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Book Nook - 12-03-2019

Tuesday, March 12, 2019
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

A Journalist And A Mother
Fiona Barton’s third novel, The Suspect, also has as it protagonist, a senior and seasoned reporter, Kate Waters, only this time, she is on both sides of a scandalous story—a reporter and a subject.

Kate and her doctor husband Steve are worried about their older son Jake, who dropped out of college and left home ostensibly to explore the world. He keeps in touch with his parents very infrequently, and they are not even sure where he is.

Then two British girls, Alexandra ‘Alex’ O’Connor and Rosie Shaw, who headed to Thailand for a gap year, go missing and their parents are worried sick too. When there is no communication from them for two weeks, they report to the police;  the case is picked up by DI Bob Sparkes and his deputy Zara Salmond. Kate has a cordial professional friendship with Sparkes, as they have often followed the same cases, she as a reporter and he as a detective.

Then, the girls are suspected dead in a guesthouse fire; the two sets of grieving parents have to travel to Bangkok to identify the bodies, and Kate goes with a photographer to cover the story. Much to her shock, she discovers that Jake happened to be at the same guesthouse, escaped with minor burns and then vanished from the hospital before she arrived. Another pack of journalists descend in a pack like wolves, including an obnoxious and pushy tabloid reporter, constantly snapping at Kate’s heels.

Kate, worried sick about her son, is at one point, hounded by her colleagues for the story, as the missing Jake goes from victim to hero to suspect.  Due to the obvious conflict of interest, Kate is pulled off the story, but as a mother, she carries on with the investigation, with the help of her protégé Joe. The young reporter admires Kate, but has to often file stories hurtful to her, because, he has to stay ahead of the competition. While Kate goes through sleepless nights and the agonies of a mother with a missing child, she also understands the professional compulsions of the scoop-hungry reporters pursuing her, since, she admits, under different circumstances, she would have done the same.

Bob Sparkes, coping with the imminent death of his beloved wife, has to keep his professional head on, and investigate the case since British nationals are involved; the Thai police turn out be corrupt, inefficient and hostile.

What went on as the seedy Thai hostel, run by the formidable Mama, is reported by Alex in emails to her best friend, Mags, and these eventually turn out to be a valuable resource for the investigation. On her social media pages, however, she was all cheery and ‘having the time of my life’ happy, so her parent never suspected the sordid truth.

Amidst the sorrow and rage of the girls’ parents, there is a who-dun-it to be solved, and a huge moral choice Kate Waters is forced to make.

The suspense is not too strong, it is the emotional core of the story that makes it worth reading—the lonely suffering of parents when they realise their kids have grown out of their reach and there is nothing they can do to understand their minds or motives. All they can do is offer unconditional love,  even though it is seldom returned.
 
The Suspect
By Fiona Barton
Publisher: Berkley
Pages: 416

 

Excerpt of The Suspect:
Lesley searched the inbox again. Just in case she’d missed it. She knew she hadn’t, but to stop looking would mean they had to act. They’d agreed. Malcolm stood behind her, watching her every move. She could feel the tension radiating off him. “Anything?” he asked.

“No.”

“I’m ringing the police.”

She nodded. They’d never had to ring the police before in all their married life. The police belonged to another world—the world they saw on television or in the papers. Not theirs. She was shaking as Mal- colm picked up the phone. She wanted to tell him to wait. To give it another day. Not to start this. Not to bring this into their home.

“Mal,” she said, but he looked at her as he dialed, silencing her. She could hear the hum of the fridge and a car passing by outside. Life going on.

“Hello, I’d like to report my daughter missing,” she heard him say.

That life was over.

“A week. We haven’t heard from her or the friend she’s with for almost a week,” he said. “Her A Level results came out yesterday, but she still hasn’t been in touch.

“She’s Alexandra O’Connor.

“Eighteen. Her birthday was in May.”

Icing that cake, Lesley thought. Didn’t look anything like Ed Sheeran apart from the red hair, but Alex had loved it.

She tuned back in to hear her husband apologizing.

“Sorry, I thought I said. She’s in Thailand, backpacking with her friend Rosie Shaw. Her last text message said they were still in Bang- kok.”

It took another twenty minutes for Malcolm to explain the situation, give his details, and listen to the advice. When he put the phone down he rubbed his eyes and kept his hands there for a moment.

“What? What did they say?” Lesley said, the panic making her voice loud and unlike her usual tone. “Who did you talk to? Tell me!”

Her husband jerked his head up and looked at her as if to reassure himself this was his wife, shrieking in their kitchen.

“They took down all the details, love. You heard me. I spoke to a woman officer. I wrote it on a bit of paper.” He reached over to the counter and picked up a Post-it note.

“Here, look.”

Lesley brushed it aside so it floated to the tiled floor.

“Never mind that. What did this woman say? What are they going to do to find Alex and Rosie?”

Malcolm stooped to pick up the piece of paper and put it back on the counter. Lesley wanted to hit him.

“Malcolm!”

“Sorry, love, but we are going to need this.” He spoke slowly, as if she were an elderly relative. “She said she’s going to pass on the details to Interpol and we should ring the British embassy in Bangkok. That’s what they advise. But she said this happens a lot; young people going traveling and forgetting to contact their parents. She said it was early days and that we should try not to worry.”

 “So she thinks it’s going to be all right?” Lesley willed him to say yes or nod. Let it be all right . . .

Malcolm shook his head. “She doesn’t know, love. We’ve to ring her if Alex gets in touch—or if she doesn’t in another week.”

“She will, won’t she?”

Malcolm pulled her to him. “Of course she will. She’ll want to know her A Level results. Tomorrow or the next day. She’ll turn up, like a bad penny.”

Lesley wiped her eyes with a paper towel and tried to look hopeful. “I’d better ring Jenny back,” she said, grateful there was something practical to be done. “I told her I would as soon as we’d spoken to the police. She got a bit funny about it yesterday.”

“I think she’s as frantic as we are. Rosie’s her only one. And Jenny’s on her own.”

“Okay. What are you doing?”

Malcolm was tapping at the keyboard of the laptop. “The police want a photo. I said I’d send one. Then I’ll find the number for the embassy.”

Lesley looked over his shoulder. He’d picked the one Alex had sent of her and Rosie in a tuk-tuk on the day they arrived, grinning madly into the selfie, their surroundings a blur.
“At least they’re together,” Lesley said and wept, her head on her arms on their kitchen table.

 

A Toss Of The Coin
Heads You Win, Jeffrey Archer’s first standalone novel after the sprawling seven-part Clifton Chronicles, is also an epic set in three countries spanning several decades.

In 1968, a Russian teenager, Alexander Karpenko, escapes with his mother Elena, from an oppressive KGB-led regime that killed his father in Leningrad. They have help from an uncle, to hide in a container, that would take them to the West. At the docks, they have to toss a coin to decide whether to go take the ship that will carry them to the UK or the US.

Archer then follows both strands of the story, what their lives would be like if they went to one country or the other.  Alexander is bright, his mother, a skilled chef, is hard-working—and in both the stories, there are similarities as well as differences, but ultimately, it says that people make their own destinies, depending on how they deal with the opportunities offered to them.

It is an inventive idea, and a fast-paced read, in which the two Alexanders and Elenas leave their awful past behind; they make the best of the immigrant experience with their ambition and enterprise. There is a surprise twist in the end, as the two strands criss-cross and merge in unexpected ways.
 
Heads You Win
By Jeffrery Archer
Publisher: Pan MacMillan
Pages: 480

 

SHORT TAKES
Nadeem Ahmed’s Doomed in Dubai. “shares information about his struggle and deemed the experience he faced during the stay in Dubai. The book uncovers the terrifying true story of what happened when a male model's dreams of stardom turned into a living nightmare, how glitz and glamour turn to abuse and betrayal. His unpleasant experience that has given him a full-on breakdown to the point where he had to start his life from scratch. Living a nightmare of being trapped in the Middle East without proof of his identity and his doomed attempt to escape the cage of his life.“It reveals his plight how trusting can be dangerous and you have to pay a heavy price for it. It is easily possible to land in a situation where it becomes impossible to trust anyone and you are at your worse. The consequences of such breaches in confidence can be disastrous and course, some lessons have to come the hard way, but let the experience teach you the biggest lesson in life. The book is an essential read for anyone who has dreamed of living and working abroad and conveys the powerful message that what breaks you, makes you!”
 
Doomed In Dubai
By Nadeem Ahmed
Pages: 259

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