Tag Archives: Crime fiction

Where I bitch about things that hurt and find my way back…to a good book

I bought a Kindle earlier this year, a very late purchase I know for a voracious reader like me. I guess I still think of gadgets as luxuries and I am kind of spartan in my head. The first thing I ever saved up my pocket money for, was a book, an Archie comic double digest. A book is also the first thing I ever earned. After I began working, I made the transition into buying brand new books, awarding myself that luxury. And I’ve been rather undisciplined after that, allowing myself this one vice of buying books freely without regard to cost, storage space (a VERY BIG factor in Mumbai) or time to read. It’s one of the reasons I shied away from buying an eReader for this long. What would I do of the heaving shelves of as yet unread books?

When I finally bought the Kindle, I vowed that I would be very prudent in my ebook purchases and only buy books that I was going to read immediately and even then, only buy a new book after I’d completed an older one. My first buy was a book that I fell instantly in love with and it pulled me back into reading. Yes, I’ve never gone for long without a book but it’s such a deeply ingrained relationship now that it goes with the taking for granted, the occasional neglect, the other priorities taking over aspects.

Right after I finished Gone Girl, I decided to finally give in to the Game of Thrones mania. When you’ve had a relationship with books and reading as deeply as I have, you take every step with caution. A book can and has changed my life so I only let one in with prudence. I am so sorry to say that this was a mistake.

I have been struggling with the books (I bought the entire collection – I may be prudent but I don’t do half measures) right after I finished the excerpt and began nearing end of Book 1.Game of Thones. I put it down to it being a distant genre. Fantasy and Medieval fiction have never felt like my own universes the way social Sci-fi, Literary fiction, Modern women’s fiction and Children’s fiction have. At the end of book 1, I went off to read other things and returned, hoping things would be  better. Book 2.A Clash of Kings was no better; worse if anything. I struggled and finally allowed myself to slash through the pages (no, not really but the page-turning command on a Kindle feels a bit like a finger slash) barely reading the words. I just about made it and plowed on to Book 3.A Storm of Swords. All I can say about the book is several oppressive characters and situations have ended.

I was midway through Book 4.A Feast for Crows last night when I realised it. I’d been having nightmares for the past few weeks. Well, perhaps not nightmares in the conventional sense of monsters etc. but dreams and sleeptime thoughts that were deeply unpleasant and disturbing. I’ve been waking up feeling very drained and unhappy. The last thing I read or watch or listen to at night usually carries through into my sleep and for weeks now, I’ve had blood-soaked images of rape, pillaging, torture, murder and genocide. I give up. I’m done with this wretched story.

More than once I’ve tossed and turned and had to switch on the light to get a drink of water or just lie awake, reading or listening to music, unable to sleep. Last night, I put it aside and picked up a fresh book (something I very rarely do at 3 in the morning). It’s an Indian author I picked up at one of my book binges before the Kindle purchase. Two chapters in I was hooked and already my mind in that peaceful place where a good story can lull me to sleep.


Image via Unsplash/Patrick Tomasso

I’ve woken up not just feeling better but also with the insight that I need to get up from bed slower in the mornings. Low blood pressure hits me most days and I’m just realising this. So I lay staring at the ceiling for a good ten minutes before getting up and the day has only been getting better.

I realise this may sound odd to some people but a book really is that important. Especially when it plays the role that human relationships usually do, why would I associate with a book that is brutal and seems to revel in it? I’ve already been in a relationship with a monster like that and I was lucky to get out. I don’t need a book version of the same thing. So no more GoT for me.

I got to thinking about this relationship that I have with stories and books.

When I was 20, I was reading Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. I enjoyed the rabid revolutionary ideas and her powerful words that would pour into my head, as I was sandwiched between rush hour train commuters on my way to and from work (my first job). There was a distinct moment when I remember thinking, this isn’t good for me but it feels so good. I had the good sense to walk away from the book midway (don’t ask why I never have the good sense to do that in relationships). I’ve never regretted it. And that’s why when I hear Ayn Rand fans raving, I must look at them with the rueful knowing of someone who was intoxicated but escaped.

I also quit 50 Shades of Grey after two books but that was different. I was enraged, rather than enthralled. Luckily Adi pointed out that I might be reacting to the bad writing and not to the genre itself. I had to test out that idea so I went ahead and devoured several other pieces of erotic writing, including but not limited to S&M. I found a new area of interest and I even ended up conducting a workshop on Erotica Writing.

I shivered through The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Admittedly the title hooked me because my own first tattoo was about three years old then and I felt like I was answering to the name of that girl. The story horrified me but I completed it, it was just such good writing. I even sat through the Swedish version of the film. But I decided, I couldn’t palate the ruthless rape, murder descriptions so I have never read the other two even though both my parents have and love them.

I guess my soulmate truly is the world of books and stories. The books I’m reading shape my mood, my attitude and even my aspirations. I cannot afford to be imprudent. I have to be as cautious about what I put into my mind as I am about my body.

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Everybody’s Got A Story – Heather Wardell: Like Talking To An Old Friend

Everybody's Got a StoryEverybody’s Got a Story by Heather Wardell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve gotten used to thinking of galley reads as less than perfect in some way, since they aren’t quite the finished product. ‘Everybody’s Got A Story’ was a pleasant surprise in that sense, because I read a pre-release galley and it was wonderful.

Stories of crime usually tend to end where the crime has been solved and the perpetrator (hopefully) punished. This book starts here, telling the story of one woman’s journey from victim to survivor. Alexa, a crime fiction editor, is raped, brutalized and scarred by her boyfriend Christophe. The story begins with Christophe being pronounced guilty, two years after the crime. Alexa, now free to get back to her normal life, finds herself unable to deal with everything that follows. So she moves to a new city, a new office and hopes to build a new life.

Even while dealing with the aftermath of a horrific crime, the story managed to never tip either into coyness or depravity. Almost all the other characters were well etched and believable, except perhaps Carly who seemed a little excessively stark.The real beauty of a book like this is in how the protagonist’s own dramatic story, never overshadowed the back stories of the other characters.

In addition to the great story-telling, Ms.Wardell also shows a superb understanding of the complex emotions that play out among everyone touched by an incident like this, the survivor but also his/her friends, family and colleagues. It’s too sensitive, too mature to fall under ChickLit. This is a wonderful human interest story.

I got this book off NetGalley.

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The City and The City-China Mieville: Stunning, Surreal & Sensational

The City and the CityThe City and the City by China Miéville

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Recommended by: Sumant Srivathsan

At one level, there’s a story about two cities that share the same space. Not twin cities, not neighboring cities even, these are two different cities that sit on the same geography. Each city is painfully, awkwardly aware of the other and there are stringent rules to navigate the complicated life that it creates for its citizens. Things get even more complex when you factor in the rest of the world, how it sees these cities, how foreigners interact with them, live in them and ultimately add their own brand of chaos to the existing confusion.

At another level, it felt like a metaphor for the split living all of us in cities face. Cities are not just complex ecosystems, they are collectives of different systems, some in progress, some incomplete and many in direct conflict. Socioeconomic groups & cultural divides are two of the most prominent splits I see in my own city and I could see them mirrored in Mievel’s Bezel & Ul Qoma.

And finally, there is a decent whodunnit set in this complex situation. As a murder thriller, I’d rate this average but the blown-out-of-the-park unusual setting takes this book to a few notches above. Definitely read if you like surrealism.

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Towards Zero: A One-Night Stand For The Mind

I had been looking for something to read, something meaty to sink my teeth into at night. You see my ‘still to read’ pile had reached alarming proportions (not to mention my bills) so I enforced a clampdown on bookstore visits until a dent was made in the pile. That pile has happily (or perhaps not, depending on how you see it) dwindled down to a 18 books, most of which I have started and at least once. But they’re all books that I have to read for research, understanding or lessons of some sort.

I decided I had earned myself a little reward and dipped into my parents bedside bookstand. The four I picked out were:

  1. Towards Zero – Agatha Christie
  2. The Class – Erich Segal
  3. Dandelion Wine – Ray Bradbury
  4. The Tail of the tip-off – Rita Mae Brown & Sneaky Pie Brown

The first and the fourth are both mysteries so I decided to put them at either end of the pile and feeling the need for a little comfort (read familiar) brainfood, I picked the Agatha Christie to start with.

I haven’t actually read a lot of Agatha Christie books but I’m not entirely unfamiliar with her writing. In the past, I’ve found her books absorbing while reading but lacking in something and I put it down to her style being too dated for my taste. By this, I don’t mean that I don’t relate to the period that her stories are set in since I have read and enjoyed P.G.Wodehouse, various science fiction stories and some historical novels too.

Towards Zero didn’t cause me to change my opinion much. I suppose it could be called a classic whodunit – a murder mystery, multiple suspects each with the motive and the means. This much of it worked and very well. Agatha Christie’s charming manner of introducing her characters and defining them with their individual quirks engages the reader. The setup of the plot seemed a little obvious to me. I wasn’t even a tenth through the book before I was already constructing situations in my head over which character would be murdered in order to deliver the maximum tension, so crucial to a book of this genre.

The case analysis, clue-finding, examining suspects, building logical scenarios are what draw me most to mysteries & whodunits. I think this is where the book started to lose me. It felt too obvious, too simplistic, even superficial.

The ending was quite a disappointment, not so much for what it was but how it was presented. Twists and unexpected endings are practically expected in this genre. But this felt too thin, too up-in-the-air for my taste.

I think a major part of the novel was devoted to setting up the characters, developing their connections and establishing the setting. After that, the story seemed to lose steam at its (for me) most critical juncture and just hurry through to the end.

I began the book last night and put it down this morning. So it did fulfill its purpose of giving me something ‘meaty’ to chew on. Towards Zero is the kind of book I wouldn’t mind reading over a long train journey. But it’s really not a book that I’d recommend as a must-read or one that promises great learning/stimulation or anything more than the most superficial of reading pleasure.

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