Sesishi Yokomizo's The Inugami Curse

 

Thanks to the overnight success of the English Translations of kiego Higashino, many forgotten classics from Japanese Mystery have started finding their way to global readers. The efforts of  Pushkin Vertigo in reviving many of the forgotten Japanese classic murder mysteries and presenting them to bibliophiles worldwide are also worth mentioning.

Since this one is a mystery, and I don't wish to spoil the fun for those who are yet to read it, I am not going much into the plot details. But if you ask me to brief a bit, here it is- The story is set in the 40 s, the wealthy head of the Inugami clan has just died, and his family is eagerly waiting for the reading of his will. But a series of bizarre, graphic murders ensue, and how these all are connected with Inugami's will and his past is what the Novel is about.

Though this work is almost 82+ years old, it has to be noted that it hasn't become outdated. The twists and turns feel fresh, and not even during the narrative can the reader feel that the whole story is happening in an era where mobile phones and modern gizmos were unheard of. It is also recalled that even though this work was written a long time ago, that hasn't given way to any jarring plotholes in the narrative. Though I have had this book with me for almost a year now, I had so far refrained from picking it up to read as I had anticipated this one to be a confusing mystery. Still, I am glad this one ended up as a pretty straightforward, engaging Mystery for me. Special thanks to the Publishers for including the character list upfront so those who might find it difficult to follow the character names can use this as a ready reckoner. The translation is quite good, and special mention the efforts taken by Yumiko Yamazaki for making this an enjoyable read for present-day readers. The backdrop of the War and Japanese tradition also comes across nicely in the Novel.

On the downside, I found the climax revelation slightly underwhelming. Agreed, all the loose ends have been tied up, but still, the villain's identity didn't come as a shocker to me.

Overall, The Inugami Curse by Seishi Yokomizo, Published by Pushkin Vertigo, is engaging. If you love Mystery thrillers, you should try this one.

-nikhimenon

 


Regional: A.K by Amith Kumar

 

Despite Financial Thrillers being a sensation globally, not many authors from India have tried this exciting sub-genre. Though Ravi Subramanian and Ashwin Sanghi are notable exceptions, it is ironic that not many present-day authors have attempted anything related to financial fraud. This becomes more startling, considering that some of the present-day best-selling authors have a professional background in the Banking field. Ashish Ben Ajay's first two Novels had a banker as their protagonist, but I believe it is unfair to call them financial thrillers as corporate/financial frauds were not precisely the core plot points in either of them.

A.K, written by Amith Kumar and published by Logos books, aspires to be a legitimate banking thriller and depicts two significant episodes in the life of A.K and his deputy H.M. They work in the financial fraud investigation division of a Corporate Bank. A large-scale Gold Loan fraud has happened in one of the branches of the Bank, and the duo is sent there to investigate the matter and find a solution so that the Bank doesn't have to solicit the services of the Police. How they go about it and whether they manage to pin down the fraudsters is what the Novel is all about.

Coming to the positives, as mentioned before, this one is perhaps the most legitimate financial thriller to have come out in Malayalam in recent times. The narrative is smooth and gripping, and the writer has smartly avoided most cliches usually associated with the genre. This is no murder investigation to begin with (though something is happening towards the fag end of the story), and this alone adds to the freshness in the story. The setting feels fresh and relatable, and Amith Kumar has successfully included many interesting tidbits about the banking sector in the story. Twists and turns happen at regular intervals, and the book's tone also suits the genre. Though a significant portion of the book occurs in a closed setting with serial interrogations and the accompanying leads, the writer has managed to make the proceedings racy to a large extent. A.K. and H.M. come across as Holmes & Watson clones in a corporate bank setting. The occasional banter they indulge in (mainly concerning food and a few fellow characters) tries to make the proceedings light.

On the downside, one major issue I found with the book is the bland language and the overuse of local slang in the main text (nondialogue portions). Typos, grammatical errors, and incorrect usage of words are plenty and some of the dialogues that are supposed to sound 'heroic' end up cringe-worthy! The occasional attempts at humor and world play (including the one involving the protagonist's name, quite early on in the story) also fall flat and feel unnecessary. Also, I thought the dialogue mouthed by the principal characters could have been significantly improved. Though the writer has smartly tried to justify A.K.'s inability to speak in 'sanitised Malayalam' towards the Novel's closing pages, the inconsistent slang and the pointless cuss words he used don't gel well with the intended characterization of the protagonist. The introductory scene meant to establish A.K.'s intelligence and cunningness also fails to achieve the desired effect, as a large portion of the 'solution' seems to have happened by chance!

On the whole, A.K does have its flaws, but it is genuinely a decent read and deserves mention for trying out a sub-genre that hasn't been explored that much in the recent Malayalam Popular Fiction space in recent times!

-nikhimenon


The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins

 

Though this one had been on my wishlist for quite a long time, I had almost refrained from picking it up as I had almost thought this one was a parody novel. The title sounded quite similar to another International Best Seller (The Family Upstairs- Lisa Jewell), and the author also seemed like the namesake of another Best Selling Author (Paula Hawkins). But a little bit of googling told me that the author is already a known name in young adult paranormal romance, and it’s just that this particular title is her debut work in adult fiction.

Set in Birmingham, Alabama, and narrated from multiple perspectives, The Wife Upstairs is the story of Jane, a broke, small-town girl with a past who is now a dog walker in an upscale neighborhood. She chances upon Eddie, the rich widowed millionaire, and love blossoms between the two, and Jane cannot believe her luck when she proposes to her. Bea, Eddie’s first wife, had died in a tragic boat accident with her best friend Blanche a couple of months ago while they were on a girl’s out during the weekend. But pretty soon, Jane realizes that it had all been a farce and Eddie might have had something to do with their death. So, is she in real danger?

Besides Jane, Eddie and Bea, there are only a few characters in this 250+ pages Novel. We have Tripp, Blanche’s drunkard husband; Emelie and Co- the posh, rich, gossipy wives in the neighborhood whom Jane befriends; John, Jane’s former tenant and who is nothing but a creep and the Detective who turns up with strange questions just before each significant plot twist. None of the characters are likable, and ironically, I could feel a little bit of sympathy for Trip Ingram, who is portrayed as a drunkard and a perpetual nuisance in the neighborhood.

Though pretty generic, the book is well-paced, and the multiple narrative technique has come out quite well. Hawkins has managed to retain the suspense for a larger part of the narrative with limited characters. The twists though a few, are done decently, but I must confess that I had figured out the final reveal (which was also a bit underwhelming) before the author intended it. Though the writer has tried to portray Jane as someone with a dark past, by the time this supposedly ‘dark past’ is revealed, you can’t stop asking what the big deal was about it all, though! But having said that, I liked how Hawkins drew parallels between Bea and Jane. The climax also felt abrupt, and the author seemed unconvinced to take sides.

On the whole, The Wife Upstairs is an average thriller. It’s nothing extraordinary, but not bad, either!

-nikhimenon


Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney

 

Alice Feeney's Rock Paper Scissors is one of the few genuine thrillers I have read for a long time.

Adam and Amelia are spending the weekend in the Scottish Highlands. Adam is a successful screenwriter, and Amelia is his wife. The remote location is perfect for what they have planned. But can they trust each other?

Though none of the protagonists, be it Adam or Amelia, are likable characters, I think the author is justified as he has made up for it with the twists which happen towards the climax and explains why they are written the way they are.

As mentioned earlier, though there are only a handful of characters in this 300+ page-long thriller, the author gets full marks for making this one genuinely entertaining with the suspense intact. There are a couple of killer twists she has reserved for the climax, and the moment you think that you have figured it out, Feeney pulls the rug under your feet with yet another killer twist. The tail end portion with a tinge of horror is also dealt with nicely.

Coming to the characters, though there are only a few, it's the character of Henry Winter, the best-selling writer, who gets the reader's sympathy. Though in the initial portions, he appears to be a self-centered man who is full of himself, how the character gets revealed towards the climatic parts of the book blew me away. I think Robin, the hermit, also evokes similar feelings in the mind of the readers. Though she comes across as a lady with evil intentions, initially, you start rooting for her once the mystery about her is revealed. Though some of her actions are genuinely questionable, it doesn't matter as the author has managed to make her convincing to a more significant part of the narrative. The writing is fast-paced and is peppered with twists at regular intervals. Full credit goes to the writer for getting the atmosphere right. The Scottish Highlands, the converted Chapel, and the setting have come across well and set the Novel's mood right from the beginning.

On the downside, some of the great reveals were a bit contrived. The mystery around the disappearance of an internationally acclaimed best-selling author like Henry Winter was pretty hard to digest. Though Feeney has tried to make it sound convincing by making him an introvert and hermit, the supposedly shocking twist surrounding him became a cropper just because it appeared silly and illogical.

On the whole, this one is an entertaining read.

-nikhimenon

 


Harlan Coben's Win

Harlan Coben's runaway success was with the Myron Bolitar Series, which first came out in the mid-nineties. Myron Bolitar, the handsome former Basket Ball Player and superstar sports agent, is now 11 books old. Bolitar's partner and accomplice, Windsor Horne Lockwood III, the eccentric, philandering Millionaire, gets his first stand-alone Novel in Win.

On Newyork's Upper West Side, a hermit is found murdered. The investigating officers have yet to find his identity,but Windor Horne Lockwood (Win) is called to the crime scene, as some of the articles the victim left behind seem to have a personal connection with him. Pretty soon, Win figures out that the crime has a connection with not only him but also his cousin, Patricia. With so much at stake, including his family's reputation and personal fortune, Win decides to solve the mystery in this fast-paced thriller.

True to his style, Coben has delivered a solid thriller with Win. The plot twists keep coming at regular intervals, and there is never a dull moment in this 400+ page long Novel. The fans of the Myron Bolitar series will definitely enjoy reading more about their favorite sidekick's adventures. Those who regularly follow the series might recall that Windsor Lockwood III has always been an anti-hero who doesn't hesitate to give a punch, even at the cost of being politically incorrect. Full credit goes to the writer for not diluting his character trait to make him a bit more likable, as he is the protagonist here. You get Win, as he is! In the intro sequence (with that terrific scene at Indianapolis Lucas Oil Stadium), Coben establishes his protagonist and his ways with great success.

As mentioned before, this one is a genuine page-turner, and as the secrets of the Windsor Family are revealed one by one, the reader is also aghast along with Win. The climax is also brilliantly done with all the loose ends getting tied up. The supporting characters in the Novel are also etched out well.

On the downside, the pace slackens towards the middle of the story, and some cliffhangers didn't work that well for me.

On the whole, this one is a paisa vasool thriller which is racy and entertaining.

-nikhimenon


 

Ultrashort Book Review: Death of the Eyes by Pallichal Rajamohanan

 

This one is a classic case of gimmicks spoiling the readability of a book. This is a thriller about a girl getting abducted , the investigation that ensues, and what happens eventually. But with a bland narrative, plastic characters, and a gimmicky find your clue at the end of each chapter trope which seriously hampers the readability and relegates the whole proceedings as a childish attempt, this supposed crime thriller ends up as an epic misfire. The cheesy title, which apparently refers to the villain's evil intentions, refers to Eyes and not Ice! (In fact, I figured this out only when I had a second look at the tagline after finishing with the book)

I had a hard time finishing this one; maybe you might enjoy this one if your idea of a crime thriller  is cracking a ‘ Sheruvinu Vazhikaattuka’ kind of activity at the end of each chapter!

Skip this one!

-nikhimenon


Book Review: The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley

 

When your previous work is a Global Best Seller, you are likely to get confused when you are about to start with your follow-up Novel. On the one hand, there will be tremendous pressure to churn out something similar to your previous work so that Your fans don’t get disappointed. At the same time, the creator in you might constantly be nudging you to try out something drastically different. This constant tussle can put you into a tricky conundrum. Lucy Foley, the author of last year’s global hit, ‘Guest List,’ is back with her follow-up work,’ The Paris Apartment.’ When I picked up this Novel, I had kept my expectations considerably low as the previous experience with another follow-up Novel was still fresh in my mind (The Maidens). 

So, has Foley given us a decent enough thriller after her global success? Though this blog post is going to be strictly about that, for those readers out there with limited patience to go through this long post, here is my take- the author has succeeded in finding the right balance between retaining the flavor of her previous smash hit and, bestowing a distinct identity, for her follow-up work in  ‘The Paris Apartment.’

Told from multiple perspectives, ‘The Paris Apartment’ might not be entirely fresh, but it is undoubtedly an entertaining read. As the title suggests, the setting is an upmarket Apartment in Paris. We are introduced to Jess, who came to Paris from London for a fresh start. She is half-sister of Ben, who had recently moved in here on the persuasion of his childhood friend, Nick. Jess has had some run-ins with the law in her home country, and she has moved to Paris to start a new life here with the help of her half-brother. But when she reaches her brother’s rented Apartment, she is aghast to find that he has suddenly gone missing but not before leaving clues in the form of a WhatsApp voice message. The other inhabitants of the swanky Apartment, except for Ben’s old friend Nick, seem unwelcomed by her presence, and pretty soon, she discovers that each one of them is hiding skeletons in their closet. What happened to Ben and how Jess manages to solve the mystery is all this Novel is about. Old Love, Family Secrets, and a Past Crime catch up in this page-turner.

The plot structure and the narrative style of Paris Apartment are pretty much similar to Guest List. We have a host of characters in a closed setting, and the story is told from multiple perspectives. Right from the beginning, the reader feels that something sinister has happened somewhere but just as in ‘Guest List’ till the Novel reaches its third act, the author cleverly conceals the ‘who’ and ‘what’ of the central suspense. The chapters are short, but the detailing is apt, with the reader getting a vivid description of Paris and the posh Apartment where the story unravels. I liked how each incident is narrated from different perspectives and how the author has tried to build anticipation. Agreed, some of the cliffhanger endings fall flat, and the reader rightly feels cheated when the ‘other side is unfolded in the very next chapter.

One major issue I have with the book is that the core suspense in the tale is not that fresh, and if you are a genuine fan of this genre, there is a high chance that you figured it out much before the author intended it! Also, some of the attempts by the author to pull off thrills fall flat. Most initial chapters had (silly) red herrings, which were annoying after a point. Common, what is the point in creating so much drama in each chapter when you already know that nothing much is going to happen in the very next chapter? Ben, Jess, Concierge, Sophie, Antonie, and Mimi are some of the other characters in the story, and none of them, including the protagonist, are likable, to be honest. Infact Jess also behaves in a pretty idiotic manner at times. Also, towards the climax, the author seems confused about the choice of ‘villains’ in her story!

Overall, The Paris Apartment is a fast-paced but passeable thriller. It’s not bad, but not that great either!

-nikhimenon

Book Review: Nameless Malayalam Cinematic Thriller by a Debutant Author

 


(I am masking the name of the book and the author as I don’t want to hurt the sentiments of any)

The other day, I had the misfortune of reading this so-called thriller by a debutant author. The plot is somewhat like this- random men across the state are being targeted by a mysterious lady who seems to be someone settled abroad. The lady has got a strange modus operandi – she fakes love and, in the pretext of having a rendezvous, gets these men to board a car and reach her place of stay. The bodies start piling up pretty soon, and the investigation team is on the run to find the Killer.

With a pretty generic plot setting up the tone for this supposedly cinematic mystery thriller, the least you expect are a couple of exciting twists and turns which can hook you onto the proceedings. But writing with absolutely zero conviction and subpar narrative coherence, this one turns out to be one epic mess and ends up a complete waste of your time and money.

Now, picture this. This one is a mystery thriller, and the principal investigating officer mouths this gem of dialogue towards the last page of this novel (when he is asked by another character how he managed to catch the Killer)-

ഇതൊക്കെ എങ്ങനെ കണ്ടെത്തി ______? (how did you manage to capture the Killer?)

അതൊന്നും എനിക്കും അറിയില്ല സർ . എങ്ങനെയോ കണ്ടെത്തി എന്ന് വേണം പറയാൻ !” (I don’t know sir, I found out somehow!)

The characters in this wannabe thriller are equally dumb and outright stupid. The supposedly evil men are so dumb that they are even willing to get into the car and proceed to some unknown destination on the persuasion of some random males with the sole hope of hooking up with their secret lover! The lesser said about the basic plot, the better it is. The entire revelation and the backstory preceding it would have made for a blockbuster had it come out a good 50 years back!

At 112 pages, this one is an epic misfire! Replete with grammatical, typesetting, formatting, and punctuation errors and giving scant regard to the time and money  spent by the average reader, books like this serve no one. And, I honestly don’t believe we are doing a favor to the language or the habit of reading in general by encouraging efforts like this!

Pathetic, to say the least!

-nikhimenon

Ultra Short Review: Harlan Coben's 'Missing You'


 ‘Missing You’ is a stand alone Novel by Harlan Coben which first came out almost eight years back. The protagonist, Kat Donovan is a forty something NYPD detective who has a past. She had to call off her engagement with Jeff, the love of her life almost eighteen years back. Now, she stumbles across his profile in an online dating site only to find out that he is no longer interested in her.

In a parallel track, in the quest to find out the truth behind her father’s homicide, she gets to know that someone very close to her might have had a role to play in his death. As she is battling her own demons, she gets a call from a troubled teenager asking for help. His mother has suddenly disappeared with a man whom he thinks is a scamster. How Kat finds out the mystery behind all these seemingly disconnected events and how it impscts her otherwise troubled life is all this book is about.

Like Coben’s other stand alone works, Missing You is also an absolute page turner. There are twists happening at regular intervals and the moment you think that you have figured it out all, the master story teller pulls the rug from under your feet. The characters are real and relatable and I liked the gentle references to Windsor Lockwood somewhere in the narrative. Kat Donovan is a likeable character and her ambitions and apprehensions feels genuine. The track involving the scamsters was also decently done.

On the whole, Missing You is an intriguing thriller.  

-nikhimenon

Mini Book Review: the Woods by Harlan Coben

 

Harlan Coben is one writer who comes to my rescue whenever I face some reader’s block. So far, his books have been safe bets for me; fast-paced and entertaining! So, when I picked up his 2007 stand-alone thriller (which has also been made as a Netflix series), ‘The Woods,’ I was expecting nothing short of a paisa vasool racy thriller. Did it succeed in entertaining me? Well, read on.

Paul Copeland is a Public Attorney. Almost two decades back, four teenagers and his sister went missing in the woods of a Summer Camp. Paul is raising his daughter alone after the death of his wife. But then a body is found, and the well-buried secrets of the past come back haunting. Is the victim that of the man as claimed by the Police, or has it got something to do with Paul’s history?

At 450+ pages, this one is quite a lengthy read. Though there are many characters, none except the protagonist Paul and his old flame, Lucy, register. A couple of sub-plots involving Paul’s family(his dead wife, sister-in-law, and parents) and KGB (it might have been relevant when this book was first released almost two decades back, though!) are there, which are speed breakers at best!

I was disappointed with this novel by Harlan Coben. Agreed, this is one of his earlier stand-alone works(and a best-seller at the time of its release), and he has since churned out reasonably pacy and twisty thrillers. But to be very frank, this one falls way off the mark, be it in the thrill quotient or the pacing. The book has pacing issues. After a reasonably good start, the plot drags on and on with avoidable scenes and boring dialogues. The subplot around the court trial was interesting initially, but it turned pointless and bland after a point. The innumerable characters in the form of Lorraine and Raya Singh didn’t serve much of a purpose rather than adding pages and pages of dull prose to the narrative.

The novel does pick up pace towards the end with a couple of decent twists and reveals, but by then, I almost got exhausted and stopped caring about what was going on!

On the whole, I am giving a 2.5 out of 5 for this one!

 -nikhimenon


Stephen King's ' The Colorado King'

 

Colorado Kid is a Stephen King Novel that first came out in 2004 and has been out of print for the last decade. Published under the Hard Case Crime imprint by Winterfall LLC (in association with Titan Books), this one is a fast-paced mystery read which can be devoured in one sitting.

On an island off the coast of Maine, a man is found dead. Though seemingly a case of choking, there is no body identification, and the local investigators never cared much about the case either. A pair of local newspaper journalists and a graduate of Forensic Science take up the investigation and try to find out the truth behind the death.

This Stephen King Novel works to a considerable extent as a neatly written mystery. Colorado Kid is not your conventional police procedural, as the focus here is mainly on the identity of the victim and the reason for his mysterious appearance on Maine Island. The interactions between the principal characters, I believe, are the highlight of this book. Though a mystery thriller, the writer gets due credit for not making this too dark. Written in a light-hearted tone, the novel also takes a satirical look at the tabloid culture and police apathy. The book also has underlying themes of discrimination, high-handedness of investigators, investigative journalism, tabloid culture, and life in the 80 s. I liked how the author managed to throw little clues at regular intervals  (the pack of cigarettes with the stamp, the Russian Coin ), slowly unraveling the mystery. The climax is also decently done.

On the downside, the book takes its own sweet little time to arrive at the main plot as the initial pages are mostly spent introducing to the readers the news staff of The Weekly Islander and their new intern Stephanie and her deduction skills. As mentioned earlier, the initial few pages feel a bit off as a lot of time is spent establishing the setting. Also, there might be mixed feelings for those looking for a straight forward climax.

This new edition published in 2019 is also an illustrated one, and I must say that it did help in making it an enjoyable reading experience.

The fans of the author would relish this one!

-nikhimenon

 


Sesishi Yokomizo's The Inugami Curse

  Thanks to the overnight success of the English Translations of kiego Higashino, many forgotten classics from Japanese Mystery have started...