Friday, August 01, 2014

Book Review: Private India by Ashwin Sanghi and James Patterson

Source: Amazon

Mystery thrillers fall in a category of writing that is not so much about the literary flavours it brings to the story as it is about the pace and the ability to shock the reader out of their senses with the narration and conclusion. If a mystery thriller keeps me glued to its pages, on the edge of my seat and leaves me as the not so proud owner of a set of half bitten nails, I can confidently say it has done justice to its Genre... at least for me. 

Was that the case with Private India? Not really.

A collaboration between two extremely popular Authors is something that makes eyebrows rise and the book lover in you sit up. It sounds like the perfect marriage, one made in the heavens and celebrated in the fictional world. A nuptial of that calibre makes you curious; will they gel well together? They are each known for their characteristic style, will they come together to produce another unique panache? Will there be a conflict or a harmonious confluence of two established minds?

Too many questions with only one answer- to read and find out. Thanks to a good friend Sid Balachandran, I got my hands on a copy last week. Frankly neither Ashwin Sanghi nor James Patterson are Authors I swear by, but the bibliophile in me is always curious about these ‘partnerships’ when it comes to authoring a novel and that was the only reason why I wanted to read this book.

Private India is the Indian arm of the world famous private investigation agency called the Private headed by Jack Morgan.  Santosh Wagh, the head of Private India supported by his team Nisha, Mubeen and Hari are baffled by a series of murders that happen across Mumbai. Each murder is as gruesome as the next, with the victims found with a yellow scarf tied around their neck and each holding a different object in their hand. The only common thread they find across the victims is that they are women. What follows is a pacey investigation with Santosh Wagh’s intuition working overtime to deduce the pattern and finally help the team connect the dots to reveal the dark story that led to each murder. The investigation is also interspersed with a few stories here and there which add a shade or two to a few characters.

Did the marriage work for me? Yes and No.

It worked to some extent mainly because it wasn't that strong a collaboration as I would have hoped it to be. The authoring seemed to be primarily done by Sanghi with some crucial parts written by Patterson thus keeping the narration style uniform to a large extent. The research that went into setting up the context was quite obvious and gave a depth that was needed for the story. Yes, it did engage me but it did not make me sit on the edge of my seat and my nails very left very much intact. Thankfully.

Despite being a good engaging read, the thrill in finding out who the killer is was missing mainly because of a few subtle hints the Author(s) drop which makes you deduce the conclusion upfront. The reason you keep going is to figure out why s/he does it and how the Author(s) will connect them to the serial killing. While the narration was tight through most of the book, the over usage of expletives felt a tad bit unnecessary. Similarly Santosh Wagh with his brilliant mind, cane and addiction to alcohol kept reminding me of Gregory House making me wonder about the originality of his character. 

Finally what stood out were the mixed feelings that I was left with once I had put the book down. In hindsight, a few of the sub stories started seeming like they were forced and made me wonder if they had really been necessary. What also left a bitter taste was the ‘Bollywood’ flavour that was given to the end. 

However while  it might not have been the perfect marriage; the knot seemed to have stayed tied.

I firmly believe that every Author/Writer has their own voice, their own unique way to interpret situations and their own expressions to tell what they feel or think. Two different Authors being able to express their thoughts and weave words into one perfect story without there being any disconnect seems a task quite impossible to achieve as far as I am concerned. But if a collaboration such as this happens, where the glares aren't as significant then I suppose I can safely say that one day I may be proven wrong.

42 comments:

  1. Collaboration? Interesting!!!!

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    1. Yep, I am somehow not comfortable with the idea but hell, many find it to be fun :P

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  2. Nothing spoils a good story more than a bad ending. A good review, as usual, Seeta!

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    1. Esp. in a thriller... this was still well done, I wish they hadnt given it such a strong bollywood flavour though.. too filmy for my liking :(

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  3. Short and to the point - just like how a review should me. And covers almost the entire thing :) The marriage holds - like you aptly put it. But it's a test marriage and hopefully this will help future West-meets-India marriages :) fiction wise of course :P

    One thing I must add though - Knowing how you read, I will be very surprised if you dont guess the endings of most books correctly beforehand :)

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    1. Yeah I kept this one rather crisp. hehehe yeah a inter cultural marriage it was, amen to your words on that :)
      About guessing the endings, well that thought crossed my mind too! I think I should stay away from this Genre for a while :P

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  4. I am very intrigued by the character of Gregory House but I think this book is not meant for the reading bug in me. I liked the review, gunning straight for the hole.

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    1. Yup, there wasnt much in this one which made me want to go all creative over, this Santosh Wagh does another thing which is typically House, the yelling at his subordinates... its a pain to read a book when each time you read what the character does, it reminds you of House and his lackeys :(

      Thanks for stopping by Jas :)

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  5. I wonder how they decide who does how much, both in terms of thinking and writing, in such collaborations.
    Quite a well written and transparent review, I must say :)

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    1. I wonder too Vinodini, in this case most of it was Sanghi... i really wonder how it would work if both were to take up equal portions of the narration.. personally I feel it would have been a disaster

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  6. Great review Seeta. Wonder how a collaboration works for the authors ..
    For my part, I am sick and tired of the Bollywood flavour and extensive usage of expletives by today's authors. Those rare books that you can qualify as good literature have become quite rare nowadays.

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    1. Oh yes, its as if Indian Authors write screenplays instead of Novels.. I wasn't expecting the filmy drama from Sanghi though, thankfully it only turns up towards the end.

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  7. How can two authors collaborate? Do they share chapters? The concept jars. The only reason I can think of is to have a shared brand equity to make the book more lucrative in more markets. I am not too enthused about both the writers. And this is the second review I've read which is lukewarm. Nicely reviewed, Seeta. Thank you for keeping it short and crisp :-).

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    1. I personally don't think that they can. Like you said it is about the branding, even then I wonder why would anyone take the risk? While a Sanghi mighht benefit from Patterson's name, what does it hold for the latter? If the book doesn't do well, wouldnt it affect him more than it could ever gain..?

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  8. I personally liked the book quite a bit Seeta, and my review will be published on the blog sometime soon. I thought that the collaboration worked quite well with Ashwin providing his trademark old Indian customs, rituals and the Mumbai melee as the setting for the story and Patterson (who I am reading for the first time) managed to ensure that the narrative was paced quite well and didn't have any loopholes. As for the ending itself, while it was filmy for me as well, it wasn't so bad that it made me dislike the book itself. In fact, the entire Private series so far makes it to my To Read list sometime in early 2015.

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    1. I agree, Sanghi's research and details about Indian culture and the works was indeed good but I dont think they collaborated as much on the narration, it was mainly Sanghi's style and authoring at play.
      The way I look at the ending is a bit different... for a thriller, I expect a lot more suspense, which I did not find with this one, it was rather obvious in the beginning who the murderer was...and that did not let the end stay with me for too long...
      Do read them and let me know how the rest of the Private series compares against this one, I think that would be a wonderful way to know how this book really is :)

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  9. yipes.. was worried about the "bollywood" effect that may be there when I first heard of the collaboration. Not necessarily because of Ashwin but because of what Patterson may feel India demands...
    Robert Ludlum used to do it so much better.. get his characters globe trotting all over and yet maintain his own style without pandering to the people of that culture..

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    1. I hadn't read either before so not sure who would have been responsible for it but what you say might be true... Patterson needs to appeal to a much larger audience.. I agree, if I have a choice of reading Ludlum and this, I would choose the former any day.

      Thanks for stopping by Roshan :)

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  10. The fact that two authors have collaborated and written one novel is so intriguing ! Thank you for the review Seeta. It was crisp and to the point.

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    1. Frankly I dont see how collaborations can work in writing unless it is a non fiction, fact based work..

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  11. Nice review, Seeta.
    The plot of women's murders all over the city reminds me of the recent Hindi Movie- Ek Villain. Yes, the Bollywood angle might be there. But, some people like that as well ;)
    Not read this book.

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    1. He He.. yeah probably some people do, I am just not one of them :P

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  12. I was not too impressed by Sanghi - esp. Krishna Key. James Patterson is one of those I have not read yet.

    Btw, I really need to know this, Seeta. I know that a whodunit thrives on the surprise of Who actually done it. As a reader, though, I have found great pleasure in reading books where there are no who-related surprises but a lot of interesting Why-related surprises OR even found interest in how the detective figures out the who. In fact, there were a lot of wonderful tales where both sides to the conflict are known to the reader and the only point of interest was how the protagonist identifies the antagonist and foils him.

    I have read a lot of reviews and I find people harping on a lack of surprise about the 'who' and calling the tales predictable (which automatically translates to uninteresting) even if the Whys and Hows are not cliched. SO, my question is, have tastes changed so much that the ONLY point of interest in a story is a surprise in WHO or in a twist in the end, to the exclusion of all that went into the HOW and the WHY?

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    1. You made me think, like you always do :)

      I agree, I am not a fan of Sanghi and Patterson has not left a great first impression on me with this one but I would want to hold off till I read one of his solo works to decide on my feelings for him :)

      Now that you made me mull over this a bit, I must say I agree with you but what you say works when you have a superb narration in place and a story in mind. In such cases I agree, who doesn't matter, The why and how does.
      In cases such as this book. that didn't hold much weight either. Yes, the research on Mumbai and techniques used for the murders and diagnosis were good but the connection of the dots and the reasoning behind it .. no. At least not on par with other international books that we have come across in the Genre.

      The last book I read was one by a debutante author, if I compare that against this, this one will win the race.. so I guess it is relative. The only reason I went with what I did for the previous one was because it was by a debutanta Indian author and for that reason it was a good read. In this case I think, I should have detailed out that the why and how were not as impressive either.

      This is wonderful feedback for me as someone who likes to pen her views down about books she reads... I intend to use this going forward.

      Suresh, I love it when you visit my blog, the thoughts I get through your comments helps quite a bit you know :)

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    2. Actually, the comment was not about this review primarily - should have clarified.

      As someone who aspires to write, I have been more interested in writing tales which flow naturally and logically. I do NOT think of a twist as necessary to make a tale interesting but as something that can greatly enhance the appeal of a tale if it flows logically from the story. (I am the person who says that even a mad character must have a consistency in his actions :) A consistency derived from out of the type of insanity AND the circumstances that set it off.)

      I have seen a number of reviews where it appears that a twist in the tale seems to be the only thing of interest. In other words, a well-written tale fares worse than a tale which ends with the butler-done-it even if no-one suspected that it was the butler ONLY because they did not even know that a butler was there in the tale till he is 'unmasked' as the murderer. Makes me question my own tastes :)

      And, yes, a tale gets interesting and satisfying only when the rationale for each key character's actions seems strong. The average reader may not think of it as important BUT, for me, I should be able to see that if I were THAT character - with his mental make-up - and in that situation, I would act the way he did. Otherwise, the tale fails to keep my interest.

      If an author has managed to keep his hows and whys interesting to me, the mere fact that the who was predictable (even in whodunits BUT more so in other genres of crime fiction not to mention other genres of fiction) OR that the end was predictable does not make the story insipid to me. After all, all, of us know how the Ramayan and Mahabharat came out, even before we ever picked them up to read, and we still find them interesting to read.

      But, I feel sort of lonely in my tastes these days :) The world seems to want a pretzel for a story :)

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    3. Let me share something with you. For the last few months I have been thinking on the same lines.. I do not want to write something that is twisted and takes the reader by surprise all the time. While that could be a style of writing, I think the true essence of fiction always lies in the narration, the characters that you build and how realistic you are able to make that world that you are creating.
      Recently I came across a fiction on a blog which was straighforward but left an impact on me because of its narration but when I read the comments on it all I could read was "Yeah this is nice but where is the twist?"
      I dont know why but for many people, a twist has become the factor based on which the quality of the story is decided and that scares me because the true worth of writing/fiction cannot be decided based on something as flimsy as that; it comes from the narrative, the ability of the Author to take the reader with him into the world he creates were twists and turns are forgotten because you are so wrapped up in the journey itself, in its flow and its realism.

      Frankly I do not know how this new breed of readers has come to exist... I do sometimes wonder if it stems from not having enough depth and range to their reading... maybe of they were to read more extensively not only Indian Authors but go beyond to read Authors from across the globe as well as Genres they might understand what quality fiction is all about.

      Sadly right now most readers look for Hindi movie script in every piece of fiction they read and for me that reflects on the exposure they have to reading...

      No you are not lonely, there are some of there keeping you company, who like their fries as much as they dont mind a pretzel every once in a while :)

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  13. The book's USP is the collaboration. Too bad they couldn't make much of it.

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    1. Yes it is.. but frankly I am pessimistic about collaborations, like Rachna mentioned above they seem more to do with brand building than in actual content.

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  14. now to get my hands on the book! I'm curious especially after reading all 3 reviews

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    1. :) Do that and let me know what you think :)

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  15. This is a very interesting mix of two authors an Indian and a westerner! It does bring in a very curious aspect in me.. Looks like time to get to the reading mode :)

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    1. It is what made me read this book as well :)

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  16. I have not read any book by either and it is confirmed now that this one is not going to be the first one I pick! Thank you for your review.

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  17. The story is very disappointing to begin with . A lot of murders and all of them women with yellow scarves around them reminds me of a Sidney Sheldon book 'Bloodline' . With two authors I expect a new factor in a book... But its always good to read a thriller written around Indian grounds... :)

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    1. I agree... I did too, and now when I look back the book really hasn't stayed with me either

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  18. The collaboration writing between authors is indeed interesting and I have always wondered about its efficacy and how seamless it would be. As you pointed out, I doubt whether the knot will every go. Wonderful review Seeta ! Good for your nails though :) Btw, the plot sounded strangely similar to the novella which I had read by Radha Sawana in her Sirens Spell Danger..

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    1. Frankly I think it can work well only for non fiction. I find it hard to believe that unique creativity can come together to form a cohesive fiction.. and you are right, there is a lot of similarity with Radhas story :)

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  19. I've received a copy from BA and have just started reading..so I'm skipping your review for now..:-P ... will be back once I finished reading and will read this and comment accordingly... :-)

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    1. oh, let me know how you found it to be

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  20. Interesting discussion with Suresh out there. As far as the authors are concerned, I am no big Sanghi fan and I have not heard of James Patterson. Given my long reading schedule, may not be able to ever pick this one up.

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    1. You know what, most people who I know are avid readers haven't heard of Patterson, speaks volumes for me at least.. This is not a book to be prioritized, you can leave it out

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