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the blue nowhereAfter you read this book, you will never go near your internet without a little bit of trepidation on what could be lurking behind the scene or inside your machines. Cyber-crime is now getting to be as ubiquitous as the regular variety, fuelled by the universal adoption of the internet. This nice taut thriller from Jeffrey Deaver pits one hacker against the other, each on either side of the line. The story builds up nicely and the finale is the gripping & will keep you glued to your seat. What I did not like about the book – and this probably stems from my better-than-average understanding of how Security functions – is the ease with which the hacking attempts seem to be pulled off. In the real world, its never as easy as this, but in the book some of the hacks seem to be executed with such nonchalance that you wonder why you can’t do it yourself if it were so simple.

Still, that trivial observation in no way kept me from enjoying the thriller. Very good.

This is a superlative crime novel that also very sensitively presents the prejudice faced by blacks in the deeply conservative southern states of America as recently as the mid 1900s. In today’s globalised and constantly politically-corrected world, it is hard to imagine the deep racism that was commonplace and widespread in supposedly “cultured” regions of the world. Reality is stated to be often worse than fiction, but reality is also a hard pill to swallow whereas couching the same message in the form of an interesting novel has the double benefit of keeping the reader engrossed while still effectively conveying the impact of the discrimination.

In the Heat of the Night deals with just such treatment faced by Virgil Tibbs, a black man who finds himself booked on a murder charge while waiting to catch a train in the small town of Wells. The cops need someone to pin a recent murder on and he’s the only person out and about in the middle of the night, even if he was only quietly waiting in the “colored” waiting room of the railway station. His skin colour is sufficient conviction for the local cops to pin the murder on him. This idea quickly turns on its head when they realise that he is not only a cop on his way home to California, but that he is also a highly respected homicide investigator. The local cops grudgingly allow him to investigate the murder, a task that Virgil takes up fully aware that he could be the fall guy in case he fails to nab the killer. His job is all the more difficult given the extent of open discrimination he has to put up with, even from the cops themselves. But in the end his quiet efficiency and effective use of tact & diplomacy brings about a change in the attitudes of the people he deals with.

Its easy to forget that what we have here is also a very well framed crime story, one that would be just as captivating even if the chief protagonist were a regular guy. By mixing in the elements of racism & having a lead detective who has to perform with one hand tied behind his back, the author has managed to present a story that goes far beyond what we expect from a regular crime thriller. For those who have felt the sting of racism in any form, this book will evoke some strong memories, but for those that have been lucky enough to have evaded it, In The Heat of the Night can provide a thoughtful insight into a hopefully dying trend while also quenching their thirst for a first-rate mystery.

A must-read book.

the case of the deadly butter chickenVish Puri’s third outing deals with the ugly side of that most gentlemanly of sports – cricket. Vish’s nephew is playing in the new cricket league in India and Vish & his family – mummyji included – are at a high-profile after-dinner match, when the father of one of the players falls over dead. Vish gets involved in this case, much to the chagrin of the official police, who are keen to solve it themselves. Before long, Vish realises the extent of the gambling mafia that has begun to control the game, the high stakes involved and the kind of powerful people who seem to have a finger in the pie. To get to the bottom of the puzzle, Vish has to head out to that most dreaded of all places – Pakistan, the land of the enemy – where a thread begins to unravel that has the potential to not only solve the mystery but also bring out some skeletons tumbling from the Puri family’s history. At the same time, not to be undaunted, his mummyji is on a quest all her own to solve a mystery that’s been haunting her for over half a century.

We have all the familiar characters from the Most Private Investigators’ stable – the seductive Facecream, the resourceful Tubelight, Handbrake the driver and Flush the geek. The canvas of this story stretches across the Indian sub-continent – in India and across the border in Pakistan.

This is the third novel in the series by Tarquin Hall and its every bit as enjoyable as the preceding two. The story line is strong, yet Tarquin manages to keep the writing light, peppering the story with witty anecdotes & side-incidents that make reading this crime novel a very easy weekend read.

We look forward to the next book in the series.

legal briefs - stories by today's best legal thriller writersThis is a collection of legal stories by some very well-known legal writers, including John Grisham, Richard North Patterson and Lisa Scottoline. The collection has been put together by William Bernhardt, himself a known novelist in the genre and who has also contributed a story to this set. The stories have an undercurrent of crime, or rather, aspects of law-breaking which is where the lawyer angle comes in, but this is not a compendium of crime fiction. Instead, some of the stories bring out some of the more human elements of the much-maligned profession, drawing from the reader a range of emotions including that rare one for a lawyer – admiration.

I have always maintained that the short-story genre presents a huge challenge to a writer, to come up with a clever plot that grabs the attention early on and keeps the reader going till the end without him working out the ending until the last page. Most of the stories in this selection achieve that objective very well, making this collection an excellent read for the discerning reader of short stories.

Its hard to pick the best of the lot, but the ones that I really liked include Poetic Justice by Steve Martini, The Client by Richard North Patterson, The Jailhouse Lawyer by Phillip Margolin and Carrying Concealed by Lisa Scottoline. That’s not to say the rest are not nice, but rather that the plot & twist in these stories have been excellently conceived & written.

Very enjoyable selection.

standing in another man's graveHooray! Rebus is back, with his usual irreverent anti-establishment approach. The book opens with him stuck in the cold cases unit, with the only entertainment offered being the opportunity to needle his boss. When a visitor comes with her oft-repeated story of a missing daughter, Rebus is initially not inclined to give it much importance, but when he spots a possible connection with other missing cases, including a recent one, he finds himself once again in the midst of an active investigation, working with his protege Siobhan Clarke who is now a DI. Rebus, as usual, is a misfit in the team, which is made up of a younger crowd working with defined processes & procedures. Rebus is soon off following his hunches, working in the manner that he knows best – close to the ground and using all means to achieve the results. The story gets murkier with the involvement of Rebus’ old nemesis Big Ger Cafferty, with whom we learn that Rebus now has a weekly drink together, a fact that hasn’t escaped the attention of the Complaints team, where Fox makes it his objective to find some real dirt on Rebus and scupper any chances of Rebus’ reapplication to join the force, now that the retirement age has been pushed out.

Rankin keeps the pace fast, the language crisp and Rebus not a shade paler or diluted. The action shifts from Edinburgh to the Highlands & beyond, to the bleak landscapes that perfectly match the mood that we tend to associate with Rebus.

The ending, while it closes the main thread of the story, also leaves enough threads open for Rankin to bring back Rebus in another instalment. We can’t have enough of him!

the all bengali crime detectivesFor a first time crime writer, Suparna Chatterjee gives us a very enjoyable read. Though the book is meant to be read as a crime thriller, let me tell you its only masquerading as one. True, there is a crime that has to be investigated and solved. But the book is more about the daily life of the protagonists – four retired Bengali gentlemen who meet most mornings in a small park in their paara to discuss & indulge in light debates. The author has captured the environment, the ambience and the situation very nicely and expresses it in a manner that makes it very easy to visualise the morning meetings of our ABCD friends. The detection portion happens by chance – a crime happens under the very noses of our friends – and as they discuss & debate it over the new few mornings, their natural inclination to solve the mystery energises them to go beyond mere debate & attempt to solve the problem. Intertwined with the main story are parallel threads, including a (not surprisingly!) buildup to the Durga Puja. The four heroes of our story are well-captured and very believable. The story is well-written, proceeds at a steady pace and while being a little heavy with Bengali terms, is nevertheless a good read.

Considering I was a little disappointed with the first book in the series – Roseanna – but at the same time having enjoyed one of the later books – The Locked Room – this one was to be my decider for continuing with the series (never mind that I’ve already purchased the rest!). So I was really hoping that Martin Beck will not disappoint me this time, mainly because he’s such a down-to-earth character. In that this book was enjoyable. The book was published in 1966 and its important to read it keeping that in mind. Many of the things in this can’t happen in today’s world but its important to remember that the world half a century ago was a very different place.

The Man Who Went Up In Smoke is about a Swedish journalist who disappears on what appears to be a routine trip to Budapest in Hungary. A slightly convoluted reason – again, this perhaps relates to the thinking of that age – sees Martin Beck given the seemingly hopeless task of trying to trace the missing man, a few weeks after the event. He arrives in Budapest with no clue but as he probes into the mystery, he does get somewhere. What he finally uncovers is very different from what he set out to do. But the story doesn’t end there – Martin and his colleagues have to just look at the problem in a different way if he has to work out the truth of the matter.

I liked this one. The story is well-knit and the characters & the storyline is very believable. An enjoyable light thriller.