The Mystery of Three Quarters by Sophie Hannah

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The Mystery of Three Quarters by Sophie Hannah

Published by: Harper Collins

Fiction, 284 pages

Rating: 3.75/5 stars

Book summary:

Returning home after lunch one day, Hercule Poirot finds an angry woman waiting outside his front door. She demands to know why Poirot has sent her a letter accusing her of the murder of Barnabas Pandy, a man she has neither heard of nor ever met.

Poirot has also never heard of a Barnabas Pandy, and has accused nobody of murder. Shaken, he goes inside, only to find that he has a visitor waiting for him — a man who also claims also to have received a letter from Poirot that morning, accusing him of the murder of Barnabas Pandy…

Poirot wonders how many more letters of this sort has been sent in his name. Who sent them, and why? More importantly, who is Barnabas Pandy, is he dead, and, if so, was he murdered? And can Poirot find out the answers without putting more lives in danger?

About the author:

Sophie Hannah is an internationally bestselling writer of psychological crime fiction, and published in 27 countries. In 2013, her novel, The Carrier, won the Crime Thriller of the Year Award at the Specsavers National Book Awards. Two of Sophie’s crime novels have been adapted for television and appeared on ITV1. In 2004, Sophie won first prize in the Daphne Du Maurier Festival Short Story Competition for her suspense story The Octopus Nest.

*My review:

*Thank you Harper Collins India  for this review copy! All opinions are my own.

It is a fact that no other writer can ever fill in the shoes of the original writer, more so when the original one has a cult following: there are bound to be comparisons and a drawing of ranks. I am really glad that Sophie Hannah has resurrected Hercule Poirot and though I have not read any of her writings before I got hold of this copy, I must say I enjoyed turning the pages, following Poirrot as he tries to convince 4 people that he hasn’t written them separate letters accusing them of murdering someone he does not know at all!

Assisting Poirot and serving as the narrator is Inspector Edward Catchpool whose name gives me a happy chuckle since it rhymes with Deadpool (!) and whose reflections on Poirot’s eccentricities serve as the perfect balance for the later’s self admiration for his cleverness.

The Mystery of Three Quarters is in the template of Christie’s Poirot series that uses the process of deduction and elimination to arrive at the core of mystery solving. Poirot of course always loves an audience and we see that in the way all suspects are brought together towards the finale of this narrative that accuses four people of having murdered someone. I loved the back stories of the characters in the story and the way they are linked to each other: there are secrets, there is family drama and of course, a house help.

The best thing about a majority part of the book is how readers are strung along the way into looking at why and how an old man, Barnabas Pandy has been killed. It is only in the last quarter of the book that one finds out things are not as they have been set for us. So yes! The red herrings that are so integral in Christie’s works are there and so are the usual suspects. The play of ‘three quarters’ doffs its head perfectly to the narrative and I loved the interplay of views on death by hanging/capital punishment for certain criminal acts versus the call for life imprisonment.

With temperatures dropping in Imphal, I thoroughly enjoyed this read. I will definitely recommend this to fans of Christie’s writing style. But yes! If you do keep aside your instincts to compare Christie with Sophie Hannah, you will enjoy this much better!

 

Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash by Eka Kurniawan; Translated by Annie Tucker

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Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash by Eka Kurniawan; Translated by Annie Tucker

Published by: Speaking Tiger

Fiction, 209 pages

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book summary:

Ajo Kawir and Gecko are lower class Javanese boys in their early adolescence. Half hearted students at the mosque down the road and curious about girls and sex, they spend most of their time riding their bikes and spying on fellow villagers in flagrante. Sent by his mother on a mission to bring food to Scarlet Blush, an old friend who has gone mad after the murder of her husband by some vigilante soldiers, Gecko discovers that the crazy woman is quite beautiful. He invites Ajo Kawir to spy on her with him one evening and the boys end up witnessing her rape by two policemen. Deeply traumatized, Ajo Kawir is rendered impotent.

Despite his handicap, Ajo Kawir becomes one of the toughest fighters in the Javanese underworld, his fearlessness matched only by his unquenchable thirst for brawling. When he finally meets his match in the shape of the fearsomely beautiful bodyguard Iteung. Ajo is left bruised, battered and overjoyed – he has fallen in love. But will he ever be able to make Iteung happy if he can’t make love like a man?

Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash is a gloriously pulpy tale of bloody fists, broken hearts and dueling Jakarta fighters, from one of the most exciting and original literary voices of the century.

About the author:

Eka Kurniawan has been described as the “brightest meteorite” in Indonesia’s new literary firmament, the author of two remarkable novels which have brought comparisons to Salman Rushdie, Gabriel García Márquez and Mark Twain. Kurniawan has also written movie scripts, a graphic novel, essays on literature and two collections of short stories. His novel ‘Man Tiger’ was Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2016.

My review:

Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash by Eka Kurniawan is definitely one crazy read. I have not read the author at all (he made waves on the literary scene after his novel ‘Man Tiger’ was Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2016) but I am kicked about his writings now and will surely look up his earlier works as well. This one covers the journey of Ajo Kawir starting from his wild rocking teens to ultimately a tempered life. There is no sedate drama or emotions in this book. Rather, it is all fists, brawn and quite a lot of concern over Ajo’s ‘bird’, which refuses to rise after he and his friend Gecko witnesses the rape of a woman by vigilante soldiers. Ajo tries various measures on his own to get his bird to be functional but it soon becomes apparent that ‘nothing will work’. To compensate this flaw in him perhaps, Ajo takes to brawling and he takes on a strong fighter who cannot be messed with. He is scared of no one (mostly) but meets his match in Iteung. How he woes her and settles into a marriage and copes with the fall out of his ‘bird’ not being able to deliver is how the story goes by.

The narrative is fast paced and there is wicked wry humour and commentary that gives tantalizing insights into the lives of people and the circumstances they live with in the book. Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash is one rollicking journey: it is also the tag line written on the rear of Ajo’s truck. That a book about a boy who grows into an impotent man does not end up as racy and cheesy lies in the mood and tone of the writing. It could have ended up on a different note but instead, it keeps readers thoroughly regaled by the anecdotes and insights that Ajo discovers while talking to his ‘bird’.

If you are looking for an unconventional narrative: the book does not go into a chronological flow but goes into cuts into the time frame but done in such a manner that one feels like watching a film. This one has ‘entertainer’ written all over it. Go read!

You can check an excerpt of the book here

 

The Kinship of Secrets by Eugenia Kim

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The Kinship of Secrets by Eugenia Kim

Published by: Bloomsbury Publishing

Fiction, 304 pages

Rating: 3.75/5 stars

Book summary:

The riveting story of two sisters, one raised in the United States, the other in South Korea, and the family that bound them together even as the Korean War kept them apart.

In 1948 Najin and Calvin Cho, with their young daughter Miran, travel from South Korea to the United States in search of new opportunities. Wary of the challenges ahead, Najin and Calvin make the difficult decision to leave their other daughter, Inja, behind with their extended family; soon, they hope, they will return to her.

But then war breaks out in Korea, and there is no end in sight to the separation. Miran grows up in prosperous American suburbia, under the shadow of the daughter left behind, as Inja grapples in her war-torn land with ties to a family she doesn’t remember. Najin and Calvin desperately seek a reunion with Inja, but are the bonds of love strong enough to reconnect their family over distance, time and war? And as deep family secrets are revealed, will everything they long for be upended?

Told through the alternating perspectives of the distanced sisters, and inspired by a true story, The Kinship of Secrets explores the cruelty of war, the power of hope, and what it means to be a sister.

About the author:

Eugenia Kim teaches fiction in the low-residency MFA Creative Writing Program at Fairfield University. Her debut novel, The Calligrapher’s Daughter won the 2009 Borders Original Voices Award for Fiction and was shortlisted for the 2010 Dayton Literary Peace Prize. The Kinship Of Secrets is her second novel. She has also published short stories and essays in journals and anthologies.

*My review:

*Thank you Bloomsbury India for the ARC!

Eugenia Kim’s ‘The Kinship of Secrets’ is a family saga that follows the story of two sisters separated over countries and continents and their journey to being part of a family bound by love, hurt, ties of affection and secrets. The historical backdrop of the Korean War drives the narrative and the author’s note at the end of the book tells readers that the story is based on her own family with one of her siblings having to be left behind in South Korea while her parents and children moved to the US. The narrative is mainly focused on the two siblings: Minja in the US and Inja in South Korea.

The human element and pathos is deeply poignant: Minja feels alien in her own home due to her lack of mastery over the Korean language and a mother who is ‘not good with English’ and coping with racist comments at school. Inja’s life on the other hand, is all about the hardships of political instability that makes the family refugees in their own country. Inja’s only anchor in the hard times that follow the Korean War and the subsequent political upheavals in the country is her emotional connect with her grand parents and her Uncle even as she feels unsure about her connect with her own parents and the sister she cannot communicate with.

It takes 16 years for Inja to reunite with her parents and older sibling though years before that, she comes to know a family secret about Minja and the decision of her parents to leave her behind. Interestingly enough, the emotional connect of the book starts from that point on. The emotional distress that Inja goes through when she finds out she is headed to the US is beautifully captured as also the way her family tries with due success and part failure to assimilate her in a new world. The beauty of this book lies in the way that the main characters go about with the changes and development in their lives with grace and understanding. I loved the bonding between the two siblings and their subsequent journey to South Korea to pay a visit to their Uncle. The visit completes the circle of family secrets and affection, sacrifices but through it all, there is the thread of love that binds everything together.

I will recommend this for readers who are interested in family sagas with historical backdrops.

 

The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey by Hansda Sowendra Shekhar

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The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey by Hansda Sowendra Shekhar

Published by: Aleph Book Company

Literary Fiction, 210 pages

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book summary:

Rupi birthed her eldest son squatting in the middle of a paddy field, shin-deep in mud and slush. Soon after, Gurubari, her rival in love, gave her an illness that was like the alakjari vine which engulfs the tallest, greenest trees of the forest and sucks their hearts out. Now Rupi, once the strongest woman in her village, lives out her days on a cot in the backyard, and her life dissolves into incomprehensible ruin around her.

The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey is the story of the Baskeys—the patriarch Somai; his alcoholic, irrepressible daughter Putki; Khorda, Putki’s devout, upright husband, and their sons Sido and Doso; and Sido’s wife Rupi. Equally, the novel is about Kadamdihi, the Santhal village in Jharkhand in which the Baskeys live. For it is in full view of the village that the various large and small dramas of the Baskeys’s lives play out, even as the village cheers them on, finds fault with them, prays for them, and most of all, enjoys the spectacle they provide.

An astonishingly assured and original debut, The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey brings to vivid life a village, its people, and the gods—good and bad—who influence them. Through their intersecting lives, it explores the age-old notions of good and evil and the murky ways in which the heart and the mind works.

About the author:

Hansda Sowevendra Shekhar is a medical officer with the Government of Jharkhand. His stories and articles have appeared in various publications. The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Basky is the writer’s debut novel and was Shortlisted for the Hindu Prize (2014) and the Crossword Book Award for Best Indian Fiction (2014). It was in the Longlist of the International Dublin Literary Award (2016) and Winner of the Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar (English language) in 2015.

*My review:

*Thank you Aleph Book Company for the review copy!

Hansda Sowevendra Shekhar’s debut novel The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Basky is one book I will be recommending everyone who wants to read more of Indian writing that is set beyond bustling metros cities and the fast paced lives that people lead therein. This one is set in the East Singhbhum district of present day Jharkhand over various decades starting from pre Independent India. Though the book puts the spotlight on the Basky family of Kadamdihi village; the overall attempt is to look at the lives of people, their roots and history, their beliefs and practices, their journey in the rural hinterland, far from the ties of ‘modern practices’.

The book opens with Rupi Basky who is said to be the strongest woman in the village giving birth in the fields. Her health degenerates and everyone in the village suspects the way she sometimes reacts in the strangest of manners is due to the powers of her rival in love, a woman that her husband is having an affair with. Every one of the doctors that Rupi’s husband takes her to, says there is nothing physically wrong with her. Apart from Rupi, the female characters in the book are not the typical subdued women but break stereotypes in the way they choose partners and certainly stand out. Their only fear is that of the strange powers of certain women in the village. The world of humans who believe in witches and demons and spirits on one hand and the subtle differences brought on by the shadow of different caste within the Adivasi community on the other hand is only slightly referenced but makes one think and despair over how the caste system in India.

I was very struck with the similarities of the Adivasi way of life and the practices around marriage ties with that of my own community in far away Manipur: the way surnames of clans are given and how marriage ties are solemnised by way of sanctioning those that don’t fall into blood ties and having different surnames. The writing is nuanced and carefully takes readers to the traditions and colour of life, the festivities and subtle changes that time brings to the Adivasis of Kadamdihi village, including the beginning of the political demand for Jharkhand state. The beauty of the book lies in the way none of these details weigh on the story of Rupi and her family members. Readers might find the use of language without any translations a bit of a bother but they worked for me in bringing the flavor of the language and expression. It helped too that the narrative right after the use of language alludes to their meanings. Strongly recommended!

You can check out this book on the Aleph Book Company site