Title: The Girl Who Loved a Spy; Author: Kulpreet Yadav; Publisher: Rumour Books India; Pages: 303; Price: Rs 199
A small-time lawyer's murder in a sleepy village near Delhi would have been buried among other unexplained, unsolved crimes had not a journalist come there to probe. Suddenly, bodies start piling up and India's top leaders face a nightmare -- a nuclear device in the capital's vicinity, with a greedy megalomaniac's finger at its detonator. But to deal with dirty bombs, those skilled in dirty work are also around.
In this case, the journalist in question may have some other skills up his sleeve. But how far can Andy Karan, our hero, trust his alluring boss, who sent him on the mission and now wants him to back off, or the others who have a major call on his allegiance? Can his boss, Monica, herself ascertain the intentions of the magazine's businessman-owner, or trust her own feelings regarding Andy?
And can any hero, committed as he may be, operate as effectively as usual when the conflict he is in spreads to touch those close to him?
Layers and layers of danger, deceit and deception collide in this quite engaging and pacy thriller by armed forces officer-turned-author Kulpreet Yadav, before they, after some twists and turns and changes of scene, culminate in a denouement (of the unexpected sort) at a farmhouse outside Delhi, and then the private, perfunctory reward ceremony that is the fate of many true but unconventional heroes.
The premise of this book, published earlier as "Catching the Departed" but now in a revised and recast version, could have been a little stronger and involve a little more labour and struggle on the protagonists' part to resolve than come as a lucky break. But, at least, it is different in ascribing the antagonists a more basic and understandable motive in place of the fanaticism and urge to prove a point devastatingly that is usually a staple in books of this kind.
And while the author can well manage the action and suspense scenes as well as the continuity (though too much mundane detail sometimes becomes counter-productive), the tradecraft of both the agent and his handler seem a little deficient for professionals. Though the excuse of hiatus from active duty could be ascribed for the former -- but this excuse would not pass muster in any professional covert agency.
This is one aspect that needs a little working on, and hopefully Kulpreet Yadav will address it in the subsequent stories. He could well tone down the patriotic protestations, which would work better in a more audio-visual manifestation, but here seem to detract from the professionalism of committed operatives.
But he does better with his characterisation. Keeping with the trend of the genre, the hero is somewhat flawed with some demons from his past that he has never been able to fully exorcise, has his vulnerabilities, and is certainly no super-hero who can ascertain the precise motives of his opponents and foil them.
And if you think that a hero who gets himself captured is not much capable, remember James Bond, or for dedicated aficionados of the genre, Matt Helm in Donald Hamilton's superb series. And then Andy Karan's penchant for Old Monk rum and bananas is an inspired touch.
On the other hand, the villain does, to quite some extent, avoid becoming stereotypically evil and predictable though not managing to avoid the over-confidence and over-kill that usually doom his ilk. But the comic book-style name of the prime henchman could have been easily avoided.
The weak point, however, is the female lead who only serves as a distraction, could have been more fleshed out than serving as a prop -- made evident by her summary exit which does not contribute much to the plot.
But, this promises to be just the initial of a series and going by its potential, it is not to much to expect that the author would pay heed in subsequent installments to bring Andy Karan and his most singular adventures to the standards of his peers in the genre.
(Vikas Datta can be contacted at email@example.com <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org> )
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