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Books

Top Of The Heap: Blue Light Yokohoma

It’s always a good feeling to keep notes and forget about them for a while.

Only after reading Nicolas Obregon’s Blue Light Yokohama, which I thought I had discovered after weeks of lurking on crime fiction blogs, only to be amazed to find an earlier to-read list with the same title.
In that way, what I am seeking is something I already have?
Tokyo is a million cities. You ever wonder if some of those cities are good and some are bad?”
I love cities, it is something we need to be proud of; somewhere that encourages and allows everyone to be together yet different.
Blue Light Yokohama is a moody Tokyo city novel central to which is a provincial-obsessive detective Iwata.

Kosuke Iwata is fighting against second hand treatment, treacherous team mates,corruption, insane cultists, the Yakuza and more importantly himself to stop the ‘black sun’ serial killer.

I know there are a lot of self-absorbed detectives in crime fiction; maybe this is a recency effect but I have not read anyone as angry as Kosuke Iwata and the pages bleed with his pain and to know that the second Iwata novel has already released puts an expectant smile on my face.
The praiseworthy prose demands multiple note taking. Sample : ” He is happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home”
Detectives are seekers and a detective novel has more scope to explore philosophy through ruminations that pop-up in the detective’s head and Obregon does this at points that elevate the novel much above a ‘follow-the-threads’ serial killer story, which begins with an unspeakable killing of an entire family.
Dreams & reality intercut in ways that made me feel Iwata’s fever.

Yes, this is that kind of a novel where slipping into the detective is the best option.

Along the way, Iwata is given advice, thrown out of service, double crossed and of course bashed to near death; as I said best way to get this heightened experience is to be Iwata for the length of the novel.

The fact that this is Nicolas Obregon’s first novel itself gives me sleepless nights. A twisted-cracker of a novel, the one that ended a short phase of my reading drought and possibly one of the best I’ve read this year.
Oh yes and people speak to Iwata like ‘ I think you are the type of person who will disappoint yourself before you let life disappoint you’
Very relateable.
Over to the next one.
Categories
Books

Top Of The Heap: The Man Who Went Up In Smoke

Some critic has quipped on one of the Beck novels as follows  “pick up the books, block out a week, lie to your boss, stay in bed and finish the series”.

Normally critic-quips are for the show, but this time I tend to agree.

The Martin Beck novels are the written record of “this is what police work looks like” or as we say in this part of the world “Idhu Dan Da Police”.

A far- cry from the constructed problems that has come to dominate the crime novels or the detective story. Inspector Beck from Stokholm Homicide is no Hercule Poirot, but very much a working man(a character in the novel calls police-work a curse); who is met with walls of problems with every turn.

Sample this from the words of the inspector himself about this case:” Unpleasant. Very unpleasant. Singularly unpleasant. Damned unpleasant. Blasted unpleasant. Almost painfully so.” The disappearance of a person is not a problem for a gentleman detective to solve but a genuine human tragedy.

In their second outing, authors Sjowall and Wahloo send Martin Beck to Budapest to trace a Swedish journalist Alf Matsson who has literally disappeared into thin air. It is said that this writing couple alternate chapters and sometime even paragraphs between themselves, but I was unable to tell the difference.

Shady characters populate Budapest as Beck tries to make sense of what is happening to this case, while he should be vacationing with family on an isolated island and he knows only one thing, that this case cannot be solved alone. Yes, this is a summer holiday book and somehow I took it up at the right moment.

Even at 200 odd pages, the authors are able to convey a world of detail and observation only proves that words, like bullets, only work when used judiciously.

Oh, just realized that the title of this book is a wicked pun. So good these Swedes!

Do check out their Edgar Award winning novel “The Laughing Policeman”

 Top of the heap is an occasional column on books

 

Categories
Books

Without A Clue: Five Little Pigs

The title here slyly refers to the fact that this writer has little or no clue about writing about books, the title also miraculously achieves in telling something about Christie’s enduring detective Poirot: who literally solves the case without a clue.

Readers who sink into the detective novel expecting it to be a puzzle that needs solving would find all the elements that Christie usually puts in, few over enthusiastic readers might even guess before the ending.

But I think Five Little Pigs is much more than the classic crime novel, yes it does involve a murder and a list of suspects, each of whom with many an intention to commit and of course a meticulous detective looking for clues. Only there isn’t one because the murder happened decades ago.

This conceit is hardly new and adds to the ‘puzzle’ nature of the novel; but I see it as a statement that a crime novel by itself is not about the crime but about people.

Let’s also get it out of the way that Christie wrote this during the height of human emotions: the second world war and makes not even a passing reference to it, the murder happens of course in the method of her choice: poisoning.

Playing ‘what’s your poison?’ with Christie would have been difficult, she had so many favorites, in Five Little Pigs it is coniine.

Maybe the oppression of the time is manifested in the deeply oppressed relationships that the characters share among themselves.

Returning to the ‘puzzle’ nature of the mystery novel which treats characters as clues or just things with name and a coat (Christie herself has been accused of not treating her characters with character), in contrast she creates the strongest set of female characters in FLP.

Women who are not afraid to speak out, women who realize that they are being played and willing to play, willing to kill for another and ultimately prove that they are the better race on earth by taking the fall in sacrifice.

Yes this is Hercule Poirot novel only, and he is tasked with piecing together the narratives, something like a Virumandi or Rashomon; a unique feature of the novel for which it is also remembered.

Christie also usually makes up for the lack of emotions in her character with the persona of Poirot, something again that doesn’t happen in this novel.

Here is more of an observer, not a resolver. Hence a novel, not a puzzle.

Fin.

Categories
Books fiction

WHERE HAVE ALL THE DETECTIVES GONE?

INVOCATION

If I do not write this now, then someone will write it in the future and they will write it badly

PART ONE

The sun appeared untiring, relentless and omnipresent, the topic of discussion for today and every day and days to come. The heat dried up everything making the men and women forget the feeling of wetness. As lips dried and tongues could no longer help, the people turned to the minds of the poets, but alas; they could find no help there too. The word bank of the poets were empty, their brains too had become dry like cloth sold for cleaning computer screens, their imagination centred on the looming presence of Surya, the sun god.

An enterprising and unimaginative writer had just brought out a series called The Battle against the Sun. Since it was predictable, the comic made a modest profit and found some ardent collectors too.

One of them was Kuresan, he was currently trying to get any word on the monsoon; in his hands were the last two copies of ‘The battle against the Sun”. The penultimate issue was called the Final Recruitment: Battle Cry. These very words were written in ghostly yellow lettering making the reader wonder if ever a war against the sun could be won in reality.

As Kuresan passed a high window, little did he know that final touches on a novel called “Come December, my love, my rain” was being made, the novel would be quite useful in plot development in the future, but we leave it right now.

“Hail Kuresa!” called out one college student from a corner shop where a bunch of them had remained to waste away the remainder of their wasted lives, usually Kuresa used to take offense to these trouble mongers, but being senior to them gave him the look of maturity, if not maturity itself. He passed on without smile or frown.

The corner shop did not have any corners, as in, it was curved and its name by now you would have guessed would have come from the fact that it was in the corner and was run by an non local-ite, apart from stacking locally sourced high on oil highway snacks, the corner shop also sold ‘asli-tea’.

The corner shop also had a thick ledger which was neatly divided into two “College Guys Accounts” and “Jobseekers Accounts”, needless to say and still we would like to say that your name will ultimately gravitate from College Guy Account to Jobseekers Account section without much trouble (unless of your own academic doing or should we say undoing).

Kuresan used to have a Jobseekers Account with dues running up to the higher hundreds, but he then realised that no one will be giving him a job and he will have to make one for himself.

“Novelist” he came and said to owner.

The owner in spite of being a small time trader was also a learned man and he realised that as a novelist Kuresan would never be able to settle his dues in the coming hundred years or so. So he decided to be pragmatic and forced Kuresan to close his account.

This might partly be the reason as to why Kuresan did not stop at the corner shop.

No one can really say what the true reason is, but we cannot rule out some possibilities as well.

As Kuresan reached the Kanchipuram Gazette office, the three storeyed building built in 1832 by Sir Roland Dash, no one knew what the last name of Sir Roland was, but the reason for this however was singular. The commemorative plaque detailing the name and effort of the builders had been chipped exactly at the point where Sir Roland’s family name was etched in stone. This reason for this chipping activity is unknown, mostly miscreants with difficult ideologies.

Since the time of the British the building was called Sir Roland Dash buildings as they knew there had to be a surname and substituted it with Dash. Over the years it was called the Dash and with the help of the tongue of local rickshaw pullers, it is now called just Das.

Uninformed and lazy historians attribute the building to a Bengali steel magnate Das who had interests in Kanchipuram and had since built these office buildings, nothing could be further from the truth. One such historian turned diarist turned newspaper editor sat at the other side of the shining long Burma teak table and he was the guy Kuresan was going to meet.

Like all 52 year olds, A.A.V.Alagesan was irritated and had problems at home, and like every other man holding prominent office; reflected his problems at the workplace. This did not go too well with the workplace as people feared to talk to their employer and innovative ideas, well remained as ideas.

Kuresan, unlike most others you will meet in this story was brave; it is also quite possible that he does not know this. He walked in with an air of privilege and belonging, smiling to all those who passed him, nobody however returned the greeting.

That might be because Kuresan’s uncle was A.A.V.Alagesan and the rightful heir to the constantly reducing in subscription but still functioning local newspaper with a global outlook “the Kanchipuram Gazette”

Before Kuresan drops and breaks his dark rimmed brown tinted Wayfarer modelled imitation power glass later in the story, we need to tell you that he does in fact wear glasses.

Kuresan adjusted the above mentioned glasses and focussed on his uncle whose face was extra worried today, but the magnitude of the worry could be guessed, he looked  like a sparrow that had forgotten to apply anti-ageing cream, to be specific his uncle looked like an out of work Tamil movie villain who had now outgrown heroine father roles.

While looking at all this, Kuresan also looked at a slender figure standing at one dark corner of the ‘three out of four” corner well lit room.

“Ah! Kuresan, it is I who sent for you” said the editor in his dying voice; it was not as if his voice had been that of an army commander or that his voice had given him considerable leverage over other contemporary editors, his voice was always in this near death tone which made people assume that his voice could have been forceful in the past. Nothing could be more wrong.

“We received a letter this morning….and the contents of which are quite, I should use the word shocking!” A.A.V continued, the very mention of the word shocking got Kuresan interested; he had already come to the edge of the seat.

“Seems like a threatening note it could well turn out to be a prank”

“Something like Jack the ripper!” exclaimed Kuresan and giving out reference points to the reader, so that a mental picture could be formed.

“No no, not in this town…here you read it aloud” A.A.V said as he pushed the piece of paper towards Kuresan, and so it began.

Long have I waited,

Not for work

But for a worthy adversary

In the coming weeks, my hidden acts

Will come to light, while I am in darkness

Where are you, O detectives?”

–         Someone You Need to Find

 

“This doesn’t look so threatening does it?” asked Kuresan, “it’s just a prank, no need to publish this uncle”

“But what if it really is a threat and these hidden acts could be horrible, truly horrible things that we wish would never happen to any man or woman on earth?” This was the voice of the slender figure which had come out and could be seen by all.

“Ah, Kuresa, I forgot to introduce you; this is our new head of the local crime branch Ms. Jayanthi Jayapal IPS, we thought she might want to have a look as well.

As they shook hands, the ever ticking mind of Kuresan realised “But surely you are not THAT Jayanthi Jayapal who wrote ‘Locked Out in Lakshadweep’?”

“Yes, but that was a long time ago, I am a crime novelist turned police detective” she said as she blushed.

Needless to say Kuresa couldn’t control his excitement, he went on to add how the novel had become something of a cult collector’s item in crime fiction and how it could be compared to all the classics of the genre.

“Thanks…but editor sir, you haven’t introduced this gentleman” Officer Jayanthi pointed out.

“This is my nephew…” A.A.V began but couldn’t complete

“I am C.F.Kuresan, detective turned novelist, at your service”

Only A.A.V and Kuresan in the room knew that Kuresan was neither a detective turned novelist and nor was his initials C.F.

A.A.V just sighed and called out for tea.

As they waited for tea, Kuresan made a mental note of two things,

“Unlike most crime novelists turned police officers Jayanthi was actually pretty”

Secondly, “I now have a case, finally”

 

END OF PART ONE.