Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Review: Krantiveer Chandrashekhar Azad aur Unke Do Gadhar Sathi

Krantiveer Chandrashekhar Azad aur Unke Do Gadhar Sathi Krantiveer Chandrashekhar Azad aur Unke Do Gadhar Sathi by Dharmender Goud and S.N. Sharma
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is actually two-books-in-one. The first part of the book is a biography of the famous Indian revolutionary Chandrashekhar Azad who attained martyrdom while fighting with British police in February 1931. For a long time, a debate has raged as to who betrayed the whereabouts of Azad to the police. While Virbhadra Tiwari has usually been seen as a traitor, the second part of the book - which consists of parts of an earlier book by a British secret service agent, Dharmender Goud - points to another man also. According to Goud, it was noted Hindi writer, Yashpal, who too was an informer of the police and had leaked the news of Azad to the police. As I had already read the book by Goud earlier, this was not news to me but since Yashpal is a renowned author whose books are prescribed in Universities and who was also also awarded the Padma Vibhushan by the Govt. of India, these charges should be investigated thoroughly.

*

First Line: San 1857 ki asafal sainya aur jan-kranti ke baad bhi, Bharat ki janta azadi ke liye sat prayas rat rahi.

Publication: Delhi: Bhagat Singh Vichar manch, 2016
Pages: 224

Source: Bought at WBF, Delhi in 2016.

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Review: Lajpat Rai: Life and Work

Lajpat Rai: Life and Work Lajpat Rai: Life and Work by Feroz Chand
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Our writing the freedom struggle has so favoured the Gandhi-Nehru families that other stalwarts - even of the Congress - have been totally sidelined. One such person is the 'Lion of Punjab' Lala Lajpat Rai. This biography by one of his closest disciple does fill the lacuna somewhat.

*

First Line: Barely ten days to the opening event of the season of Christmas festivity, and, of a sudden, Sir Hugh Gough, the British C-in-C, cancels his grand ball fixed well in advance for the eleventh evening of December.

Publication: ND: Publications Division of India, 1978.
Pages: 590

Source: Bought 2006.

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Review: Dekha, Socha, Samjha

Dekha, Socha, Samjha Dekha, Socha, Samjha by Yashpal
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

An okay read which I read just for the first essay in the collection: a visit to Sevgram by the author and his meeting with Gandhi.

*

First Line: San 1939 mein doosra mahayudh aarambh hua to british samrajyavadi sarkar ne Bharat ki ichha ke virudh bhi desh ko us yudh mein lapet liya.

First Published: 1951
Pages: 143
Source: CL[891.433]


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Review: The shadow guest

The shadow guest The shadow guest by Hillary Waugh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I knew of Hillary Waugh as the author of policeprocedurals and that's what I expected this book to be. However, it is a very different book with just that touch of the supernatural that sent shivers down my spine. Read it in the dark of the night as rain poured outside and it added to that delicious creepy feeling.

Highly recommended.

*

First Line: Though I am well inland now, when the wind blows stiffly over the moors and the low dark puffs of cumulus roll across the sky, or when the rain beats its heavy, steady siege and the dampness crawls into my clothes with me, I swear I smell the sea and hear the gulls again.


Pages: 268
Source: Open Library

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Review: aapbeeti: Kale Pani ki Karawas Kahani

aapbeeti: Kale Pani ki Karawas Kahani aapbeeti: Kale Pani ki Karawas Kahani by Bhai Parmanand
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The writer was a Professor of Modern European History at National College, Lahore and thus was a teacher of Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev. This was his memoir of his days in captivity at the Andamans. The book was proscribed by the British. Reading it, I realised, how much we have abused and continue to abuse our freedom.

*
First Line: Meri Khanatalashi hue aaj char din beet chuke the.

Pages: 171

Source: OTS since 2004

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Review: Gandhi Benaqaab

Gandhi Benaqaab Gandhi Benaqaab by Hansraj Rahbar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a brave book since many authors would shy away from exposing the 'Mahatma'. However in doing so Rahbar exposes his own prejudices. Nevertheless, it is a well-researched critique of Gandhi and his politics.

First Line: Desh ki shashya shyamla bhumi par Shiv ka tandav naach ab hona hi chahiye.

Pages: 287

Source: Bought at WBF, Delhi in 2006


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Monday, December 11, 2017

Review: Gandhi and Bhagat Singh

Gandhi and Bhagat Singh Gandhi and Bhagat Singh by V.N. Datta
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Could Gandhi have saved Bhagat Singh from the gallows is a question that raises itself periodically. Professor V.N. Dutta lists the previous arguments and presents his own take on the subject. I am not thoroughly convinced by his argument but agree wholeheartedly with him when he says that Bhagat Singh's closest comrade, the fire-brand, Sukhdev, has been neglected for too long. If anybody deserves a text, it is Sukhdev.

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Review: A Time to Die

A Time to Die A Time to Die by Hilda Lawrence
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I am very conflicted about this book. On the one hand there are quite a few things I did not like at all - the character of the detective for one. Mark East is overbearing and supercilious. He is a PI but the way he lords over the sheriff, who is shown to be real pathetic in discharging his duties and further takes orders by East so meekly that it beggars belief.

Secondly, the writer throws you in the midst of a certain characters who she assumes you know but not having read the first book I was totally at sea and how many times will we be told that it was unbearably hot and humid. It came to a point that I was ready to shake East and ask him as to why he had decided to come to such a place if he knew it was that bad in summers.

Lastly, I have always found it disconcerting to see children address parents by their names and to read a nine year old girl addressing her father thus was really offensive to me.

On the other hand, despite all this, where the book scores - and scores big - is in the tension that the author creates. The oppressive atmosphere and the feeling of something BAD about to happen is done so well that I got the chills (it got to the point where I stopped reading it in the night and curled inside my quilt) and am quite looking forward to reading more by this author. Thus, the four stars though had Goodreads allowed half stars, I'd have given it Three and a Half.

*

First Line: It was five o'clock in the afternoon and the burning August sun still registered contempt for time.

Series: Mark East# 2.
First Published: 1945

Source: Open Library

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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Review: The Summer of the Bear

The Summer of the Bear The Summer of the Bear by Bella Pollen
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Had it been 100 pages shorter, it'd have been a real engaging read; as it is, superfluous characters and irrelevant incidents mar the flow and make the book such a drag that finally I just wanted it to end. The younger daughter's rebellion was also a bit difficult to understand. What did she have a grudge against?

*

First Line: It was the smell that drove him wild.

First Published: 2010

Source: Bought it at Delhi Book Fair, 2016

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Sunday, December 3, 2017

Review: The Content Assignment

The Content Assignment The Content Assignment by Holly Roth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Roth's first book. An engaging mystery (despite the stereotyping) that opens in post-war Berlin.

*

First Line: The minute I saw those few words at the bottom of one of the long columns in the previous Friday's London Times I had the answer to the question of what I would do with my life.

Source: Open Library

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Review: Shadow of a Lady

Shadow of a Lady Shadow of a Lady by Holly Roth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Though it is billed as the first D-I Medford mystery, it is not his acumen that leads to the solution. An engaging mystery where the identity of the murderer suddenly strikes one. Actually 3 and a half stars.

*

First Line: Laura Selby suddenly applied her brakes, and then added the hand brake for good measure.

Source: Open Library

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Friday, December 1, 2017

Review: Murder of a Lady

Murder of a Lady Murder of a Lady by Anthony Wynne
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I had heard a lot about this book but I liked none of the characters really and am not too sure about the effectiveness of the murder weapon.



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Thursday, November 23, 2017

Forgotten Book: The Fever Tree by Richard Mason

Richard Mason (1919-1997) was a British author who served in the RAF during the second world-war and fought on the Indo-Burmese front, later becoming an Intelligence officer. Best known for his 1957 novel, The World of Suzie Wong, Mason also wrote a handful of other novels, two of which, The Wind Cannot Read (1946) and The Shadow and The Peak (1949) were turned into movies as was Wong.




Mason's last novel The Fever Tree (1962) is set a decade after India won its independence. The changes are reflected in the restaurant that the novel's hero finds himself in the opening chapter of the book:

Birkett sipped the small whisky. His gaze fell on the mahogany honour-board behind the bar, listing the Club presidents in letters of gold. They went back over thirty years. Fotheringay, Whittington-Smith, Sir R. Boland, Bell-Carter . . . You could see the hands holding the whisky-sodas, the moustaches bristling under sun-helmets as they set off for polo or sticking pigs. You knew from the names they had all been pig-stickers: you only wondered that there had been enough pigs to go round. Smedley-Cox, Athelston . . . And so on until, with Sir Joshua Hindcliffe, 1947, the pig-sticking names came to a resounding end. And then: Sen, Desani, Muckerjee, Singh . . .

Yes, a decade ago, Birkett thought, the only Indians you’d have seen in this place were the waiters in compulsory white gloves to conceal the grey hands. And now the few British who came here fell over themselves to behave like Indians while the Indians behaved more like the British than the British themselves.

But it is not to reflect on the changes that has brought Major Ronald Birkett to India. Member of a shady organisation called the PACSAG , Birkett is on a secret mission which takes him to a minister in Prime Minister Nehru's cabinet, P.N. Gupta. Gupta tells him the work that he has to do involves the assassination of the young, newly-crowned king of Nepal, India's neighbouring country. The actual assassination would be carried out by a lowly officer in the Indian embassy in Nepal, Krishan Mathai, but Birkett has to provide him with a weapon and a plan.

As also persuasion, as Birkett discovers, once he arrives in Nepal and meets Mathai for the latter is not interested in killing the king, who he feels is leading his country well. A family man, brow-beaten by his wife and attached to his two sons, Mathai's interest have turned to literary accomplishments rather than actions 'for the greater common good'. But the party has not chosen Birkett for nothing and in a couple of superb passages, Birkett shows his Mephistophelian skills, manipulating Mathai in such a way that he becomes not only willing to pull the trigger but also to die a martyr for their cause.... But then, Birkett himself starts having doubts.

A loner all his life, a person who uses other people and then simply shuns them, Birkett finds himself getting emotionally entangled with Lakshmi Kapoor, an Indian woman whom he had met in Delhi and later called to Nepal. Unhappily married and having lost her child, Lakshmi is looking for fulfillment in her life which she thinks she would find with Birkett. More astute than Birkett assumed in their early meetings, Lakshmi is soon tearing down the defences that Birkett has spent a life-time constructing. If his interior life is changing, it also seems as though his mission is not as secret as he had assumed. Another British called 'Pilot' Potter seems to be spying on him.



What is Birkett to do? Does he surrender to Lakshmi and let go off his defences? Does he ask Mathai to drop the plan and if so would Mathai listen? Would the king get assassinated? What role does Potter play in this? Does Birkett, after a lifetime of intrigue and blood-shed, have a right to love and happiness? Well, you have to read the last pages, with their last twisty reveal:)



Reading this book was stepping into another world. A time when tongas plyed and jackals roamed freely on the roads of Delhi, and a time when (believe it or not) you could easily carry a firearm with you in a plane. Forget about metal detectors, body scanners, X-Ray machines, there was not even frisking. It made me aware of how much of an innocent world it must have been.

Despite one of the most pathetic preparations for the assassination of a head of a state (come on , Mathai doesn't even know how to handle a revolver properly!!!), the book still held my interest because of its old-world Cloak-and-Dagger charm: Nightly assignations, Codes and Passwords, Disguises, Mysterious phone calls with muffled voices...to that final reveal. Worth a one-time read.






The book has been reprinted by Bello and is easily available. I received a copy in exchange for a fair review.

*

First Line: Birkett had forty-five minutes before his appointment at the tomb.

Author: Richard Mason
Publication Details: London: Bello, 2017.
First Published: 1962
Pages: 308

*

Submitted for FFB @ Pattinase.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

For Fans of Raymond Chandler

A new story of Chandler has been discovered from the papers that he left behind. Read about it here:


https://in.yahoo.com/news/newly-discovered-chandler-story-chastises-medical-industry-060405541.html


Incidentally, this has made me want to (re)read a Chandler. The Long Goodbye is my favourite.

“You read about these situations in books but you don’t read the truth. When it happens to you, when all you have left is the gun in your pocket, when you are cornered in a dirty little hotel in a strange country, and have only one way out …there is nothing elevating or dramatic about it.”


Which one is yours?

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

American Superhero: Coup D'etat by Ben Coes

To the author, Ben Coes, to be an American is to belong to the Master Race. Period. Superhuman strength; Always right; No doubts, no dilemmas; Always on Top. The only people who can come (somewhat) close to the Americans are the Israelites. The rest are wimps, nincompoops, bunglers, cowards, traitors, avaricious, and brutes. Actually this is not the kind of book that I read but since the scenario involved a nuclear war breaking out between India and Pakistan and the book was being offered at a throwaway price of Rs. 35/-, I picked it up. Unfortunately, even those rupees are too much for this piece of writing.



The author tells us more than once that in Australia, a ranch is called a station. Well done at this piece of research but at the same time, he doesn't know that India doesn't have a presidential but rather a parliamentary form of government. The President is just the ceremonial head, all the important decisions are taken by the Prime Minister. One click at google would have revealed the fact to him but no, neither he nor the editors at Pan Macmillan (hardly a novice publishing house) seem to have bothered about this. Ah! The stinking humanity of the Third World doesn't matter. That's why, Gen Karreff, the head of the Pakistani Military, is shown canoodling with his mistress and listening to Mozart when his country has just dropped a nuclear bomb and is staring at total annihilation, in retaliation. Nincompoop doesn't cover it.

At a point in the book, US President Allaire declares grandly to the Indian government that :" We are the country that has protected our allies, including India, with the threat of our nuclear arsenal, for more than a century." (Thunder and Lightening) Excuse me! I don't have much of knowledge about this but it is Pakistan which has received support from USA rather than India in all the wars fought between the two neighbouring counties. The geo-political realities might have changed now but lets not distort the past to fit in the present scenario.

And what's with the names. I have never come across such exotic Indian and Pakistani names. Sample these: Praset Dartalia, Guta Morosla, Darius Mohan, Benazem Banday, Faris Durvan, Rami Mavilius, Persom Karreff, Itrikan Parmir, and Xavier Bolin. The last named is not only the Field Marshal of Pakistan but is later made the President of the country. Will an Islamic country let a Christian become its Field Marshal let alone its President? It boggles the mind as to how little research has gone into the book. But, of course, Coes is not interested in the Sub-Continent (which just serves as an exotic background), he is only and only interested in the exploits of his Superhero:

Out stepped Field Marshal Bolin, followed by another man carrying a submachine gun. This third outsider had long brown hair and a beard and a mustache. He was tall. His chest was broad, barreled, his arm muscles tanned and ripped. Though Bolin was the ranking officer, the most decorated soldier in the entire Pakistani military, it was the stranger who commanded the gaze of every officer in the hangar.

In fact, while reading the book, I was reminded so often of a forgotten book:The Mouse in the Mountain by Norbert Davis. That book had shown me the greatness of USA: a country which could satirize itself and laugh at its own foibles even while in the midst of a war. That broadness of mind is what has made US great, Mr. Coes, not your testosterone superhero.

*

First Line: Jinnah International Airport





Friday, November 17, 2017

Forgotten Books: Three Arthur Crook Novels by Anthony Gilbert

"Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs, and peep about
To find ourselves dishonorable graves...."


One thing that I have always found problematic is the grading of writers. He/she is an A list author, we are told, the other is a B-lister. Who, I wonder, makes these lists and what does it depend on? Big publishing houses, sales of the books, critics/ reviewers?  I can understand this kind of grading in films where the production value can make a movie A-grader or not but books are a different kettle of fish altogether. Yes, a book can be interesting or boring; unputdownable or unmentionable; it can make you read the entire oeuvre of the writer or blacklist the author but authors in general cannot be bracketed like this.

In the Golden Age of mystery writing, we are told there are four Crime Queens: Agatha Christie; Margery Allingham; Dorthy Sayers, and Ngaio Marsh. The rest are dismissed as also-rans or B-graders. To me, this doesn't really make sense. I am not the only one who hasn't been able to proceed beyond the first book of the Peter Wimsey series; Albert Campion has his champions but an equal number of detractors; I was surprised to read the first book of Ngaio Marsh, this year, because the Roderick Alleyn of that book was completely unlike the sophisticated image of his that I had in mind. And "even great Homer nods" as in Third Girl and The Moving Finger.



Thus it is that an author like Anthony Gilbert (Lucy Beatrice Malleson) languishes in obscurity#, shrugged off as a second-rung writer. Yet almost all the books that I have read of her have been remarkable, much more interesting and gripping than the ones lauded and talked-about. Recently, thanks to the wonderful people at Open Library, I was able to read three more of hers. And though none of them could equal her masterpieces: Death Knocks Three Times and The Clock in the Hat Box, they were nevertheless engaging reads.



Murder Comes Home (1950): A young couple on their way home are called in by a doctor to witness a will. His patient is one cankerous old lady (and Gilbert's portrayal of such vinegary old ladies is masterly) who is found dead the very next day.

First Line: It might be said that the affair started for Arthur Crook that unnaturally hot afternoon in early spring when London baked and sulked under a sky that would have seemed tropical in August.

A fine review of the book can be read @ The Passing Tramp.

*



Death Takes a Wife/ Death Casts a Long Shadow (1959): Helen, a young nurse, finds herself in a dilemma when she falls in love with her patient Blanche's husband, Paul French. Soon Blanche has died under mysterious circumstances and Helen has to decide whether she is so much in love that she can marry a murderer. How Gilbert manages to keep things suspenseful even when the cast of characters is so small is beyond me.

First Line: 'In the midst of life we are in death,' intoned Dr. MacIntyre genially.


A write-up on the book can be found here.

*




A Nice Little Killing (1974): A Dutch au-pair, stood up by her boyfriend, returns to her employer's home only to find it burgled and worse. An interesting cast of characters though some of them are completely superfluous to the main story, as are the windmills on the cover which are there presumably because of the Dutch connection!!!

First Line: The clock in the public bar of the Bee and Honeysuckle was always kept five minutes past, so that laggard drinkers shouldn't get Joe Severn, the licensee, into trouble with the authorities.

*

Source: Open Library.

*

#: With the British Library publishing her book, Portrait of a Murderer, a book she wrote under another pseudonym, Anne Meredith, things might change.

*

Submitted for Friday's Forgotten Books, today @ Sweet Freedom.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Review: The Film of Fear

The Film of Fear The Film of Fear by Frederic Arnold Kummer Jr.
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

An okay mystery interesting only because of its background of a budding film industry in the US.

*

First Line: Ruth Morton finished her cup of coffee, brushed a microscopic crumb from her embroidered silk kimono, pushed back her loosely arranged brown hair, and resumed the task of opening her mail.

Source: Feedbooks.

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Thursday, October 26, 2017

Review: The Inheritance

The Inheritance The Inheritance by Tom Savage
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cliched: A gothic mansion, a maid in black, a wandering waif, a relative in an attic, a silent observer, a haunted fortune, murder and madness, and a heroine extremely beautiful. I don't think I have ever read a book where the word beautiful was used so often. It literally made me gag, especially because the heroine didn't really impress me. In fact, all the characters are more or less unpleasant. Yet despite all the cliches, the author does manage to shock you. Some of the twists I could guess, some not. I'll like to read more of this author.

*

First Line: From a distance Randall House looks perfectly innocent but you should never be deceived by appearances.

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Friday, October 20, 2017

Review: Magpie Murders

Magpie Murders Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Strange that I should be giving only two stars to a book that I found hard to put down but the end was so lame that it quite ruined the book for me. Horowitz captures the golden age style of writing splendidly - I would love reading the earlier Atticus Pund mysteries- but the frame-narrative was disappointing. The opening lines, however, are some of the best out there:

"A bottle of wine. A family-sized packet of Nacho Cheese Flavoured Tortilla Chips and a jar of hot salsa dip. A packet of cigarettes on the side (I know, I know). The rain hammering against the windows. And a book.
What could have been lovelier?"

Indeed what can be lovelier though I can do without cigarettes and replace wine with tea.


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Friday, October 13, 2017

Forgotten Book: Close Quarters by Michael Gilbert

Of late, writer and lawyer, Michael Gilbert has been a lot over the blogosphere. Yvette @insomanywords did a series of posts on him and then Margot Kinberg @ Confessions of a Mustery Novelist turned the spotlight on his first novel, Close Quarters. Unable to resist any longer, I borrowed Close Quarters from the Open Library and found it so engrossing that I finished it in a day.



Published in 1947 but set a decade earlier there is (as other reviewers have commented upon) a Golden-Age feel to the novel which takes place in the closed community of Melchester Cathedral with its Bishop, Dean, Canons (Principals and Minors),  Precentor, Vicars (Chorals), Vergers (Principals and Others, Head Master, Choir Master, Solicitor, Gatekeeper-Sergeants. With little idea of organized religion and even lesser of the hierarchical clerical order, this made my head reel. It did not help matters that some of the names also seemed alike: Halliday and Hinkey, Prynne and Parvin,  and I was glad to note that the Dean's nephew, Seargent Pollock from the Scotland Yard, who was conducting an unofficial investigation into certain unsavoury occurrences at the Close, was 'scribbling desperately in his notebook' as his uncle rolled out these personages. And no, the list of characters given at the beginning didn't really help me as I was reading it on my lap-to and couldn't go back and forth.  In fact, this is a book that would be better read as a printed copy since there are maps and even a cross-wood puzzle that I'd have loved to solve had it been on a page in front of me. Sigh...



Anyway, to get back to the story, the Dean  is a worried man and in a masterly first chapter - as he tosses and turns on his bed while a storm rages outside - we are told why: there is a smear campaign on against the Principal verger, Appledown which has taken the form of anonymous letters and messages which appear all over the place: on flags, walls etc; there is the accidental death of a Canon a year back; there is the widow Mrs. Judd who just wouldn't move out of the premises; there is Vicar Malthus who seems to be always disappearing; there are the small, niggling things which has made the Dean realise that there is 'something rotten in the Close'. The atmospheric first chapter sets the tone of the book which can turn downright eerie and scary at times (And since I was reading it in the dark of the night, I KNOW).



Unwilling to involve the police, the Dean calls over his nephew who can conduct an unofficial investigation. However, soon after the arrival of Pollock, a murder occurs and the police does get involved in the form of Inspector Hazelrigg (who would go on to appear in six other books by Gilbert). Incidentally, I guessed the identity of the murderer through something read either in an Agatha Christe or Sherlock Holmes where it was said that it is the unexplained things, however insignificant they might appear to be that give you the clue to the whole affair.



The closed community - where Masters prepare lessons in Latin and students learn Greek but where Edgar Wallace is also available as bed-time reading - adds to the tension though there is humour to be found too (as a character puts it) in "lacerating each other's characters in the most Christian way imaginable."





All in all, this was a book that I enjoyed. Besides Margot's, other reviews of the book can be found here:


Noah's Archives

I Prefer Reading


I already have Gilbert's Smallbone Deceased, Death has Deep Roots, and Killing of Katie Steelstock on my wishlist; would you recommend any other?

*



First Line: The Dean as he lay awake in bed that memorable Sunday night, pondered the astonishing vagaries of the weather.

Series: Inspector Hazelrigg #1

*

Submitted for Fridays Forgotten Books @ Sweet Freedom. Please head over there for the other entries.



Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Celebrating 25 Years

To Both of You

25 Years of Love, Joy, Happiness, Togetherness, Support, Concern, Laughter, Sharing, Caring...









*

Wishing many many many more years of Love and Happiness, moments to cherish, and memories to treasure....


Thursday, September 28, 2017

Review: Assassins: A British Mystery Series Set in 1920s London

Assassins: A British Mystery Series Set in 1920s London Assassins: A British Mystery Series Set in 1920s London by Jim Eldridge
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A promising start to a police procedural set in post-WWI London peters down to a rather predictable end. It is quite unfortunate since I liked the mix of real-life and fictional characters. Also the team of Detective Chief Inspector Paul Stark and his sergeant, Robert Danvers - coming as they are from two different strata of a very class-conscious British society - is rather engaging. However, nowhere did the narrative really make me feel the tension of murders being committed at a delicate point of British history- the privation after the war, the Irish question, the looming threat of Bolsheivism - the author throws everything in the cauldron but nothing gives the book that extra edge. The romantic sub-plot seems forced too. That said, I'd like to read the second in the series before giving up on the series.

*

Opening Lines: London, October 1921
Winston Churchill, Secretary of State for the Colonies, glowered at the tall, thin police detective standing before him. ‘Are you suggesting that my actions have interfered with a criminal investigation?’ he demanded menacingly.

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Monday, September 25, 2017

Review: सरदार भगत सिंह के सहयोगी शिव वर्मा

सरदार भगत सिंह के सहयोगी शिव वर्मा सरदार भगत सिंह के सहयोगी शिव वर्मा by Pramod Kumar
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Biography of revolutionary and later member of the CPI (M), Shiv Verma, a close associate of Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev and who has written one of the most moving accounts of his departed friends in his award-winning book Sansmritiyan. Since hardly anything is known about Verma this is a laudable attempt but the writer goes into certain irreverent details which add nothing to the narrative.

*

First Line: Mujhe smaran nahin ki mahan krantikari Shiv Verma se sabse pehle mein kab mila.

Source: Purchased in 2015.

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

A Revolutionary's Life: Bandi Jeewan

Bandi Jeewan Bandi Jeewan by Sachindra Nath Sanyal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book which according to a British secret report sent "more young men to the jails and gallows than any other book" is a first-hand account of the revolutionary movement in India during the second and third decades of the twentieth century. Sachindranath Sanyal, who was awarded the life-imprisonment twice by the British authorities in India gives a vivid account of what it meant to struggle for one's freedom during the colonial rule. It also details the often-negative attitude of the Congress top-leadership towards the revolutionaries. An interesting read though the Hindi of the first volume is a little tough to understand at times.

*

First Line: Kisi samaj ko pehchanane ke liye us samaj ke sahitya se parichit hone ki param avashaktya hoti hai, kyonki samaj ke pranon ki chetna us samaj ke sahitya mein bhi pratiphalit hua karti hai.

Ed. Pt. Satyanarayan Sharma

Pub Details: 1922. ND: Sakshi Prakashan, 2015
Pages: 368


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Review: A History of the Indian Nationalist Movement

A History of the Indian Nationalist Movement A History of the Indian Nationalist Movement by Verney Lovett
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A biased, often condescending look, at the freedom struggle of India.

*

First Line: An accurate knowledge of the conditions of the past is necessary for a right understanding of the problems of the present.

Pub. Details: 1920. ND: Vishal Publishers, 1972.
Pages: 303.
Other books read of the same author: None.

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Thursday, September 14, 2017

A Ghost in Pearls: Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James

Lost Among the Living Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Random thoughts after reading Simone St. James' Lost Among the Living, a book listed on 50 Most Suspenseful Novels:

1. Who makes these lists???????

2. Why am I sucker for such lists??????

3. If you are going to introduce the supernatural in a mystery, take some tips from John Dickson Carr. To use it as deux ex machina is pathetic.

4. The protagonist is madly in love with her husband but at the first whiff of suspicion, the missing spouse is suspected of not only being a traitor but also a murderer!!!! Is this what love is all about?

5. The protagonist feel betrayed as certain things were not revealed to her and is unforgiving about the whole issue but in the course of the same conversation she says that if the things were such great secrets than she she should have been kept in the dark even now. Make up your mind, woman.

6. Two stars (rather than one) because I liked Cora and Martin and hope they live happily ever after.

*

First Line: By the time we left Calais, I thought perhaps I hated Dottie Forsyth.

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Saturday, September 2, 2017

Waste of Time: The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald

The Cry The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Do people really like such books? Peopled with unsympathetic character; alternating narrative by hysterical women; it being thrust down our throats that in an extra-marital relationship, the man is the villain - not the wife, not the mistress who, poor things, are nothing but victims and given a chance can actually like each other and be friends; the supposedly BIG reveal turning out to be a damp squib, something that you had guessed right from the beginning; Philosophical posing such as 'we cannot build our happiness on somebody's sorrows' but can apparently get away with murder.....

Oh God! I just want this book out of my system.

*

First Line: It was the fault of the airport security.

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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Women in Translation: Shadow Sister by Simone Van Der Vlugt

Usually, I don't enjoy modern mysteries because I feel the world intrudes too much. Racism, sexism, pedophilia, dysfunctional families become the foci of the novel rather than the murder. However, while reading Simone Van Der Vlugt's Shadow Sister, I was surprised when I became more interested in the problems that a teacher of a school faces rather than the suspense about the killer.




Lydia, one of the narrators of the novels (the other is her twin sister Elisa), is a teacher at Rotterdam College, a school where plenty of students are from Turkey and Morocco. Caught between the cultures, neither integrated nor even fully welcome in Holland, the students can be extremely volatile at times. But even Lydia is shocked when one of them threatens her with a knife. This to her tastes like a personal failure because she has taken the trouble to get close to her students - doing overtime, visiting their homes, attending inter-cultural coaching sessions etc.

This involvement with her work has brought many positive results and the students have started opening up and discussing their problems with her but it also has a downside: her husband, Raoul feels that she is neglecting their little daughter Valerie and would rather have her working part-time in his software company. This has caused quite a bit of friction between the two. Thus, it is to Elisa that Lydia turns for comfort. But is Elisa the right person to turn to?



The novel switches between the two narrative voices and what I loved was how much is revealed through the two voices. Neither of the women is what they assume they are and it is both creepy and funny as the reader gets a glimpse into their personalities. This makes for a very interesting read but the last few chapters feel forced and the identity of the killer is a big let-down.

That disappointment aside, I loved the narration, the sibling relationship, and the description of the problems that can beset a multi-racial institute. I will definitely look for more books by this author.

*

First Line: All of a sudden he's got a knife.



Original Title: Schaduwzuster
Original Language: Dutch
Translator: Michele Hutchison

Publication Details: London: Harper Collins, 2010
First Published: 2005
Pages: 282

Source: Bought @Delhi Book Fair, 2016.





Thursday, August 24, 2017

Forgotten Book: Gossip to the Grave by John Burke

Luke stared up at her. “Running off to construct a dream lover? That’s the way. The only way. Build him yourself.”



Jenny Clark is what we would call a Page-3 reporter in India, somebody who covers parties thrown by the frivolous rich, adds spice and gossip, and hints at scandals. When the novel opens, she is in the doldrums having been jilted by her lover. A throw-away remark by a colleague as to what would be her specifications for an ideal lover makes Jenny not only imagine a man -who is witty, smart, sophisticated, handsome, and fond of P.G. Wodehouse and James Thurber - but also feature him in her gossip columns. She has no idea that the man- whom she names Simon Sherborne - will become the talk of the town and all the women will be dying to invite him to their parties.



“Track him down. If he’s anything like you make him out to be, he could stir up some fun among those corrupt innocents of yours. Somebody,” said Chris hopefully, “might get hurt.”




Things become rough for Jenny when her editor demands a photo of the mysterious Mr. Sherborne and instructs her to take a camera man along to the next social event she covers. Jenny begins to think of taking on a new job or moving back to her parents when at the party a man comes over to her and introduces himself:

She turned. The man from the saleroom was standing above her — six inches above her, that widow’s peak, she estimated...

 The man smiled a slow, broad smile and held out his hand. As she took it she said quietly, to help him: “Actually I’m Jenny Clark.”
 “Ah, yes. My best press officer.”
 “Yours?”
 “I’m Simon Sherborne,” he said.


But unlike the lover whom Jenny had conjured up for herself, this man is more interested in an heiress, Annabel Wager, and pressurizes Jenny to introduce him to her. What game is he playing and how far will Jenny go to keep up the charade?




The novel begins well but soon meanders into forgery, fraud, inheritance issues and loses its way.

Still it was nice to read a novel where there are no mobile phones, where people are not texting or taking selfies of themselves 24/7, and where it is really difficult to contact a person and one has to search for call-phones which have now virtually disappeared.

Also there was this line which I absolutely loved:

She was surprised he didn’t present her with a shorthand pad and four newly sharpened pencils and ask her to take detailed notes of what the police had to say.








It brought back my growing-up years when I'd see college-going bhaiyas and didis with the pads, the yellow-black striped sharp pencils, and Pittman's Shorthand instructor earnestly trying to improve their skills and earn a diploma in shorthand while getting a college degree as it'd give them an edge in their application for government jobs. When I reached college, however,  the shorthand colleges and typing schools were all on their last legs and soon were to close shop forever...

*

First Line: Jenny Clark invented Simon Sherborne one rainy evening in late April.

First Published: 1967
Source: Borrowed
Other books read of the same author: None

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Submitted for Friday's Forgotten Books @ Pattinase. Please head over there for the other entries.