Friday, 25 July 2014
Book Review: Private India by Ashwin Sanghi and James Patterson
Well known Indian thriller writer Ashwin Sanghi has teamed up with internationally acclaimed writer James Patterson to bring Patterson’s Private series to India. Private India ticks all boxes required of a thriller. It has a number of two-dimensional characters who could have been picked out from or planted in any other thriller. Pakistan’s ISI makes an appearance, as does a Mumbai underworld don, gold rings on various fingers and all. It has a couple of big mysteries and a few minor small ones. Most important of all, it is unputdownable and definitely a page-turner. Yes, one is forced to keep reading till the end, though the end is over 450 pages away.
Private India is India’s biggest and best detective agency, a branch of Private Worldwide, run by the inimitable Jack Morgan. Santosh Wagh heads Private India, though in this novel, Jack Morgan makes a few appearances and has a substantial role. When visiting Thai surgeon Kanya Jaiyen is killed in mysterious circumstances at the Marine Bay Plaza, Private India gets to the scene first since apparently it is employed by Marine Bay Plaza. The police come by later, but they are happy to let Private India get on with it, since they are overworked and have their hands full. The rule is the same as in countless other crime thrillers – the actual detective work is delegated to the private detectives on the understanding that if they succeed, the police will get all the credit. It is not clear who’s paying Private India to spend so much time and money on the hunt, but I didn’t let that get in the way of enjoying this fine thriller.
The first murder is followed by many others. Afternoon Mirror reporter Bhavna Choksi is the second victim. Then Elima Xavier, a school headmistress, Anjana Lal, the Chief Justice of Mumbai High Court, Ragini Sharma, a politician and others follow. The serial killer keeps killing without a break, each murder victim found strangled with a yellow scarf and surrounded by strange religious and cultural artifacts. Private India is unable to find the killer till a number of victims have fallen prey, but when it does, it does so in style, like any good thriller.
Like all good thrillers, Private India is not restricted to a main plot. In addition to the main plot – the identity of the serial killer, we get to know that Pakistan, acting through the Indian Mujahideen is trying to blow up the offices of Private India since Private India has thwarted so many of its plans and plots. Then there are minor mysteries such as why Police Chief Rupesh is no longer so well disposed towards to his old friend Santosh. Naturally all of these are resolved towards the end.
Since the novel is set entirely in Mumbai, I came across familiar landmarks in almost every chapter. From the Taj Hotel to Colaba and Haji Ali, to suburbs like Bandra, Andheri and Thane to the Tower of Silence and its vultures, Arthur Road Jail, Chowpatty Beach, Cooper Hospital, Private India is wrapped up with the sights, sounds and smells of Mumbai. Private India has detailed descriptions of advanced technologies used by Private India as well as explanations for complicated stuff like DNA evidence. All of this is done very well, on par with any Tom Clancy novel.
The only negative I found is that the English slips occasionally. For example, in one place one reads “that boy needs his beard trimming” instead of “that boy’s beard needs trimming”. Before I nitpick any more, let me stop by saying that despite such minor irritants, Private India is an excellent read.