24
Apr

Moustache, Mystery and the Man

Review of The Great Mortdecai Moustache Mystery; Kyril Bonfiglioli, completed by Craig Brown; Penguin 2012; Rs 399; pp 175

The moustache – hair garden, rather – on Mortdecai’s upper lip is as much the protagonist as Hon. Charlie Mordecai himself is. The Great Mortdecai Moustache Mystery is the fourth Charlie Mortdecai in the series, and definitely has you laughing. It’s more like a Holmes Meets Wodehouse kinda humour, with nothing less to be said.

Two decades after the author’s death, this book was completed by Craig Brown and published by Penguin. This whodunit follows Mortdecai for almost half the book in his convalescent state – a long rest time which he’s put to good use by cultivating a largish hairy chrysanthemum on the upper lip. Much to the chagrin of his wife, Johanna, and his acquaintances. He is invited to Oxford to investigate the death of a lady Don at Scone College. The protagonist and his trusted ‘dawg’ Mr Jock leave us in splits of laughter, and so does the sections where Mordecai navigates major pain-in-the-necks to get at the villain.

Kyril Bonfiglioli has studied at Oxford and worked in the army, then as an art dealer, quite like his creation, Charlie Mortdecai. Bonfiglioli was born on the south coast of England in 1928 to an English mother and Italo-Slovene father.

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Rating: 6.0/10 (2 votes cast)
15
Apr

Killing the Face That Graced a Million T-Shirts

Review of Hunting Che: How a Special Forces Team Helped Capture The World’s Most Famous Revolutionary; Mitch Weiss and Kevin Maurer; Berkley Caliber 2013; pp 277

- Shana Susan Ninan

Traces the US-trained Bolivian forces’ success at capturing 20th century’s most famous man – Che Guevara. It’s the ordeal of a US Green Beret team that trained Bolivian soldiers and common men in 1967 to capture Che. After Castro’s rise to power in Cuba, Che was on a high, travelling to Asia, Africa and countries of South America

The CIA knew everything about him, except where he was. And that was damn frustrating. For a man who was trained to blend into the forest and not be visible to the rest of the world, Che does a good job evading the Americans.

Major Ralph Shelton a.k.a. “Pappy”, who saw combat in Korea, Laos and the Dominican Republic, led the Green Beret team which captured the famous man. Shelton was a favourite in his unit, accepted by the soldiers and villagers, alike.

The middle section of the book is rife with photos pf the capture, Che’s travels, and for the first time in publications, a photo of Che in disguise as an old man. The writing is prose mixed with some news writing. The authors have written well, showing the death of the revolution and not just the death of one man.

Che was a grand propagandist, more like a PRO for the Communist Party – even now- than as a leader. His message, his photo, rather, lives on in the minds of the young and the old. And in all fairness, I think, of all the books I’ve read of and by Che, this one is the most unbiased. As writers and journalists, the authors have taken an even stand in recreating this drama at the end of Che’s life.

When most writers, filmmakers and documenters of Che’s life absolutely fall for his charm, Weiss and Maurer are not at all enamoured by this smart-talking revolutionary. In fact, their words in describing the few minutes after Che’s capture says it all:

“Don’t bother, captain, this thing is all over,” Che said.

The Che – the picture of confidence, the icon of the revolutionaru movement – hung his head….

And for once, Che had nothing to say.

 

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Rating: 10.0/10 (1 vote cast)
14
Apr

Lawyer at 13!

Review of Theodore Boone: The Activist; John Grisham; Puffin Books 2013; pp 304

- Shana Susan Ninan

I fell for his robust plots and forceful prose from the time I laid hands on The Client. John Grisham doesn’t disappoint in his YA collection either. Theodore Boone: The Activist, the fourth in the series, features the 13-year-old only son of a lawyer couple. With both parents vocal in their own ways, and having the luxury of an office to himself in a backroom of Boone & Boone, Theodore knows the law better than all his peers put together. And when the authorities of the American city of Strattenburg decide to “take” people’s lands in the name of eminent domain for a bypass that’d run around the city, he decides to join a group of environment activists.

The turning point is when he visits a friend’s farm, spots encroaching surveyors and gets involved in a fight that leaves his dog and faithful companion, Judge in a fatal state. Having hung around courts and law offices all his life, he’s familiar with the legal arm of the city. He uses it to his advantage, even winning over a family debate with his dad.

This book has all the legal drama of any other Grisham one – court scenes, standoff between parties, legal tiffs, and of course, the bad guys who break the law! Well, for animal lovers like me, the pages where Judge is hanging on to dear life in a Vet’s clinic can be a tad tear-jerking.

 

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Rating: 9.5/10 (2 votes cast)
11
Apr

Between the Devil and Men

Review of Knight of the Cross – A Knight Hospitaller novella; Steven McKay 2014; pp 95

- Shana Susan Ninan

Steven McKay’s Robinhood in the first two books of the Forest Lord Trilogy had me swooning with anticipation! Steven’s visual words and action-packed plot was enough to keep me glued to the pages. Although Sir Richard-at-Lee comes only second to him, he’s an imposing character one can’t miss.

As the Knights Hospitaller battle ancient evil in medieval Rhodes, three of them go missing from a local village. The English knight Sir Richard-at-Lee and his trusted sergeant-at-arms Jacob are sent to find out the truth behind the disappearance and to stop the perpetrators forever. Supernatural elements in the narrative gives a pungent twist to the plot.

The cover, with a mediaeval colour scheme, pulls you right into the protagonist’s world. As is the case with novellas, I felt Sir Richard’s story was over too soon. I really wish Steven is inspired to write more on him.

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Rating: 9.3/10 (3 votes cast)

Apr

Stopping A Terrorist

Review of Checkmate; Hrishikesh Joshi; Leadstart Publishing 2015; Rs 150; pp 158

- Shana Susan Ninan

What better way to hijack a plane than to use a judge with a VIP status to smuggle in guns? Three fidayeen from Indian prisoners are the ransom, in return for the hostages. Calling the shots for jihadis from Pakistan is once upon a time right hand man of Osama Bin Laden and now the most dangerous terrorist in the world, Muhammad Zia ul Afridi.

Coming to the rescue is Vikram Roy, chief Secretary of RAW, who finds out there are inside activities in the organisation that he needs to tackle first. Playing his hands at a long term relationship, Vikram is your middle-aged, handsome guy.

The plot is engaging, and for the debut work of a 21-year-old, it’s pretty promising. A few typos and grammatical errors apart, this is a nice read.

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Rating: 7.8/10 (5 votes cast)
18
Mar

Art for Acceptance

Review of The Art of Kozu; James Edgecombe; Sandstone Press 2014; pp 130

- Shana Susan Ninan

A straightforward cover with a Kimono-clad woman looking towards the hills greets us as we take up James Edgecombe’s The Art of Kozu. In two parts, the author gives realistic details of the life of Kuzo and Yumiko. The Takayanagi family of art dealers has long been associated with the artist Yuichiro Kozu (1878-1953). With the war over interest is renewed in the art of Kozu. A painting is used as the basis for the story, and unravels word by word, image by image.

Indochina during the Japanese occupation and Paris are the two areas where the story is based. Almost 20 years of art and conflict is depicted in this short novel. The power and influence of the two are portrayed through the lives of the protagonists. This controversial artist’s struggle for acceptance and uncorrupted recognition forms an undercurrent in the two sections.

Edgecombe’s words are evocative, visual and highly appealing to our senses. One gets the feeling of gliding on the surface of a painting, taking in the hues and the smells. Representation of Yumiko, the married lover, is done stunningly well. Yumiko stands for everything that’s desirable and, sometimes, forbidden. The romantic imagery and soulful prose guide the reader seamlessly through the years as the author takes us into times of war, struggle, love and separation.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (3 votes cast)
29
Jan

Mrs Hudson, At Your Service

Review of The Case Book of Irene Adler; San Cassimally; Green Okapi Press 2014; pp 189

- Shana Susan Ninan

A thief and an investigator – that’s what Ms Irene Adler is. And she plays her part right down to the t. As a contemporary of the famous Sherlock Holmes, and at times, circumstantially against him, Adler comes to Holmes’s refuge. She gets Holmes to hire her in place of Ms Turner, the housekeeper. Armed as Mrs Hudson, with good disguise put on, Adler tells her side of the story this time. Let me assure you, in the solving of the cases mentioned, she’s adept and insightful, sometimes even seeming to outwitting Holmes. Their intellectual connectedness is thoroughly explored in San’s work.

Three most brilliant minds of the time – Moriarty, Holmes and Adler – comes under one roof in one of the stories, and you hold your breath, waiting for the unthinkable to happen. I shall let those who’ve not yet got a copy of San’s book to wait it out and read the rest of the happenings that follow the three masterminds.

Adler’s cases range from ambitious thefts, disguising as gypsies to retrieve a Romany child to redeeming her gay friend’s esteem and even tying the knot with her gay friend to save his skin in society. She learns to ride the horse, hunt game and use the gun deftly, all taught to her by her friends at the Club des As, a common group of friends who are out to right some social wrongs.

The author’s trademark playwright background and love of theatre comes through in the plots. Adler herself being a not-so-famous actor who’s now turned to a different occupation. San hails from Mauritius and received his education at Manchester and Cambridge Universities and is a prize-winning and produced playwright.

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Rating: 8.0/10 (5 votes cast)
07
Jan

Two Women and A King

Review of Radhika Santwanam; Muddupalani; trans. Sandhya Mulchandani; Penguin Classics 2012; Rs 250; pp 166

- Shana Susan Ninan

I’ve read and taught epics from many countries. But a sringara prabhandam – erotic epic – is a first. Radhika Santawanam is the most recognised work of 19th century poet and courtesan Muddupalani. Two strong women – one, the author and then, the lady who resurrected the poetic work and brought it to light – are credited with sharing this erotic narrative poem with the world.

This autobiographical work shows us the lives of the famous courtesan and literary connoisseur, Muddupalani, Maratha King Pratapasimha who ruled Tanjore and made her his queen-consort, and her grandmother Tanjanayika. When two people’s (in this case, three) love story won’t be freely accepted by society, just throw in the names of Gods and Goddesses as protagonists, and everything’s solved. Tanjanayika introduced young Muddupalani into the world of the courtesans, and to Tanjanayika’s patron King Pratapasimha, who later took Muddupalani under his wings. The love triangle between Radha, Krishna and Ila is an apt framework for narrating the story of Tanjanayika, Pratapasimha and Muddupalani.

Even though the British banned it in 1920, the whole text of Radhika Santawanams, also known as Ila Devyamu, is now available for the public. I drew many similarities between this narrative poem and the Song of Songs from the Bible. Celebrated stanzas dedicated to describing a lover woman’s anatomy, her willingness, the man’s urge to conquer her body and their union all find points of reference that are common.

The 163rd stanza of chapter three:

O moon! Carry on your waxing and waning

Till my round-faced lady arrives.

O Malaya breeze! Your gentle wind works

Only till my lady love sighs.

O drunken parrot! Wait until you hear her lovely voice.

O peacock! Your preening will stop when she combs her long hair.

O nightingale! Your song is good only till she speaks.

O swan! Your gait looks good only until she walks towards me.

O bee! Your sounds are melodious only till my lover looks at me.

O Kamadeva! Your conceit will vanish when my beloved arrives.

Referred to as devadasis, devaradiyal, bhogam, kalavati, gudisani and nagara shobhinis, the courtesans of the 17th and 18th century shone in the fields of art, dance, music and other literary pursuits. The erotic poem contains 584 verses, complete with poetic symbols, passionate rhymes, sexual references and subtle innuendos. Radhika’s strong presence in Krishna’s love life and her unabashed initiation of intercourse, Ila’s coy introduction into the world of lovemaking and Krishna’s creative cavorts.

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Rating: 8.1/10 (9 votes cast)
06
Jan

Business and Services

Review of International Business; Sumati Varma; and Services Marketing – Text and Cases; Harsh V. Verma; Pearson 2012

- Shana Susan Ninan

As a text for students and professionals, Ms Varma’s International Business is copiously supplied with broad details and cases that relevant on a global level.

An exhaustive chapter on Cultural Environment caught tugged my intellectual strings – I found it very informative and useful. With a universal applicability, culture is something that pervades all types of businesses, across the globe. The detailed and well-researched examples will help one to identify emerging issues and solutions in the business world.

Teaching or learning Services accounts for a sizeable amount of field study and case references. And that’s what Harsh Verma’s Services Marketing does – give lots of cases and review questions.

Apt for students as well executive level professionals, the book gives ample practical exercises to complement the theoretical knowledge provided.

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Rating: 8.5/10 (6 votes cast)
18
Dec

Communication: Connected/ Dangerous

Review of Secret of the Scribe; Douglas Misquita; Frog Books 2014; Rs 245; pp 332

- Shana Susan Ninan

As a lecturer of Media, the different aspects of Communication are close to heart. And, to read a book that weaves Communication and Language into a crime plot, is even better. Not to mention that one of the characters shares his name with my two-year-old son – Elijah!

Douglas’s second novel trails a recent cave expedition in the remote borders of China and Tibet that have unearthed enigmatic discs believed to be of extraterrestrial origin. Quickly squashed and erased from official records, until venture capitalist Mark Steinberg launches Linguistics, Inc. and unveils cutting-edge nanotechnology-based communication, the secret stays within boundaries. But, soon, knowing that Linguistics is setting the stage for total control, Lance Michener and his team work to bring order.

The very descriptive storyline doesn’t fail to involve the readers. The plentiful characters, numerous locations and a few typos did mar my reading, but Douglas’s capacity to engage us with thrilling narrative overcame it all.

Similar to his first book, Haunted, Douglas runs a thread of the Good vs Evil scenario in this one, too. We also see a fight – physical and intellectual – between natives and the “conquerors”, so to say. Working in the telecommunications industry, Douglas’s flair for scientific prose is only too well understood. He reveals the strength of his writing as well as flexibility in dealing with an almost futuristic story.

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Rating: 7.3/10 (9 votes cast)