Book Review: Bloomsbury Crime Box Set

unnamedBloomsbury Crime Box Set is combination of three widely different books: The Hanging by Danish writer duo of brother and sister Lotte and Soren Hammer, Before We Met by Lucie Whitehouse and The Ghost Runner by Parker Bilal aka Jamal Mahjoub.

The Hanging

the_hanging_engThe book opens with two kids discovering the victims of a gruesome crime committed in the school. Chief Superintendent Konrad Simonsen is immediately called upon from his vacation to solve the murders. He is an archetypal police chief from those crime shows we watch on TV, whose personal life is in shambles but admired by his team. He won’t be stopped from solving crimes even if it means doing so by unconventional means.

The outrage about gruesome murders soon die; narrative in media and public is reshaped when it is revealed that the people murdered were pedophiles and deserved to die. The pedophiles were executed in school as they deserved. Simonsen’s team suddenly finds that public is no longer willing to help them solve murders. The public opinion is so divided that members of police team are forced to question their beliefs. The book is not so much about whodunnit but a police procedural that explores the impact of public opinion and morals on the investigation.

Before We Met 

bwmHannah has been happily married for a few months to Mark. One day when her husband fails to come home, panicking, in search of an explanation, she looks up her husband’s study and calls around. She is intrigued by few trifle but completely baffling discoveries. The book is befitting addition to genre of sinister marriages pioneered by Gone Girl. My only grouse with this book is that it had too many details and had a very slow start. This book could have been edited to be about 100 pages less and yet would have packed a punch. For most part of reading this book, I felt tension build up and hair on my neck rising since I felt something truly sinister is going to hit Hannah from behind.

The Ghost Runner  

I was very reluctant to read this book. Mostly because the book title seemed to suggest some kind of exorcist and this misconception was further backed by the synopsis which indicated the setting was an Islamic country and protagonist Makana was a Sudanese, living in exile in Egypt. I avoid reading stories from Islamic countries since stories of inequality, corruption, honor killings have a way of making you depressed. Sure enough, private investigator Makana is asked to investigate the death of a young lady shopkeeper, suspected to be an honor killing committed by her unsavory, exiled father. makanaMakana travels to Siwa, an oasis-cum-small town in Sahara desert, where lawlessness and exploitation of weaker people prevails. Tormented by his past, his memories of his dead wife and daughter, Makana relentlessly investigates amidst hostility of ‘not being one of them”.His only comfort being spitfire Zahara, a women’s aid worker. But strangely, before he can solve crime, several more bodies start to fall around him in Siwa. Can he solve the mystery? Even though I eventually enjoyed reading the book, the reveal seemed hasty and some twists I couldn’t quite make sense of. If you could, let me know.

(I received a review copy of the box set courtesy of Flipkart and the publisher.)

Book Review: Case Files Of PI Pojo – Killing Of Mr Heathcote


Pratap Pande aka Pojo is a precocious private detective (PI) who has currently come to study at The Heathcote International boarding school in Panchgani. Born to writer-detective parents, it was only natural that Pojo would turn his attention to matters of detection and mystery. So far Pojo had opened his ‘office’ in derelict corner of the boarding school where he took petty cases such as ‘case of missing tuck’, ‘case of prize winning orchid’ etc meticulously documented in his case files.

However, then comes a mystery which no self-respecting PI can resist. Mr Heathcote, the cat who has been with Heathcote International since the beginning, is found dead. Mr Heathcote is no ordinary cat, he is not only loved and revered by Heathcotians, but also considered as their mascot. The cat had been constant, silent companion to Pojo on his stealthy errands around the campus. On its death, Pojo is intrigued and convinced that there is foul play behind Heathcote’s death.

Pojo’s investigation would lead him to several twists and slips. From tracing steps of a student athlete from rival school, breaking into senior’s lockers, visiting forbidden alleys and pathways (throw in some secret pathways), facing the wrath of the seniors, recording unsuspecting villains on camera  – Pojo would do it all. He would also find his two sidekicks, one his senior who he really can’t kick around and other a well-meaning, pesky junior Pops. Pojo will risk punishment and his reputation to unearth the mystery behind the death of Mr Heathcote. Will he succeed?

One can finish this mystery book by Megha Singhee in one sitting. It serves as a sweet reminiscence of life at boarding school – day trips, free days, ragging etc.  It is ideal for children since it is fun mystery with sly humor and has no references to violence or sex. For this reason, I would call this contemporary Feluda. I am sure we will hear more about PI Pojo’s cases.

Instagram for the book:

(I received a review copy of the book courtesy Flipkart’s review program.)

Conversations with Bangalore auto driver: A woman’s character

I wrote about a part of my conversation with a Bangalore auto driver. Our conversation meandered from NaMo to Muslim-haters, Rushdie, censorship, in that order.

He brought up Rushdie and how ‘westernized Muslims’ do disservice to religion, leave alone others. I asked if he had read the book. He said he didn’t but he has heard what he wrote about – a parody of Prophet’s life. Unable to resist, I asked what he thought of the ‘satanic verses’.

‘Satanic verses?’ (Later I think if he was just checking what I knew?)

groupI explain. ‘Quran, as I understand, was verbally revealed to Prophet by angel Gabriel (Jibrail as I said to him) in the cave of Hira and it was recorded later by his disciples.

So, before founding of Islam, Meccans worshipped three pagan goddesses. One day Prophet came back from cave and announced that these goddesses were exalted. However, few days later, Prophet retracts these verses that angel Gabriel has informed him that Satan tempted him to utter these verses. Hence, the phrase ‘satanic verses’, right?’

At this point, auto driver is ‘impressed’ with my ‘knowledge’. Even while driving, instead of looking at road, he turns to look back, as if seeing me with new eyes.

‘Yes, those goddesses are Allāt, al-‘Uzzā and Manāt. Prophet had perhaps said it out of his desire to make peace with erstwhile Arabs who worshipped goddesses.’

Continue reading ‘Conversations with Bangalore auto driver: A woman’s character’

Conversations with a Bangalore Auto Driver

On a sultry Bangalore evening at 6pm, I waited at the end of a tiring work day to go home. However, even after 40 minutes, I wasn’t able to either grab an Ola or get any benevolent auto driver to agree to take me to my destination, my home. I wasn’t alone. There were other women unsuccessfully trying to do the same.

autoSuddenly the lady beside me caught one auto and took pity on me. She suggested that I share her ride and after dropping off, I could go further to my destination. It was only a minor detour and I accepted. Honestly, there wasn’t much choice; I had been waiting there for long now.

Anyway, inside auto, I realised that the lady, like me, was from Delhi. Our conversation inevitably covered over-chagrining auto drivers, Delhi men, rapes, Delhi vs Bangalore so on. (I still bat for Delhi though less passionately; I may be growing to like Bangalore.)

As soon as the other lady got off the cab, the auto driver, silent all this while, turned to me and asked: ‘Madam, what were you both talking about auto drivers? I am not so educated but I do understand a little bit.’ I felt a chill go down in my heart and tried to remember what had I said about auto drivers.

I kept my cool, smiled at him in the rear view mirror and said: ‘We weren’t talking anything complex and educational anyway. Of course, you understood everything we said. And we did praise you, didn’t we? For not taking advantage of the situation by overcharging us?’ He was mollified.

‘Oh yes! That’s why I didn’t say anything to you. There is no reason why any auto driver should refuse or overcharge’. We had perhaps run into one conscientious auto driver in all of Bangalore. Thank God for that. Crisis averted. But our conversation did not end.

Continue reading ‘Conversations with a Bangalore Auto Driver’

Book Review: Democrazy

Democrazy is a satirical spoof of political environment of media – it caricaturises several key figures of media, politics and business (religious or non-religious). In truth, that pretty much sums up the book review. ;)

Characters in the book

democrazyPolitics is led by Badi sarkar and her inept and puerile son chote sarkar – a clear reference to bosses of a yesteryear (feels good to say so :P) political party. Chote sarkar is mentored by Mohammed Panja whose rival is a politician from Orchid party with a naughty name Girpade. There is BB, Buddhiman Buddhiraja, no less, who has a nightly show called ‘B for Budhhi’ on a channel called, wait for it, Bow Wow. He quite closely resembles an Arnab clone. There is Giani Seth, the richest man in the country, who disburses cheques of ten crores to beggars, hires people to defeat his rival Chaddha on candy crush and makes accident caused by his kid goes away. Sounds familiar, the last part? Oh yeah! Then comes another businessman, err, religious leader, er no, neem expert, Baba Neemacharya, who is close to Badi sarkar. Between Giani and Baba Neemacharya, they hire Miss Indias to be their personal secretary or hospitality girls. Again, any of these characters could be clone of any number people from same brethren (politics/media/business) that we have heard of. Needless to say, all these characters work hard to take the country to dogs. In this nasty mix, throw in an honest school Principal Ambika and her Twitter activist son Adarsh and we have our victims.

Thing about this satire was it was very close to reality. I laughed at the hyperbole and dark humor for 100 pages and later I quietened. I wish the writer, Atulya Mahajan better known as Amreekandesi, had put a Coen-esque disclaimer in the beginning of the book: This is based on a true story. I am pretty sure I can prove that just as well as Coen brothers can for Fargo.

The book has an end befitting for Priyadarshan movies, where all characters come together in a chaos. I won’t write how it ends but chances are you already know since you have witnessed it many times in real world and fiction.

I think I must applaud Atulya for his courage to write about it and mock these caricatures of our society. However, none of it was new to me; I could always tell what was about to come. The satire in the book was something reminiscent of what Twitter humorists (including Atulya himself) have already acquainted us with.

I loved the tweets in the beginning of each lesson; I thought that they captured the ‘Twitter essence’ of each character very well. A shout out to book cover designers, I loved it. The funny quotes in thought bubbles and the illustration are both a credit to the book.

This is Atulya’s second book with a subject different than his first one; his first book was a coming-of-age story. I will wait for Atulya to write a third book about, well, something new again. :)

 (I received a review copy courtesy the author and his publisher.)

Book Review: A Mirrored Life

The Mirrored Life reminds me of traditions of Kathasaritsagar, the story within story or of Scheherazade of the Arabian nights. It is story about life of Rumi recounted through the fictional journey of Ibn Battuta, the 14th century Moorish traveler. Ibn Battuta traveller on his way to China from Tangier makes a fictional stop in Anatolia. There he receives a secret manuscript from a calligrapher Yakut al-Mustasimi. Not only does Yakut play Scheherazade, which left me wanting for more, his manuscript also describes most famous friendship in the Sufi history – friendship between Rumi and dervish Shams of Tabriz.mirr_life

Rumi is an eternal subject for generations of the readers: it evokes powerful emotions of love and friendship. Personally I don’t much enjoy English translations of Rumi’s poems, but an Urdu translation of his verses never fails to move me. It is Rumi’s friendship with Shams, his pain at parting with his beloved that has to led to the writing of such marvelous verses in history.

Rumi, better known as Maulan Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī, is a revered preacher in Konya which is modern day Turkey. However, his life takes a complete turn when he meets Shams and he is engrossed in Sufi traditions. There is lot of prescience and faith in this extraordinary friendship between Rumi and Shams. Rumi entered a period of Chillah with Shams, alienating not only his disciples and students but also a few important people in Rumi’s life: his wife Kira, his son Sultan, his trusted disciple Hussam and Shaikh Bahauddin, who shows him the way in the beginning.

Continue reading ‘Book Review: A Mirrored Life’

Movie Review: pk

Pk has distinct Rajkumar Hirani signature – use of sweet satire. It is an art he excels in as evidenced by all his movies such as Munnabhai and 3 idiots. His characters always have unfortunately funny names (Remember Phunsukh Wangdu or Circuit). Now, we have Pk and Jaggu (Anushka) – you’ll need to watch the movie to find out her real name tho. And these characters are most loving iconoclasts you’ll ever come across.Pk poster

The movie is about an alien, Pk, who literally arrives naked on mother earth on his spaceship. However, the remote of his spaceship is promptly stolen by being of earth and hereby he is left stranded on this planet (gola, as he calls it) without a way to return home. Thus, begins his exploration of seemingly weird customs of earth to get back his remote. He learns to steal clothes and money from a ‘dancing car’ (you’ll have to find that out for yourself :giggles:) , check-in Dilli thanas for shelter and then he hears that all answer to his problems lie with someone called Bhagwan  – only one who could help him. So starts his quest for God. He is baffled by customs of different religions and sure enough is soundly thrashed by all of them. Eventually, he realises, there are many Gods, and each has established a ‘company’ of its own. They are all managed by different managers who have created conflicting, confusing rules.

Enter, Anushka err Jaggu whose superstitious family devoutly prostrates before a rich, Hindu guru, Tapasvi, played by roly-poly Saurabh Shukla. Between Jaggu, Pk and Tapasvi, when they meet, it is only your guess what capers will take place.

Hirani has once again questioned social norms, this time religion and also how we value Gandhi. (I love that scene.) Atheists are complaining that why was he not brave enough to question the existence of God, but I think he was questioning only religion and not the existence of God. His mettle lies in being able to mock all religions with love. :)

Continue reading ‘Movie Review: pk’

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