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Posts Tagged ‘Book review’

Mathematics is either something you hate or something you love – there’s no middle ground about it. Alex Bellos takes us on a fascinating journey to explore the mathematics behind everyday phenomena and things we take for granted. He travels around the world to meet people who are still pushing the boundaries of our understanding of the subject. Along the way he serves us forgotten stories & anecdotes from the world of maths and shares his trove of mathematical treasures for us to enjoy. This book will not make you count any faster – though there are some tips for those too – but it will surely make you sit up and approach with renewed understanding some of the things that we know subconsciously but never bubble up to the conscious surface.

Alex writes very well too, with the right reverance for the topic yet keeping the chapters – which incidentally start from zero – light & entertaining. If you are a maths wizard or someone who routinely cringes at anything more complex than an addition, this book will have some eye-openers for you.

Very good read and must-have in any decent collection.

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Review of H R F Keating’s Inspector Ghote Trusts His Heart

Its hard not to like Inspector Ganesh Ghote of the Bombay CID. He is unlike the traditional picture of a Bombay policeman – he is averse to using force where tact can get him results, he is dogged in his pursuit and at getting the right result and he is a rebel who pursues the criminal for the sake of getting justice done. In this outing, Inspector Ghote is assigned the task of advising a businessman who’s son has been the attempt of a kidnapping. The kidnappers were successful but they ended up with the wrong child – the son of a tailor who does the laundry for the businessman’s household. Ghote’s efforts are directed towards retrieving the child, even if that means initiating a dialogue with the kidnappers & paying part of the ransom, but this goes against the grain of his superior Superintendent Karandikar – the “tiger” of the force – who has been made to oversee the case. The story does drag a bit in the middle, when Mr Desai – the businessman & personal friend of the Commissioner – is made to run around the city trying to pay the kidnappers, but the overall narrative of Ghote going against the instructions of Karandikar to apply his brains in solving the case is a fairly engrossing read. Inspector Ghote’s successful apprehension of the mastermind and the discovery of the kidnapped child, only to find cold water poured over his efforts very quickly by the arrival on the spot of Superintendent Karandikar is typical of how Keating has built up the character of Ghote, someone who is always condemned to remain in the shadows, with his good efforts going unrecognised.

Keating’s series of Inspector Ganesh Ghote is a poignant look at everyday life in this bustling metropolis for an honest policeman, who has to deal not only with criminal elements but also influences from all sides as he strives in his individual effort to maintain justice in the city.

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Review of The Vendor of Sweets by R K Narayan

R K Narayan’s lovely stories set in Malgudi take you back to an age and day far removed from the hectic stress-filled days that we live in. For those of us who have grown up in crowded cities, the idyllic life that Narayan describes is hard to imagine. Equally difficult to picture are the lifestyles of the characters themselves, set in a time when society and being part of a larger social whole set the nature of our activities. R K Narayan captures that atmosphere of mild gloominess yet peaceful living so evocatively in all his books about Malgudi. This one is no different. Jagan is a prosperous sweet vendor who tries to live his life to Gandhian principles. His son Mali is made of different material though and he escapes to America to learn story-writing, returning with a gori wife and a grand scheme to manufacture story-writing machines. It is hard for Jagan to reconcile himself with his son’s activities after he returns and the clash of principles is beautifully captured in this humourous yet sensitive tale.

If you are a fan of R K Narayan or want to know how a large part of India probably was around half a century ago, this is a very good book to read.

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This is classic James Hadley Chase set in an Indian context. Bunch of guys plan a robbery, execute it deftly and then things begin to go wrong & unravel. There is always one fall guy amongst the robbers. Surender Mohan Pathak, who wrote this book, used to be a translator of James Hadley Chase books for the mainstream Hindi-speaking population of North India. From that he graduated to writing Hindi pulp fiction, of which this is the first to be translated into English. To properly enjoy this book, one has to accept that it is pure pulp and that the style of writing doesn’t aspire to be literary. Its then a rather enjoyable light read. Do not expect great morals, do not expect a quality of mystery or detection of the Poirot school, instead just relax and imagine you are watching a Bollywood masala movie. Set the brain aside and you will like this story of a likeable crook getting involved in a robbery, getting double-crossed and how he gets his revenge. James Hadley Chase, set in Delhi and the North Indian environs.

Fun.

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The Nine Billion Names of God is a collection of short stories by one of the masters of SF – Arthur C Clarke. I am an SF addict since childhood, but for reasons I myself don’t understand I’ve only read Isaac Asimov, neglecting all other SF writers in the process. Arthur C Clarke is as great a master in SF as Asimov is, but its only now that I have picked up some of his work for reading. Still, better late than never. The Nine Billion Names of God is a collection of personal favourites by Clarke. It’s a delightful set of stories, with incredible diversity in the setting of the same. SF fans will love this selection. Of the lot, the ones I rank as must-read would be the title story The Nine Billion Names of God set in a Tibetan monastery, Trouble With Time which is a detective story extending the concept of the International Date Line into space, Rescue Party set eons in the future when our Sun would go nova, Hide and Seek which is a lovely spy-tale, No Morning After which is a humourous story about the end of the world, Who’s There which is another light story on unforeseen stowaways in a space-ship,  Superiority – about one-upmanship at a galactic scale, The Reluctant Orchid & Patent Pending – two stories set in the White Hart pub and The Sentinel which was the precursor to 2001 A Space Odyssey. I am now hooked on stories by Clarke and I guess I will now start trawling around to see if I can lay my hands on any more of his short story collections.

In short, this is an excellent collection, a must-read for all SF fans.

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Review of Cop Hater, by Ed McBain

If you like the no-nonsense thriller-cum-murder type of stories set in a typical American city, then you’ll love this edition of the 87th Precinct series by Ed McBain. This is the first book by that author and its not the recommended one either, but if this is anything to go by then I look forward to others from the series.

The story is set in a typical American city, where detectives from the 87th Precinct have the responsibility to investigate a range of crimes. Detective Steve Carella has two murders on his hands, both of them fellow detectives who seem to have been gunned down with no apparent reason. There are no clear clues or leads, as Steve & his partner Hank Bush try to figure out who’s behind the killings before the next person goes down. A heat wave that is making life a misery adds to the frayed tempers around, as does a nosey journalist who almost upsets the uneasy truce between the city’s gangs & the police.

Ed McBain writes well. Cop Hater is an afternoon’s entertaining read, not too long but not too short either. I liked the way the story ends too, nice and clean, no loose ends left.
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Double Indemnity, by James M Cain

This book has a simple story-line – insurance investigator comes across a femme fatale, falls in love and works up a get-rich-quick scheme which involves killing the lady’s husband. But the magic is in Cain’s writing, as he builds the story in his inimicable style. The book has a good pace and there are no unnecessary deviations or sidelines. The character buildup is excellent, the atmosphere can be felt in the writing and the settings are very believable.

Walter Huff is an insurance investigator, who meets the beautiful Phyllis Nirdingler and falls in love. The two then conspire to kill her husband in such a manner that Phyllis can use the double indemnity clause in her husband’s accident insurance to claim double the usual insurance amount. As with all such plans, things begin to unravel slowly but surely, in ways that the well-planned Huff never anticipated.

Enjoyable though this book is in its own right, it still doesn’t have the raw thrill and evil of The Postman Always Rings Twice. Its there at the beginning but as we come towards the rather tame ending, I was left feeling just that wee bit disappointed.

Still, its a classic and one that can actually be enjoyed in a single setting. For those who like their thrillers fast-paced yet with that touch of reality, this is a good one.

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