Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Along Came a Spider by James Patterson: Alex Cross Mystery #1

Along Came a Spider is the first novel by James Patterson featuring Alex Cross. There was a movie based on it starring Morgan Freeeman as the protagonist which I never had a chance to watch. My expectations were a lot from it as Patterson went on to write around twenty more books featuring the Cross.

The novel starts when Cross, a black detective and a doctor of psychology, involve in a murder investigation of a black family. He is furious when he is pulled from it to investigate the kidnapping of two children from high profile families. His adversary is a master criminal, cold blooded, brutal and ready to go to any length for becoming United States' biggest criminal. What folows is a cat and mouse chase were Cross finds every thing that he valued in life at stake, even his sanity.

As the starting book of the series, Along Came a Spider works in establishing the premise and characters. The setting of the novel is Washington DC. On one side there is the posh neighbourhood of affluent movie stars and politicians, while on other side there is the black  neighbourhood where poverty reigns. Cross stands as a bridge between these two contrasting worlds. Though the writer tries to play down the racial undertones of the premise, it shows beneath the surface. In Gary Murphy Alex Cross gets a worthy adversary.

Still there are a few blemishes. The romantic side track makes the story dragging. It is essential to the plot as revealed in the climax, still it dampen the atmosphere of suspence. Also, though Cross is a professional shrink as per the story, we don't find many instances where it is used in the narrative.

Along Came a Spider works ok as a suspence thriller and the character of Alex Cross as a conflicted investigator is worth reading once.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Parental Troubles of Darth Vader...!

My disinterest in sci-fi movies might have developed after watching a totally incomprehensible Star Trek movie in a theatre in Hubli when I was a teen ager. I sat through first hour without understanding a single shot of the movie (which was a first for me) and the second hour was passed by carefully observing the correlation between back ground score of the movie and the lights glowing on the space craft on screen, thanks to an observation by my friend while half time.
My only knowledge about Star Wars came from a couple of movie posters and trailers and for me these movies were always ‘the ones were dudes fight using tube lights’.  But now I know they are Siths and Jedis fighting with Light Sabers, thanks to two cute comic books that are a reimagining of Star Wars. After reading them back to back I used Wikipedia to find out more about the series and even watched a full movie till end, the one in which Luke Skywalker is revealed his true identity, that he is in fact the son of the much feared Darth Vader, the antagonist of the series.
Darth Vader and Son show a tired Vader raising his 10 year old son Luke. In 64 pages illustrator Jeffrey Brown fills humorous imagined situations that can arise. Vader’s Little Princess is a follow up book which shows the bonding between Vader and Princess Leia from her adolescent till she is a rebellious teen ager. Both books use several dialogues from movies into these situations creating hilarious moments.
Both these books are driven by a single line concept- showing a popular antagonist in very normal situations and inducing comedy. Writer has not bothered to go beyond this, but still these books are definitely worth a look, especially for fathers with young kids, who have grown up watching the Star Wars.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Malayalam Movie Drishyam: Realistic & Entertaining Thriller

Malayalam movies are in the grip of new generation fever these days. Multi layered stories, new visual language, bold plots, liberal usage of sleaze and obscene language mark these cinematic ventures. Some of them, like Amen managed to break barriers, while some of them, I feel are just average. Like Neelaakasham Pachakadal Chuvanna Bhoomi, which though had beautiful visuals and good narrative style, failed to touch me in an emotional way.

On the other side of spectrum there are movies that tread the same old formulae. They rely on a central heroic figure- larger than life,  master of all trades and with skills bordering on super natural abilities. The plot is an excuse to show off these capabilities of hero. Most of them bit the dust as audiences rejected them outright. One exception is the recent movies of Dileep, thanks to mindless comedy. But rarely a movie is made that reminds us the joy of watching a good story unfolding on screen with the help of competent direction and some decent acting. Drishyam, directed by Jithu Joseph is the recent example.

Drishyam is a movie that has a simple, realistic plot but provide wholesome entertainment. It is the story of an uneducated villager who stands against an oppressive system and beats them in their own game. Georgekutty, a cable tv operator has very little formal education, but is world wise. Thanks to his business, he has developed an addiction to movies and he uses it to solve everyday problems of his family and others around him. One fine day someone enters his family with the intention to destroy it and ends up dead. The rest of the movie deal with how Georgekutty prepare his family to face the consequences, fight and win.

Drishyam is directed by Jithu Joseph, who has made Memmories, a very decent thriller starring Prihviraj recently. With this one, he has definitely reached the next level. The movie starts very slowly. It takes its time building the characters and situations. Once its turning point is reached, it never turn back. Whatever we saw till then gets arranged like a jigsaw puzzle by the time movie climaxes. Drishyam does another service to movie goers. It makes us remember how good Mohanlal is, in portraying a character that has some depth and plants the feet on firm ground. Special mention to Shajon for his chilling performance as the antagonist.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat is a book written by eminent neurologist Oliver Sacks. In this book he describes the case histories of some of his patients who have neurological disorders that are quite perplexing to comprehend for ordinary people like us. These are people who live among us and whom we consider arrogant or devoid of manners and never realize their behavior is due to a medical problem. Sometimes they themselves never realize they have a condition.

The book constitutes of twenty four essays that are divided into four segments, each of the segment dedicated for a particular kind of disorder. The title essay is about a man who sees the world as geometric patterns and once during an appointment mistook his wife for his hat. The most pathetic fact is that, like some other cases in this book, he never realizes he has this problem. There is a story of another man who is 70 years old, but is stuck in his youth and behaves like a young intelligent 30 year person. A lady one fine day starts hearing music playing in her head with all its minutest of details. There is an essay about a pair of twins who seems mentally retarded, but can do complicated mathematics in their heads and their favorite pass-time is exchanging prime numbers of highest levels.

Oliver Sacks, while narrating these stories, treads a thin line. On one side there is a danger of sensationalism and on the other side, that of the text becoming too dry, devoid of any compassion. But to his credit, the writer has made these accounts with enough humanity and subtle humor that the reader feels genuine interest and empathy for the protagonists. While reading this book reader finds out what a unique instrument human brain is and also how fragile it is. That is, I feel the success of this book.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

NOS4A2 By Joe Hill: Horror-Fest

Before I started reading NOS4A2, the blogger friend to whom I asked the opinion about the novels of Joe Hill answered me that she had read only The Horns and that book was crazy. So when I picked it to read, I was almost aware what was waiting for me. For the uninitiated readers, Joe Hill is the son of master of horror stories, Stephen King. Now, I had read only one novel of King, Insomnia, and was not impressed. I am sure my start was wrong, but I never felt like picking another of his after that. After reading NOS4A2, I am planning to read more of King.

NOS4A2 is the story of Victoria "Vic" Mc Queen, who, as a kid has the supernatural ability to find lost things when travelling through an imaginary bridge on her Raleigh cycle. These journeys take high toll on her, physically and mentally. Once she stumbles upon Manx, a man who kidnaps kids from troubled houses and takes them to Christmasland, a horrible place he created inside his mind, in an old Rolls-Royce Wraith, with a number plate NOS4A2 (a reference to the old movie Nosferatu, a Dracula remake) and makes them prisoners for life. Manx kidnaps her, but she becomes the only kid to escape from his clutches, causing his arrest in the process. Years later Manx escapes from prison for taking his revenge. He succeeds in taking Vic's kid Wayne for hostage. Vic who has outgrown her Raleigh, follows Manx to Christmasland in an old motorbike along with her husband Lou. Will she be able to rescue Wayne from the eternal prison of Christmasland?

NOS4A2 is the first proper horror novel that I read after Dracula. (It is tall praise, but the fact is that I have not read many horror novels yet.) Joe Hill succeeds in making the reader to glue in with the proceedings. The plot is a bit complicate, but worth the effort from reader. The book follows a non-linear narration till around half its length. The narrative is creepy and convoluted. The details are gory and graphic. The atmosphere is totally dark and gloomy. The length of the book is huge, but the pace of the story keeps the reader engaged. The characters of the protagonist and antagonist- Vic and Manx will involve the reader very much. Other characters are also good, but all of them seem severely mentally unstable.

Even if the story spans 700 plus pages, NOS4A2 manages to be a good page turner. I would recommend this book to any reader who will care for a good old, creepy horror story.

Book Review: End of Story? by Arjun Shekhar

A few weeks back while in conversation with a very senior fellow book lover, I was commenting on the sudden boom in Indian Publishing arena. These days, being the author of a published book is considered a glamorous add-in to the personality and being a full time author, as a real profession. Numerous kinds of books- from travel to chick lit to paranormal to spy novels by Indian writers have started adorning the book shelves of stores. Authors are bravely experimenting with new kind of narratives with varied results. I have received many books by new Indian authors in last 2 years for reviewing and I would say regardless of their eventual success or failure, it is this experimentation that has made me excited and say yes to these books that are offered to me, the latest one being “End of Story?”.

End of Story? by Arjun Shekhar is a thriller told in the background of visual media and NGOs. It is narrated by Shukrat a news anchor of Khulasa, a news channel that serves sensational stories for ‘the bottom of the pyramid’. A nationwide ban on advertisements due to a new breakthrough in the field of manipulative subliminal ads has caused a decline of visual media and has rendered him jobless. His ex- boss Shh is murdered and the story is narrated through a document that he has prepared on the previous day of his hearing as a witness. His story starts with the day his daughter Q went missing. Slowly reader is made aware of his decaying family and professional life that is manipulated by his wife and boss and wife respectively. His wife leaves him due to his addiction to drinks, which she seems unable to bear. He is offered a chance to redeem himself when he is selected to cover the story about the ghost of a farmer in a debt ridden village in interior Maharashtra. He finds out there is more to it than what appears to eyes and is determined to uncover the truth causing a domino effect of events that wreaks havoc.

This novel is a bit dark, much humorous and thoroughly gripping. It may not be a thrilling or pleasurable experience throughout, but once the reader reaches the end, the built up of many sub plots becomes relevant. This makes the story enjoyable. The characterization of the protagonist, Shukrat is top notch. His transformation from a weak, manipulated man to someone who is prepared to go deep to find the truth is effectively told, devoid of any heroics. Other characters, most of who portrayed very colorfully when compared to the dull Shukr, supports the plot adequately and keeps the reader interested in the proceedings,
which turn slow at times. The chapters of the book are headed as questions, thereby stressing the importance of inquisitiveness in every aspect of life, which is the moral that I feel the author wants to convey.

End of Story? Written by Arjun Shekhar and published by Hachette India is an interesting read due to the relevance of its plot to the contemporary issues and also due to the plotting and narration that is quite thrilling.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

It AAPened in Delhi...!

Political thinkers are scratching their heads and wondering what really happened in Delhi. A political outfit that was formed merely a year before has achieved the unthinkable. It not only contested in election, but has managed to defeat the ruling party, Congress with a considerable margin and upset the BJP party that came first place by denying it the majority needed to form Government. AAP with Arvind Kejrival at its helm may seem to have become a force to reckon overnight. But I feel there is more to it.

Indian voters never had a choice for decades. The political party system that they are enduring is becoming a vicious circle. Every political party regardless of its ideological stand has only one immediate aim- to come to power. The power so attained can be used for physical gains. We are sending political midgets to govern us and they in turn loot us by joining hands with corrupt forces. This trend alienated middle class from polling booth. 

Many of you may be remembering the campaigns for null votes- if a voter doesn't want to elect any candidate, he can give a null vote which has a zero count. What Kejriwal has done in Delhi is basically assimilating these null votes and channeling them into the account of AAP.