Center Court

I am not a sports enthusiast. There was a phase when I got in Sports enthusiasts. For those 4-5 years, I used to ardently compile a cricket scrap book full of pictures and all statistics of almost all the major active players. At that time I would watch all the major tennis grand slam matches as well as major international soccer tournaments. This phase came suddenly and went suddenly. Books have been my true love before and have continued to be even after that phase. As far as playing sports goes, the only way I scored runs was by distracting the bowler to laughter with my amusing stance. If humor was my signature in cricket, violence was my signature in football. Whether I got the ball or not, I would definitely get the player. Such has been my harrowing experience with sports. So I am hardly the right reader for a sports novel. But since Sriram is a good friend on virtual communities and his previous book "Rain" was pretty decent, I ended up picking this one as well. And what a book this turned out to be! A complete page turner! A theme that does not interest me at all and main characters who are not at all like me. Yet the story hooked me from page 1 and kept me hooked till the last page.

Right plot, right characters, right language, right narration - this book has it all. The main characters are Shankar Mahadevan, India's top Tennis player, the first one to ever hold a chance at a Grand Slam. The venue is Wimbledon, the Mecca of Tennis. Shankar's father and coach form the main supporting cast. The story flows seamlessly taking the reader from match to match as Shankar makes his way through the 7 rounds of the tournament with the interval between each match interspersed with Shankar's back story, his social life, tit bits about Tennis history and the author's general philosophy about life. The author has managed to blend all of this elements very well and the reader's interest does not sag for a moment. There is quite a lot of drama going on both on court and off court. The notorious paparazzi  seeking sensational news, the corrupt sports federations, girl friends form the off field drama. Each player, each match is so different from the other - one player is a cheat, one player is a genius, one an ambitious upstart, one a complete jerk to name a few.

The author also manages to share his philosophy and impress on the reader his view of sports as an art form. He also manages to show us his vision for sports in the country. That was the story is not just entertainment - there is a message as well. The ending was also very good. After all the start I feared the author will wind up the story to a tame end. Luckily he did nothing of that sort.

I guess no review is complete without nitpicking somewhere and finding some flaw. So here goes - I felt probably the voice of the father and the voice of the son both seemed similar in some places. They did not seem distinct enough. Sometimes it felt as if Sriram himself was launching into a monologue of sorts that his friends on social media and probably in real life as well are used to.

Overall, a fantastic read that I would strongly recommend to just about anyone.

The Alphabet Killer - a review

Detective stories tend to follow a regular pattern - a crime, an interesting investigator, clues, investigation and final apprehension of the criminal. Now the way each author makes their work unique is through adding special elements to one or more of these elements. Say an unique crime not committed before. For example a person killed without any signs of violence or money just disappearing from a safe without it being tampered in any way. This is like magic. The story is about demystification of the magic. The crime may also be interesting in a different sense that it is a reflection of some aspect of society. The next is the investigator. We have Sherlock Holmes, a relentless scientist who treats a crime like a Mathematical problem, Poirot, a relaxed unassuming gentleman who contemplates his way through or Father Brown, who looks like a dumb priest but takes everyone by surprise by the intellect he hides beneath is exterior. Then we have the clues. It is somewhat related to crime. What does one make of steps that go one way but no return steps. What does one make of victim's hair and nails being scraped off. Then last but not the least the whole investigation procedure. In some cases, it can be a very technically intense pursuit, giving reader insights on how real crime agencies work. Then there is a pursuit of a psychological trail. There is also piecing together various facts like solving a puzzle. And last but not the least, a hulk like investigator who bashes his way through problems. In some of the stories, the criminal becomes the object of interest, either due to their intellect, their brutality or their motives which win reader's sympathy. Then there is this whole tone of narrative and the mood it creates - it can be philosophical, poetic, humorous, Gothic horror to name a few.  So in appreciating a crime novel I would try to look at these elements.

So coming to "The Alphabet Killer" by Prachi Sharma, the most interesting elements are the investigator and the social aspects of the crime. The main investigator is Mia Santos is a strong woman like a bull in a China shop, who has strong views and can go to any extent to uphold her view. She is human with human frailties, passionate about feminism, dedicated to a cause and given to quick anger. Despite being a strong feminist, she does not suffer from monomania and wants to enjoy life as well which probably will make readers relate to her. The opening scene introduces her nicely with a scene where she beats up a bunch of potential rapists. She also has a history about which hints are dropped initially and are unraveled fully towards the end. That is probably the most interesting aspect of the story.

As far as social aspects go, this book focuses on crime against women and the challenges faced by those fighting for feminist causes. It also focuses on social stigma faced by women who are victims of sexual abuse. The author also keeping with the asks of the modern times creates main characters who are not sexually prudish.

The author shows good amount of competence with language and the book has been copy edited and proof read. However the narration is neutral and does not attempt to create a mood or evoke strong emotions. The plot as such is straightforward. Regular readers of crime would find the character of the criminal, the way he commits the crime and his motives quite familiar. The investigation as such is also pretty straightforward - regular things such as footprints and video footage. There is also an element of romance in the story. I guess that should appeal to the population who love to read romance genre.

Overall it is pretty breezy read and a decent one time read for people who like crime genre and are looking for something in contemporary Indian settings. 

For whom the bell tolls

A book of faces