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Book Nook - 21-11-2016

Monday, November 21, 2016
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.

Gangsters And Indians
John Grisham is one of the few writers whose bestselling legal thrillers also expose social ills in his country—that he has been able to nail so many over 30 books, should be a cause of concern to American society.

There are two interesting things that leap out of the pages of his latest, The Whistler; one that the US has an organisation like the Board on Judicial Conduct, which keeps an eye on corrupt (or misbehaving) judges; two that he has been creating more female protagonists, and in this book, a female antagonist too.

The Whistler (short for whistle blower), starts with a calm scene, in which two BJC officers—Lacy Stoltz and Hugo Hatch—are on the way to meet a complainant. Their conversation is about their choice of music, her blissful singledom and his sleepless nights with four kids and an exhausted wife. After this, the action blows up and keeps going till the end.  The two have been approached by a mysterious caller, who wants them to investigate “the most corrupt judge in the history of American jurisprudence.” His motives are not entirely altruistic—he and his invisible informers hope to make a financial killing from the share of the loot confiscated from the judge.

The seat of the corruption is a Native American-operated casino in the Florida Panhandle, and a crooked gangster-cum-real estate shark, who skims off profits from the casino and the development that takes place around it. On his payroll is Judge Claudia McDover, who sees to it that all judgments in her court favour Dubose and his ‘Coast Mafia.’ 

Dubose eliminated anybody who opposed the casino, and made sure the Tappacola tribe that owns the land made enough money to stay silent about his other legal violations. The Native American cops are corrupt, the FBI too busy with chasing terrorists, don’t care much about a money making and laundering in a casino—even though the amount runs into billions.

The BJC is made up of lawyers, not armed cops, and soon the Dubose gang strikes viciously. The attack makes Lacy all the more determined to root out this large scale corruption and get the FBI to nab the gangsters as well as the judge. Lacy’s source is the somewhat sleazy, ex-lawyer Greg Myers, but his “mole” is not revealed till the end.

Even though the book is not a whodunit, but more about how the judge and her cohorts are brought down-- which is the inevitable conclusion—The Whistler is a gripping thriller. Maybe not in the league of his own Gray Mountain (2014), but close enough.  Even though the book lays bare judicial corruption, Grisham does seem to have enough faith in the system to believe that the guilty, no matter how wealthy or powerful, will eventually be punished, and swiftly at that. Wish we could say the same about our country.

The Whistler
By John Grisham
Publisher: Hachette
Pages: 374


Excerpt of The Whistler
The satellite radio was playing soft jazz, a compromise. Lacy, the owner of the Prius and thus the radio, loathed rap almost as much as Hugo, her passenger, loathed contemporary country. They had failed to agree on sports talk, public radio, golden oldies, adult comedy, and the BBC, without getting near bluegrass, CNN, opera, or a hundred other stations. Out of frustration on her part and fatigue on his, they both threw in the towel early and settled on soft jazz. Soft, so Hugo’s deep and lengthy nap would not be disturbed. Soft, because Lacy didn’t care much for jazz either. It was another give-and-take of sorts, one of many that had sustained their teamwork over the years. He slept and she drove and both were content.

Before the Great Recession, the Board on Judicial Conduct had access to a small pool of state-owned Hondas, all with four doors and white paint and low mileage. With budget cuts, though, those disappeared. Lacy, Hugo, and countless other public employees in Florida were now expected to use their own vehicles for the state’s work, reimbursed at fifty cents a mile. Hugo, with four kids and a hefty mortgage, drove an ancient Bronco that could barely make it to the office, let alone a road trip. And so he slept.

Lacy enjoyed the quiet. She handled most of her cases alone, as did her colleagues. Deeper cuts had decimated the office, and the BJC was down to its last six investigators. Seven, in a state of twenty million people, with a thousand judges sitting in six hundred courtrooms and processing a half a million cases a year. Lacy was forever grateful that almost all judges were honest, hardworking people committed to justice and equality. Otherwise, she would have left long ago. The small number of bad apples kept her busy fifty hours a week.

She gently touched the signal switch and slowed on the exit ramp. When the car rolled to a stop, Hugo lurched forward as if wide awake and ready for the day. “Where are we?” he asked.

“Almost there. Twenty minutes. Time for you to roll to your right and snore at the window.”

“Sorry. Was I snoring?”

“You always snore, at least according to your wife.”

“Well, in my defense, I was walking the floor at three this morning with her latest child. I think it’s a girl. What’s her name?”

“Wife or daughter?”

“Ha‑ha.”

The lovely and ever-pregnant Verna kept few secrets when it came to her husband. It was her calling to keep his ego in check and it was no small task. In another life, Hugo had been a football star in high school, then the top-rated signee in his class at Florida State, and the first freshman to crack the starting lineup. He’d been a tailback, both bruising and dazzling, for three and a half games anyway, until they carried him off on a stretcher with a jammed vertebra in his upper spine. He vowed to make a comeback. His mother said no. He graduated with honors and went to law school. His glory days were fading fast, but he would always carry some of the swagger possessed by all-Americans. He couldn’t help it.

“Twenty minutes, huh?” he grunted.

“Sure, or not. If you like, I’ll just leave you in the car with the motor running and you can sleep all day.” He rolled to his right, closed his eyes, and said, “I want a new partner.”

“That’s an idea, but the problem is nobody else will have you.”

“And one with a bigger car.”

“It gets fifty miles a gallon.”

He grunted again, grew still, then twitched, jerked, mumbled, and sat straight up. He rubbed his eyes and said, “What are we listening to?”

“We had this conversation a long time ago, when we left Tallahassee, just as you were beginning to hibernate.”

“I offered to drive, as I recall.”

“Yes, with one eye open. It meant so much. How’s Pippin?”

“She cries a lot. Usually, and I say this from vast experience, when a newborn cries it’s for a reason. Food, water, diaper, momma--whatever. Not this one. She squawks for the hell of it. You don’t know what you’re missing.”

“If you’ll recall, I’ve actually walked the floors with Pippin on two occasions.”

“Yes, and God bless you. Can you come over tonight?”

“Anytime. She’s number four. You guys thought about birth control?”

“We are beginning to have that conversation. And now that we’re on the subject, how’s your sex life?”

“Sorry. My mistake.” At thirty-six Lacy was single and attractive, and her sex life was a rich source of whispered curiosity around the office.

They were going east toward the Atlantic Ocean. St. Augustine was eight miles ahead. Lacy finally turned off the radio when Hugo asked, “And you’ve been here before?”

“Yes, a few years back. Then boyfriend and I spent a week on the beach in a friend’s condo.”

“A lot of sex?”

“Here we go again. Is your mind always in the gutter?”

“Well, come to think of it, the answer has to be yes. Plus, you need to understand that Pippin is now a month old, which means that Verna and I have not had normal relations in at least three months. I still maintain, at least to myself, that she cut me off three weeks too early, but it’s sort of a moot point. Can’t really go back and catch up, you know? So things are fairly ramped up in my corner; not sure she feels the same way. Three rug rats and a newborn do serious damage to that intimacy thing.”

“I’ll never know.”


Also Received
Nasir Husain’s last couple of films had flopped, one had been shelved, when his son Mansoor Khan makes a Romeo And Juliet tale set in feudal Rajasthan, starring newcomers—his cousin Aamir Khan and beauty queen Juhi Chawla. The film, with its super music (Papa kehte hain, Gazab ka yeh din) went on to become a huge hit. It launched two stars and a director, who, after a handful of films, unfortunately, chose to quit movies to become a farmer.

According to the synopsis: “It’s the 1980s and Hindi cinema is going through the bleakest phase in its fifty-year history. The old guard is coming unstuck at the box office with alarming regularity and the new generation has failed to take off. Rampant video piracy has resulted in middle-class audiences abandoning the theatres for the comfort of their drawing rooms. Film-makers are making films replete with violence and crudity addressed to front-benchers. And the less said about the quality of music the better. Then, out of the blue, an unheralded film, boasting no stars and helmed by a first-time film-maker burst on to the screens, bringing audiences back, resurrecting Hindi cinema and its music, while giving it two of its most enduring stars. That film was Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. Gautam Chintamani goes behind the scenes to record how QSQT (as it has come to be known) made the choices it did, brought the love story back into reckoning, revived Hindi film music and revitalized Hindi cinema. His in-depth interviews with people associated with the film – director Mansoor Khan, stars Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla, cinematographer Kiran Deohans and music composers Anand-Milind, among others – make Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak: The Film That Revived Hindi Cinema a comprehensive study of a trendsetter that provided Hindi cinema a new direction. It is, equally, an intimate, fun-filled account of a beloved classic.”

Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak: The Film That Revived Hindi Cinema
By Gautam Chintamani
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 158

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