Thursday, April 30, 2015

Mysteries in April

In April, I read both fictional and non-fictional mysteries.


We all know those books that begin with a bang but end with a whimper. Thus it was with Anthony Abbot's The Shudders, a book that I could not put down initially and then could not believe that in the end it amounted to so little.

 On a cold, melancholic night, the Police Commissioner of NY, Thatcher Colt, receives a call from Warden Massal to inform him that a convict on the death row, Jeremy Taylor (whom Colt had captured), wanted to meet him before he is electrocuted. Colt and his Watson, Anthony Abbot, travel to the jail where Taylor informs them that he does not mind dying but that he does mind that his girlfriend Marcella instead of supporting him has in fact deserted him and shacked-up with a certain Dr. Baldwin: a man who is evil incarnate and has devised a new method of killing people. After Taylor's death, the police search for Dr. Baldwin but are unable to find him. Marcella too gives them the slip.

Three years later, Warden Massal barges into Colt's office and tells him that he has located Dr. Baldwin. Before he can divulge anything else, he drops down dead. Colt sends two policemen to the address of Baldwin, one of whom expires while bringing Baldwin to the police headquarters. Colt starts his investigations and realises that the two doctors who were present at the time of Taylor's execution too have died under mysterious circumstances. Colt and Abbot travel to the house of Myron Forbes, the executioner. However before their horrified eyes, Forbes jumps into some electrical cables and is singed to death. Now Colt and Abbot are the only ones left who were present in the room on the fateful day when Taylor was put to death. How long before they too die inexplicably? And what role does Dr. Baldwin play in all this?

First Line: It was nearing ten o' clock, now, and we had been fighting the budget since dinner.
Alternate Title: Deadly Secret
Pub: London: Collins (The Crime Club), 1943
Pages: 192
Source: Borrowed
Other books read of the same author: None



Commander C[olumbus] D[arwin] Smith was the commanding officer of the USS Wake, one of the two war-ships left at Shanghai, China, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour. As Smith had no information about the attack, he was captured by the Japanese while his ship was renamed HIJMS Tatara and taken over by the Japanese navy. (The other war-ship, for those interested, was the Royal Navy's HMS Peterel which was sunk by the Japanese)

Smith, however, wasn't content to remain in Japanese captivity and was soon planning his escape. And escape he did but was soon recaptured by the Japanese forces. Undaunted, he continued to plan and in September 1944 made another bid for freedom. In the company of two other officers, Commander John B. Woolley of the Royal Navy and US Marine Jerold B. Storey, Smith scaled the walls of Ward Road Jail and made his was across miles and miles of Japanese occupied territory.

The story of this daring escape, from Shanghai to Calcutta, is told in thrilling detail (and in the first-person) by the author Quentin Reynolds, a journalist and war-correspondent. When Smith finally reaches Calcutta, he is told by the authorities that the Japanese have declared him dead and he remains dead in the official records of the US in order to hoodwink the Japanese.

More on Commander Smith can be accessed over here:

Incidentally, I have read quite a few books about daring escapes by Allied soldiers from the prisons of the Axis powers but haven't read any account of an Axis soldier escaping from an Allied prison. Can anyone recommend such  a book?

First Line: December 7th is a date that means a great deal to a great many people.
Alternate Title: He Came Back

Pub. Details: London: Panther Books, 1945
First Published: 1945
Pages: 190
Source: Borrowed from Library
Other books read of the same author: None


Professor Bart Moore-Gilbert is a renowned scholar of post-colonial studies. One day about to go to the pub, he opens his mail-box and finds by an email by an Indian Professor who is researching nationalist movements in India asking whether he has any family papers on his father who was a policeman especially deployed to squash one such movement in Sindh. For Moore-Gilbert, who lost his father at a tender age and who has mourned him ever since, this is news. His memories of his father, Bill, are those of Africa where the latter had settled after India became independent.

Determined to know more about this phase of his father's life, Moore-Gilbert travels to India at a time when the country is still in a shock over the Mumbail terror attack. What follows is a thrilling narrative about archival research, about searching for documents misplaced or destroyed either accidentally or deliberately, about the contested versions of the past, about the unreliability of memory which ultimately (as Salman Rushdie puts it) creates its own reality, about references to other authors: Kipling, Paul Scott, George Orwell, Amitav Ghosh, about finding that there are many aspects of your parents that you had no idea about, about an India caught between the wretchedness of poverty and the generosity of spirit....

I enjoyed this part-travelogue, part-detective fiction but what I found spine-tingling was this passage from T.B. Macaulay's address to the British Parliament in 1835:

I have travelled the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage. I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation.

Oh! The rapaciousness of Colonialism!!

There are two points that remain a mystery to me after reading this book. When Professor Moore-Gilbert arrives in Mumbai, he finds himself totally lost and disheartened. Why? Did he have no contact in the Mumbai University? Being a well-known critic in this part of the world, how is it that he had no acquaintance with any of the professors at Mumbai?

And secondly, why-oh-why is the name of firebrand nationalist leader, Netaji S.C. Bose misspelt as S.C. Bhose whenever it occurs in the text? Coming from an erudite scholar, this is inexcusable.

First Line: 'Get up, Nigger, quick,' Wilson whisper raps, 'don't wake the others.'

Publication Details: London: Verso, 2014
First Published: 2014
Pages: 306
Source: CL [954.035909 M781S]


Submitted for FFB, this week @ Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Books on Bhagat Singh

This month I have read more non-fiction than fiction. As three of these books deal with Indian revolutionary Bhagat Singh, I thought I'd club them together.


Rajshekhar Vyas is a noted writer who has written considerably about the revolutionary stream of our freedom struggle. This book deals with the thoughts of Bhagat Singh and also contains a translated version of Irish revolutionary Dan Breen's autobiography - My Struggle for Irish Freedom - a book which had a deep impact on Singh and his comrades.

First Line: - Bhagat Singh, jo phansi ke fande ko vichar ka manch samajhte  the.
Publication Details: ND: Pustakayan, 1989
First Published: 1989
Pages: 158


This book again deals with Bhagat Singh and his thoughts. The authors' note does not mention that this is a compilation of essays on Singh published at various times but the way the book is repetitive makes me suspect this is the case. Typos and certain factual inaccuracies are further irritants.

First Line: Bhagat Singh was an Indian freedom fighter, considered to be one of the most famous revolutionaries of the Indian independence movement.
Publication Details: ND: K.K. Publications, 2009
First Published: 2009
Pages: 249
Source: DPL


Lala Ram Saran Das was an older contemporary of Bhagat Singh who had already suffered incarceration at the infamous Cellular Jail in the Andamans when he met Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and others of their circle. Arrested once again in 1929 and tried along with Bhagat Singh, he asked the latter to write an introduction to his verse-composition Dreamland. For years while Singh's introduction to the text was available, the main text itself seemed to have disappeared. But now one can not only read the text but also Das' preface which he wrote after India had become free and Bhagat Singh a memory. The preface which answers many of the questions raised by Singh in his introduction is interesting but what I found most touching was this line that Das made in his statement to the police: " After this I went to Amritsar and happened to see Sukhdev near the railway station."

I don't know why I was moved by this but perhaps just the thought that here were men who had met and talked with these young men, had accidentally chanced upon them....I don't know.

First Line: Lala Ram Saran Das Talwar was born at Kapurthala, on 24th August, 1888 in a middle class Kshatriya family, who devoted his heart and soul into the Freedom movement of India.

Publication Details: Chandigarh: Unistar Books, 2007
First Published: 2007
Pages: viii + 192
Source: CL [954 W196R]

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Mount TBR 2015: First Check-In

It's time for the first check-in @ Mount TBR Challenge hosted by Bev @ My Reader's Block.

It has been a slow start for me. I have read only two books from my shelves but as I have only the smallest mountain (Pike's Peak) to scale I am pretty happy with the progress.

The two books read are both biographies of Indian Revolutionaries:

1. Bhagat Singh: Liberation's Blazing Star by P.M.S Grewal
2. Ajey Krantikari Rajguru by Anil Verma

To answer a question asked by Bev as to who has been my favourite character, I would say that both Bhagat Singh and Rajguru are my favourites.


If you want to participate in the challenge, you can do so over here.