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Book Nook - 01-10-2018

Monday, October 01, 2018
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to adc.booknook@gmail.com

The Return Of Strike And Ellacott
A lot has happened since Robin Ellacott got a job as a temp in the rundown office of Cormoran Strike, disabled war veteran-turned-private detective.  In Lethal White, the fourth book in the series by Robert Galbraith (a pseudonym of JK Rowling), Robin moves up the ranks to partner, marries her disgruntled boyfriend Matthew Cunliffe, and secretly yearns for her boss; the man, described as a big, hairy, one-legged and perpetually sullen, somehow manages to get a string of beautiful girlfriends, the latest being Lorelei. But his heart still beats for his ex-Charlotte, now married but still dreaming of him!

There is murder, mystery and enough red herrings to sink a boat in this fat novel, but also too much Mills & Boon-ish romantic mooning holding up the pace, when the reader just want the story to move forward briskly, dammit!

The book is set just after the last one (Career Of Evil, 2015), so Robin still has a raw knife wound on her arm, inflicted by a serial killer, and Strike is grumpily acknowledging the fame and money that followed the capture of the notorious Shacklewell Killer.  London is in the grip of the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics—the influx of tourists as well as Leftist protests-- when Strike is thrown into a strange case.

A mentally disturbed young man, Billy Knight barges into Strike’s office to babble about the murder of a child that he witnessed many years ago, and then vanishes just as abruptly. Strike is mulling over this when he is hired by the Minister of Culture, Jasper Chiswell, who is being blackmailed by Billy’s brother Jimmy, and Geraint Winn, the creepy husband of the blind Minister of Sports, Della Winn. He wants Strike to find some dirt on the two, so that he can deflect them.

Robin is sent undercover into the grand building that houses the offices of the ministers—and there are vivid descriptions of the place. Chiswell’s daughter Izzy and her disgraced half brother, Raphael are around, working for their father, and all is not well between them and their stepmother, the temperamental, horse-loving Kinvara. Robin is as excited as her new husband is furious—he does not want Robin to do such dangerous work for so little pay, and is also quite blatantly jealous of Strike.

Almost half-way through the book, a murder takes place, the plot actually kicks in and all the various strands of the book finally converge.

Each chapter is headed with a quote from Henrik Ibsen’s play Rosmersholm, which has no direct connection with the goings-on in Lethal White, but for broad thematic indicators of moral and political conflicts.

The many twists keep the reader engrossed, but there are a few needless characters and digressions—the book could have done with some ruthless editing.
Galbraith also uses the unforgivable device of having the killer explain his motives and modus operandi in a leisurely manner, even when it is in his interest to quickly shoot his victim and get out of his lair.

Hopefully, by the next book, Cormoran and Robin will sort their romantic and sexual tensions—both could do with some lightening up—the pain of his stump and her panic attacks take up far too much space.

Lethal White
By Richard Galbraith
Publisher: Hachette India
Pages: 650

 

The Reluctant Detective
CJ Box’s hero, Joe Pickett,  is a Fish And Game Warden in Wyoming, which gives the writer a chance to go all lyrical in describing beautiful landscapes, even as mysteries are being solved.

In the eighteenth Pickett novel, The Disappeared, Pickett finds himself in a corner, pushed there by the new governor of the state, who hates his guts. He cannot protest when Governor Colter Allen sends him to hunt for a high-profile British traveller,  Kate Shelford-Longden, who vanished without a trace after leaving the exclusive Silver Creek Ranch after her vacation, to Denver Airport from where she was to fly home to London. If he turns down the assignment, or fails at it, his job is at stake.

Pickett has to drive to the Ranch in the middle of the bitter January winter to solve the case that has baffled the county Sheriff and the Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation. Luckily for Pickett, his daughter  Sheridan, works at the Ranch as a horse wrangler, and worked with the missing woman. She is also familiar with the staff at the Ranch (including new boyfriend Lance Ramsey) and the people around town.

It does seem as if someone does not want the case to be solved, because as soon as Pickett gets to the town, the notes given to him by the governor’s unpleasant chief of staff Connor Hanlon, are stolen. Pickett’s old friend, the outlaw falconer, Nate Romanowski, who is not supposed to be involved with the case, as per orders, turns up to ask for a favour.  Pickett, the reluctant detective, ends up solving both, in this enjoyable and fast-paced read.

The Disappeared
By CJ Box
Publisher: Putnam
Pages:  400

 

Excerpt of The Disappeared
Three hundred miles north of Encampment, Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett stood with his hands in the pockets of his down coat as he rocked back on his boot heels and watched the southern sky for the approach of Governor Colter Allen’s state jet.

He was the only person in the lobby of the small airport waiting for the aircraft to arrive. His green Ford F-150 pickup with the departmental pronghorn shield on the door was parked outside in the cold morning next to an ice-encased Prius rental with Utah plates that someone had apparently abandoned. Joe wondered what the backstory of the Prius might be, but he had no one to ask. His truck and the Prius were the only two vehicles in the parking lot at the Saddlestring Municipal Airport. The small carrier that had provided air service to Twelve Sleep County had pulled out due to lack of customers and new federal regulations that increased requirements for entry-level pilots hired by regional airlines, and ever since, the airport had become a lonely place that catered only to private aircraft. The six-person TSA squad was also gone and all that remained of their presence were fading posters and the half-full water bottles they’d left on top of the X-ray machine.

The loss of service hadn’t changed the interior, though. Framed old photos of famous and semi-famous passengers deplaning still lined the cinder-block wall in back of him. Joe studied the shots of John Wayne from when he’d come to Wyoming to film Hellfighters in 1968. There were several photos of Queen Elizabeth carefully descending the stairs of a 727 in 1984 on her way to visit a distant cousin who owned a polo ranch, as well as a photo of a different kind of royalty: the rock icon Prince in 1986 as part of a MTV promotion. After that, Joe noted, there had either been no celebrities flying in or the airport staff had lost interest in photographing them.

A hunched-over man in his sixties wearing horn-rimmed glasses and a three-day growth of beard tapped on a keyboard behind the counter that had once served as the check-in area for departing flights. All Joe could see of him was the top of his head and his startling comb-over. His name was Monte Stokes and there had recently been a feature about him in the Saddlestring Roundup.

Stokes had claimed that his employment contract with the airport board must be honored whether or not there was any commercial service, and he’d recently filed a wrongful termination suit against them.

While the suit ground through the legal process, Stokes had maintained his job and spent forty hours a week sitting behind the counter and playing solitaire on his laptop.

“Waiting for Air Allen?” Stokes asked Joe, without looking up.

“Air Allen?”

“Used to be called Rulon One,” Stokes said.

“Governor Allen changed the name of the state plane when he took over.”

 “Ah,” Joe said.

 “Surprised you didn’t know.”

“There are lots of things I don’t know.”

“I always heard you were pretty plugged-in when it came to the governor.”

“Not this one,” Joe said.

He had no desire to explain to Stokes that he’d had a long and complicated relationship with Spencer Rulon, the previous governor. Rulon had at times asked Joe to be his “range rider” and investigate cases on his behalf. The arrangement had fallen just over the line of state personnel policy, but Rulon had been canny enough to work the system to his benefit. The ex-governor had always been careful to distance himself from Joe’s investigations in case they went haywire.

Although Rulon had been mercurial and given to flashes of anger and impatience, Joe missed him. Colter Allen was a different animal: a Republican Yale-educated Big Piney–area rancher who downplayed his Ivy League education as well as the fact that he not only owned the ranch, but was a wealthy lawyer and developer.

Instead, Allen never failed to mention that he’d been a high school rodeo champion and U.S. Marine. Voters had gotten to know him when he’d campaigned across the state in a fifteen-year-old pickup that he drove himself.

It wasn’t until the general election was over that word leaked out that the pickup was usually hauled on an Allen Ranches Inc. flatbed to within a few miles of each town and that Allen himself would leave his aides in his $85,000 Land Rover LR4 and climb out of the backseat to take the old truck the rest of the way into town.

 

SHORT TAKES
Simran Chawla’s Searching For Home is a collection of stories about Indians living abroad. Says the summary, “A compelling chronicle of what it means to be Indian in a foreign land.  In an age when India is one of the strongest emerging markets and a developing superpower, tens of thousands of Indians leave the country each year to seek new lives on distant shores. What are they looking for and what do they really find?  In a first-of-its-kind narrative, journalist and American expat Simran Chawla documents the contemporary Indian immigrant experience in various corners of the world – from Alaska to the UK, Europe to Africa, the Americas to the Middle East. In this book, she tells the story of families like the Singhs who farm in the heartland of Italy just south of Verona; discovers the lucrative Indian wedding industry in the Gulf or United Arab Emirates; learns about the community of ʻaunties’ in Orlando who have found meaning in their lives once again by organizing sewing get-togethers; watches a cricket match between diamond traders in Antwerp; and explores the heartbreaking price of living illegally in London. In lucid, affecting prose, Searching for Home tells the stories of people who, though separated by thousands of kilometres, share experiences that continue to bind them to their homeland.”

Searching For Home: Stories Of Indians Living Abroad
By Simran Chawla
Publisher: Hachette India
Pages: 160

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