Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Mysteries in March

It has been a mixed bag of mysteries for me in this month of March. I read a couple of books which are all but forgotten and two which are far more recent.


This novel, published in 1918, is set in the pre-war years. Hugh Abercromby is a medical student in Germany who becomes involved in a nefarious German plot to over-run England (What else?)

Racial stereotyping is a major put-off in the novel. From what information, I have been able to get from the Web, the writer was a Scottish clergyman and unsurprisingly the Scots are described as an upright people, putting morals before everything else. Though surprisingly, earlier in the novel, there is a description of a Scottish farmer deliberately drowning his dog as it has become old and has outlived his usefulness. (Must say the description of the dog wagging its tail and licking it's master's mouth even as the latter put a stone round its neck was extremely difficult to read).

"The German", according to the narrator, Abercromby, "is childish in many ways: he is like a bad boy, not only in his love of destruction for its own sake, but also for his irrepressible boastfulness."

One can still overlook these views considering the time when the novel was published but to show the Germans as complete blackguards and then have a character say this:
"Sentimental I grant you...but then every one knows that the Germans are a sentimental, kindly, pious and simple race." (218)

You know that the author wants you to let out a big guffaw at this time. It simply put my teeth on edge.

First Line: If you leave the Friedrichstrasse at the first street beyond the Cafe Bauer, which is at the Danzigerstrasse, and then, near the far end, take the third to the right you come on the cafe Rosenkrantz.

First Published: 1918
Pages: 304
Source: Borrowed
Other books read of the same author: None


Last year I read Henry Cecil's delightful take on the anomalies between law and justice. Philip Mason (a writer whom I was more familiar with under his pseudonym Philip Woodruff, author of such texts as The Men Who Ruled India) also takes up the issue of law and justice (albeit in a more serious manner) in his 1946 novel Call the Next Witness.

We normally tend to believe that in a Court of Law, it is justice that prevails but Mason shows how any judgement delivered by the court is dependent on the evidence produced, especially on the testimonies of the witnesses who can be threatened, coached, bribed, coerced to give a false account.

Pyari, the daughter of a Thakur is married off to Gopal Singh, a thakur from another village. The marriage however, soon starts falling apart: He is avaricious and lustful, she is authoritative and shrewish. One day a quarrel between the two of them ends in Pyari being fatally shot. But did Gopal pull the trigger? Or was the death triggered off by something else altogether?

Mason, an ICS officer, presents a vivid picture of India in the 1940s and to have that touch of exoticism even has an entire chapter devoted to boar-hunting.

First Line: On the last day of her life, Pyari sat at her spinning in the veranda before her bedroom.
Publication Details: ND: Penguin, 1991
First Published: 1946
Pages: 208
Source: MCL [823.91 M381C]
Other books read of the same author: None


It was in 2012 that I first heard of Japanese writer Keigo Higashino. When I read The Devotion of Suspect X, the first in his Detective Galileo series, I was blown away. Here was a taut thriller that had me guessing till the end. Yet today I feel that Salvation of a Saint, the second in the series is even better than the first.

Don't go by the blurb, he is far better than Larsson

Ayane and Yoshitaka's marriage is over. Ayane cannot bear him a child and Yoshitaka cannot continue in such a relationship. Soon after his decision to end their marriage, Yoshitaka is found dead but Ayane, the logical suspect, was miles away. Did she kill him or not?

On the rain-drenched first Sunday of this month (the skies opened up on early Sunday morning and rain continued to pour continuously till late Monday afternoon), I snuggled up in a razai, opened this book...and just couldn't put it down. Reading the book with cups of garam cha and malpuas (hot tea and pancakes) was an experience that I'll cherish for ever.

First Line: The pansies in the planter had flowered - a few small, bright blooms.
Original Language: Japanese
Translator: Alexander O. Smith & Elye J. Alexander
Publication Details: ND: Abacus, 2013
First Published: 2008
Source: CL [823 H534S]
Other books read of the same author: The Devotion of Suspect X


After the highs, the lows. Earlier this year when I browsed the net for lists of the best mysteries of 2014, a novel that was featured repeatedly was author Tom Rob Smith's The Farm.

The premise seemed very interesting. Daniel's parents have retired to a farm in Sweden (his mother Tilde is a Swede). They are a loving couple who have always made their son feel secure and loved. Then one fine day Dan receives a call from his father stating that Tilde has been confined to a mental asylum as she had been imagining things and acting weirdly. A disturbed Dan books the first flight to Sweden but as he reaches the airport, he receives another call. This time it is his mother who tells him that she is flying over to London and not to believe a word uttered by his father. Caught between his parents, whom does Dan believe?

Who wouldn't want to read a book after such a premise? It was with great anticipation that I borrowed this book only for it to turn out to be a real turkey. The father's voice all but disappears in the narrative, more than 80% of which is devoted to the version of the mother, a character whom one exasperated Goodreads reviewer described as "beyond annoying".

First Line: UNTIL THAT PHONE CALL it had been an ordinary day.
Publication Details: ND: Simon and Schuster, 2014.
First Published: 2014
Pages: 351
Source: CL [823.910309 S55F]
Other books read of the same author: None

Sunday, March 22, 2015

23rd March: A Remembrance in Books

It's that time of the year again. A day when I salute all those who laid their lives so that we could be born in a free country. This year too I am paying a homage to all those heroes by reviewing the books recently read on the revolutionary struggle for India's independence.


Sukhdev Raj was the person with Chandrashekhar Azad in Alfred Park on that fateful day when Azad attained martyrdom. In many ways, his reminiscences about his initiation into the revolutionary struggle in the Punjab and his later role in the party, makes for painful reading. While the first rung of Revolutionary leaders were in jail, the others who were supposed to carry the struggle forward simply fell apart, guided by personal vanities and gratifications and governed by petty jealousies and one-upmanship.

First Line: Mera Janam Lahore mein 7 December, 1907 ko Punjab ke khatri vansh mein hua.
Alternate Title: Jab Jyot Jagi
Editor: Sudhir Vidyarthi
Publication Details: ND: Rajkamal, 2009
First Published: 1971
Pages: 248
Source: DPL [954.0841 SUKHDE]
Other books read of the same author: None



Virendra was the editor of Partaap and Veer Pratap when the emergency was declared and editorials in newspapers started to be censored. Rather than suffer such an ignominy, Virendra stopped writing editorials and instead wrote a series of articles about his life as a young college student in pre-partioned Punjab when he was on the fringes of the revolutionary movement in Lahore. About the same age as Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev, Virendra was much impressed by the fiery zeal shown by these young men and became involved in the struggle for freedom. An involvement that saw him being arrested and locked-up in jails repeatedly.

For anybody interested in the history of pre-partioned Punjab, its politics, the prominent leaders, the play of press and politics, this is a must-read. In fact, reading it for the second time this year, I enjoyed it much more as compared to when I read it for the first time.

First Line: April 1927 ki baat hai.
Publication Details: ND: Rajpal & Sons, 1986
First Published: 1986
Pages: 212
Source: H.M.L [1602]
Other books read of the same author: None



Of the trio that was hung on 23 March, I had the least knowledge about the youngest, Rajguru. While I had read biographies of both Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev, this was the first time I read a full-fledged biography about Rajguru. Author Anil Verma thus has done a great job in filling a lacuna.

First Line: 23 March san 1931, Central Jail Lahore.
Publication Details: ND: Publications Division, 2008
First Published: 2008
Pages: 196
Source: Bought
Other books read of the same author: None