try and connect the dots, however doing that had an excitement level of its own. The story seems simple on the surface; however it is the writing that makes it wondrous and deep.

The characters are flawed and real and make no bones about doing what they do and why they do. Such honesty in the book is what kept me turning the pages, one after the other. The moral issues underlining the book are fantastic (which the readers will come to know as the plot unveils). Ullman takes you on a journey from San Francisco to Germany to the Holocaust to Israel and back to the United States. This should be enough and more intriguing points. I of course was not aware of it till I read the book, however as I got to the parts, I was taken in and blown over. As much as I have loved this month till now when it comes to reading, this one made it more complete. A great and worthy read.

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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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