As the title indicates, Ravi Subramanian’s latest novel The Bankster deals with the intricate world of international banking and the crimes associated with it. I have never read any of his previous books- The Incredible Banker or The Devil in Pinstripes. But I feel like reading them after reading this one. That I think in itself is a great achievement for a writer. These days many Indian writers are pushing their limits and are trying to achieve the heights scaled by several popular fiction writers of the West, in terms of content, genre, plot and quality (the tag John Grisham of Banking on the book cover of The Bankster is an evidence). Though the quality of writing in many cases is debatable, I feel the effort itself deserves a pat on the back. And with writers like Ravi Subramanian, the distance to be covered in this regards is getting shorter.
Bankster is a word coined from the words Banker and Gangster. The novel is about such a group of Banksters (bankers who uses their profession as a cover to perpetrate crime), their victims and people out to stop them at any cost. Narrative crisscrosses many national borders. The first act is in Angola where a rogue CIA agent buys blood diamond. Then we are told about a father in Kerala who lost his beloved son to the nuclear accident in Chernobyl and is hell bent on preventing any such atrocity happening again. After that action shifts to Mumbai, to Great Boston Global Bank, an international bank where everything seems compliant and efficient on surface, but deep inside something sinister and nasty is cooking. A chain of cold blooded serial murders disturb the peace and steps in Karan Panjabi, a journalist and former employee to uncover the truth.
Spanning 358 pages, The Bankster is a fast paced thriller and in every page something happens that keep the reader engaged and thinking. The setting is chillingly realistic and gives a feel that such heinous crimes are possible inside the seemingly spot free and sophisticated banks. The best quality of the book is that even a novice like me does not feel bogged down by the narration that uses practices, procedures and terminology used in banking sector to move the story forward. The climax is good, considering that the suspense that build up from starting gets culminated logically and believably. No loopholes are left opened.
Speaking about the negatives, the characterization is a bit shallow. You will find characters spanning a wide spectrum. Like the idealist Krishna Menon, to characters with grey shades like Nikhil and outright evil personified (I cannot take their names as it will be a spoiler). The writing never makes us feel about any of these characters. We are never made to enter their universe and see things from their perspective. Ultimately they end up just being pawns of the game that the author is describing and nothing more. Ifwe observe masters of this genre- John Grisham, John le Carre or Jeffrey Archer, we can see that they never rush with their plot. They take their own sweet time to develop their characters and plot, thereby making the reader care about them. But inspite of it, I would say The Bankster is a must read for people who like good thrillers.