Special Announcement!!!

Don’t you hate when you set up your DVD/Video recorder to record a television show overnight and when you check it the next day you find that you have recorded two hours of the home-shopping network? Do you know why this happens? Because machines are evil!

The COBRAS are sick and tired of machines that don’t operate the way they should, and we’re prepared to do something about it! It’s the COBRAS vs. MACHINES. I know this sounds somewhat like Terminator Salvation, but this is not a new concept. Man has been battling machines since the industrial age, and of course, spies have been at the forefront of this battle. Whether it be unplugging sentient super-computers or tussling with Fembots, spies have been saving us from the horrors of the mechanised world. Why? Because machines are evil!

I am pleased to announce, starting next Monday, the COBRAS are having their first roundtable, where we will each, in our individual ways, look at Spies battling machines.


So be sure to check in next Monday and bear witness as the COBRAS take on the most hideous mechanised horror that the spy world can hurl at them!

Special Announcement!!!

James Bond 777

Whenever a new Bond film is about to be released in the cinemas, there is invariably an article about the weird and wonderful offshoots of Bondmania. Apart for Operation Kid Brother, one of the most cited Bondsploitation films is the Indian flick James Bond 777. But despite all the name checking of James Bond 777 I doubt that many who mention this film have actually taken the time to see this movie (me included).

But one man who has taken the time to seek it out, and submit himself to the wonders within is Todd at Die Danger Die Die Kill.

To read Todd’s review click here.

James Bond 777

Chills, Thrills & Dishum Dishum Pt. 2

Popular Fiction Writing in English by Indian Authors [Revised]

By Narayan Radhakrishnan

Narayan is a lawyer by profession, a voracious reader by passion – of mysteries and thrillers from Trivandrum, India. A self proclaimed numero – uno legal thriller lover, he is the author of A FICTION OF LAW: A STUDY IN LAW AND LITERATURE which looks into the growth and development of the legal thriller genre. Author of a couple of other books on law- he is also the official reviewer for two web journals http://www.rebeccasreads.com/ and http://www.newmysteryreader.com/ – wherein he reviews the latest and best in mysteries.

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As stated in Part 1, there was a lull in thriller and fiction writing in the Eighties However, in the early Nineties two youngsters Ashok Banker and Shashi Warrier revitalized the genre- Banker with his novels The Iron Bra, Murder & Champagne and Ten Dead Admen and Shashi Warrier with his novels The Night of the Krait, The Orphan and The Sniper. The works of both Banker and Warrier were published by Rupa and Penguin respectively, and for the first time, major publishing houses began to seriously evince interest in Indian thriller writing.

Though Ashok Banker had published crime stories in the Seventies and also some children’s books, it was only in 1992 that Rupa published 3 crime novels of Banker, with the print media hailing them (wrongly) as “India’s first crime novels.” The Iron Bra was a thriller were a young woman, Sheila Ray turns vigilante in the task of bringing to justice the killers of her father- a dedicated police office. However, this book (and also Murder & Champagne and Ten Dead Admen) remains out of print…though the author has plans to bring hem back to life in the near future. Since then Banker has shifted gears and published a series of books …his own interpretation of the Ramayana, achieving a cult status in India and the West.

Shashi Warrier’s Night of the Krait (1996) had Lt. Colonel Rajan Menon close on heels of terrorists of free Kashmir who had hijacked a train containing many a VIP. Menon is soon convinced that these are not ordinary terrorists. He dubs the ruthless genius behind the kidnapping ‘The Krait’, and begins to believe that there is more to the terrorist attack than what meets the eye. The Orphan (1998) had Rajan Menon being summoned to head an operation to track down the kidnappers of the Prime Minister’s granddaughter. And like Krait, the novel was also a page-turning read. Sniper (2000) was a tale of revenge of an Army man turned renegade who has taken upon himself the task of bringing to book, the persons who raped and murdered his daughter. All three books were taut reads. The attention to detail and planning draws favourable comparison with the works of John Le’ Carre. And Warrier invigorated the spy thriller in India.

Similarly, Amitav Ghosh also tasted unprecedented success with Calcutta Chromosome (1996). The novel follows the life of Antar, an employee of International Water Council in United States whose investigation surrounding the disappearance of an employee, Murugan, of IWC. Antar finds that the Murugan was obsessed with the research of Dr. Ronald Ross, a pioneer in Malaria related studies, and that the disappearance of Murugan has something to do with the medical history. A quick read, the same was a big success of 1996.

The success of Banker, Warrier and Ghosh also saw many an author taking up thriller novels. Journalist Vikram A. Chandra’s (of NDTV fame), The Srinagar Conspiracy (Penguin, 2000) a political thriller set in Kashmir was a mild success, though could not boast of the finesse of the Shashi Warrier works. Chandra had the benefit of reporting extensively from the Valley during the height of the Kargil war. With an insider’s insight Chandra sets his novel in the height of Indo- Pak tension. Three bosom friends, of varying background, culture and religious believes, fall prey to different political and moral ideologies. Old friendships and relationships take a backseat, and each puts their life to risk for their own ideology- one to create chaos in India, the other to protect India. Briskly narrated, the novel was reminiscent of Ken Follett’s thriller Triple.

Tehelka Journalist Aniruddha Bahal’s Bunker 13 (Penguin, 2003) was a bone-crunching action thriller revolving around a former army cadet turned investigative journalist Minty Mehta, a thrill seeking, self destructive fellow with a taste for hard drugs and kinky sex. The magazine for which Mehta works sends him to report the Indo-Pakistan hostilities on the Kashmir border. He is embedded with the army and makes many sorties over the enemy lines from Bunker 13. But soon the coverage of war becomes a secondary issue as he discovers that a few rogue army men are deeply involved in drugs and arms seized from smugglers. Narrated in racy style, the novel was a huge success. Bangalore author and former officer of Indian Military Intelligence, Jesse Kochar’s contribution was Spyder (1998) – a nail-biting story of the Indian-Pakistani secret services crossing swords. The novel provides, insights into the Asian style covert operations, mail tampering, secret writing, eaves-dropping, counter-espionage etc., bringing out the best of the author’s experience in the military. Journalist Rajeev Jacob’s The Lunatic from Multan (Lancer Books, 2005) revolved around the mystery behind forty Indian army personnel who went missing after the 1971 Indo- Pak War. Though the Government of India, feared that they still might be languishing in Pakistani jails, Islamabad had denied the same. The story is about a person who escapes from one such prison. The novel was a minor hit of the day.

The Indo- Pak war of 1971 also was the background of Maloy Krishna Dhar’s novels Mission to Pakistan (Manas Publications, 2002) and Operation Triple X (Manas Publications, 2007). Mission to Pakistan is a stylish tale of espionage set in India and Pakistan and brings into focus the unseen intelligence war which takes place in the shadows of the real war. Operation Triple X is the story of an Indian spy trapped in Pakistan in the peak period of the 1971 war, and the hullabaloo that followed. More recently Commander Harinder Sikka of the Indian Navy wrote Calling Sehmat, a novel that highlights the role of a Kashmiri woman who became a spy in Pakistan during the last Indo-Pakistan war. The priceless intelligence she provided helped to stop an attack on Indian warships like IMS Vikrant based in Mumbai harbour, and saved the lives of thousands of brave sailors. The book was published in 2008. Terrorism and Kashmir issue was the subject of Rajeev Sharma’s debut work Sting in the Tale. The author also put a Bollywood element into the work, and the same was well received by Indian readers. Former Director General of Police, Kondath Mohandas, put his experience to good use while narrating The Assassination (1993), set in the background of the assassination of Rajeev Gandhi. Botanical Scientist RN Sharma’s The Avenger and Compelling Reasons (both by Magna Publishing, 1996) – both Bollywood style murder masala stories created a minor ruckus when it was first published. Compelling Reasons was murder thriller, were a cuckolded husband decides to do away with his wife’s paramour and the conundrum that follows. Bengali author Kallol Senguptaa’s Death Knocks at Midnight (Adventoure, 2005) also exploited certain Bollywoodish elements. Set in murky world of the Mumbai underworld, the novel was a mixture of romance and action. Though all these books were mild successes, it’s difficult to get a copy of the same nowadays.

Likewise Operation Karakoram, by Delhi lawyer Aravind Nayar (Rupa, 2005) was riveting thriller. It had an interesting plot reminiscent of Frederick Forsyth’s Day of the Jackal. A charismatic right wing politician is all set to become the next Prime Minister of India, which may create adverse consequences for Pakistan. The Pakistan Intelligence department seeks the help of an ace assassin to kill of the PM in waiting, and what follows is excellent action, but the novel sank without creating much of a furor. Same was the destiny with Baqir Shameem’s The Final Option (Frog Books, 2005). Marketed as India’s first “War thriller”, it had an interesting plot- of the capture of Osama Bin Laden and its aftermath. Unfortunately, the book made a quick exit from the stands. The same fate awaited The Himalayan Conspiracy (India log 2006) by Sutradhar (a pseudonym for an author who still remains unknown). An Ira Levinish futuristic thriller the plot revolves around the hunt for the future Dalai Lama. At the same time, the Chinese have hatched a plot to topple the Indian democracy and it is upto Norbu, the CIA agent protecting the child Dalai Lama, the upright President Vishwanathan and Vijaya, the Chief Justice of India to come to India’s rescue. But even with this zany plot setting the book was a failure. However, Ramesh Menon’s Hunt for K, (Rupa, 2002) a whodunit, featuring Inspector Partha on the hunt for mysterious killer who is just known by the codename K had a moderately good run. Nevertheless, in recent years, Menon has followed the Banker way and is busy writing his own version of the Mahabharatha. Reethi Gadekar also had good fortune with Families at Home (2007), a crime thriller where police officer Nikhil Juneja, a foul-mouthed and brash Delhi cop, is asked to look into the suicide of one of the daughters of the capital’s most respectable industrialist families. Investigations reveal that the suicide was in fact a deviously plotted murder and a trail of dirty family secrets is uncovered. The book was a bestseller in India.

Tom Clancy type terror novels have been few in India- though instances of terrorism are on the rise in the Indian sub continent. One of the welcome fresh voices from India in this genre is Mukul Deva, a retired major of the Indian army. Lashkar, published in 2008 was based on the Delhi bombings of 2005 and was a major success. The Major is busy on work with its sequel Salim Must Die. It follows the life of a supposedly dead terrorist who is hell-bent on creating a new order of chaos. The same will be published in 2010.

Supernatural thrillers found a welcome voice through Al Raines (pseudonym for husband-wife duo Abhigyan and Mrinal Jha). In November Rain, (Undercover Utopia, 1994), a tribute to the Guns n’ Roses song by the same name), Raines narrates a supernatural tale of love and angst through the life of six medical students. The same was an exciting and page turning love story. Raines followed the same with The Prayer (Undercover Utopia, 2004), a novel which was marketed as the “scariest horror novel ever to be written.” The authors also promised money back to the buyer, if they could convince the author that Prayer was not the “the scariest/darkest books one has ever read.” Soul Search Engine is another work by this duo.

In the past four or five years, many more authors have taken to mystery writing achieving stupendous success. Vikram Chandra’s (not to be confused with the aforementioned Vikram A. Chandra) magnum opus Sacred Games (Faber, 2005) was a phenomenal bestseller. The novel bridged the gap between hardcore literature and pulp fiction in India. The hero is a middle aged Sikh policeman Sartaj Singh, who finds himself playing out of his league when a tip-off leads him to the last sanctuary of a famous gangster, Ganesh Gaitonde, who shortly before his death asks Sartaj Singh a question, (what the question is I will not reveal), and Sartaj finds himself on a whole new path of investigation, that takes us through the dark side of Mumbai city. The book was a grand success both in India and in the West.

Likewise, a rising star in this genre is Vikas Swarup- whose books have won critical acclaim in both India and in the West. Q&A (Random House, 2005) is a thrilling and enchanting story of an illiterate orphan, Ram Mohammed Thomas, being sentenced to jail…for answering all questions in a “Who Will Win a Billion Contest” correctly. The police believe that he has cheated. Rescued from the police cell by a lawyer, Ram takes us on an amazing tour of his life – from the day he is salvaged from a dustbin, to his employment with a faded Bollywood star, to meeting a security-crazed Australian colonel, by way of a career as an over-creative tour guide at the Taj Mahal, to falling in love with Nita, a young prostitute. Passed from pillar to post for eighteen years, Ram’s instinct for strategy and survival is infallible. Ram draws on a store of street wisdom and trivia to provide him with the essential keys, not only to the quiz show, but to life itself. Set in modern India, Q&A is a beguiling blend of high comedy and touching melancholy. The book recently became an Oscar winning movie Slumdog Millionaire. Swarup followed the success of Q&A with Six Suspects (Random House, 2008). A millionaire playboy convicted of killing a bar girl has now been found murdered in his farmhouse on the day of his acquittal The police zero on to six suspects- each of whom had a reason for murder. It is upto Arun Advani, an investigative journalist, to discover the truth as the lives of these six suspects unravel before our eyes: a corrupt bureaucrat who claims to have become Mahatma Gandhi overnight; an American tourist infatuated with an Indian actress; a stone-age tribesman on a quest to recover a sacred stone; a Bollywood sex-symbol with a guilty secret; a mobile-phone thief who dreams big; and an ambitious politician prepared to stoop low. Each is equally likely to have pulled the trigger. A riveting read the book was a bestseller of 2008.

In the last couple of years, adventure- detective stories have found a fresh voice in Kalpana Swaminathan. If Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes proved to be the inspiration for Detective Feluda and Byomkesh Bakshi; it was Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple who provided inspiration for Aunt Lalli detective stories of this pediatrician- author. In Page 3 Murders (India Ink) we are introduced to Aunt Lalli,- sixtyish and silver-haired, she’s officially retired from the force, but is the last resort for tackling yet unsolved crimes. In this first outing Lalli finds out the real culprit among a group of eclectic guests assembled in an old and isolated house in Mumbai. An Indian version of the “old country house murder stories”, the novel was a hit. Swaminathan followed it with The Gardner’s Song (India Ink) wherein she investigates a gruesome murder that happened in an elevator. Lalli also appeared in a collection of short stories Cryptic Death. Apart from the Lalli stories, the author also has a psychological thriller to her credit- The Bougainvillea House (India Ink). It is the story of a doctor, Liaqat Khan, who investigates some mysterious deaths, which all seems connected with the foreboding Bougainvillea House and the hullabaloo that follows. This novel was a grand success.

One must also not forget Shashi Deshpande’s detective- adventure stories meant for children including The Summer Adventure, The Hidden Treasure and The Only Witness. Through Dinu, Minu, Polly and Ravi, Deshpande provides wholesome entertainment- and the author follows the Enid Blyton formula faithfully in narrating the stories. Rahul Srivastava also contributed to the detective genre with Murder on Kaandoha Hill, Conspiracy of the Warriors (Penguin, 2007). Aimed at young adults, the novel followed the adventures of Kabir, when he sets out to research on a little known tribal group, as part of a school project. Srivastava brings to the story murder, caste, religion, superstition, murky politics and more. Written with vivid descriptions, the book is gripping and was a success of 2007. Former Army officer S.M. Ghatak also published a collection of detective stories- spoofed on Sherlock Holmes titled The Case of the Parson’s Parrot and Other Stories, wherein Holmes had to pit his wits against the not so awesome- including rampaging mice, missing scarecrows etc. The book was a mild hit of 2002.

Dr. Sumit Ghosal’s In the Pink of Wealth (Frog Books, 2004) is heralded as the first medical thriller from India. Set in the murky world of money-minded Mumbai hospitals, the novel reads like a Robin Cook novel in all respects. Pune based lecturer, Sucharit Rajadhyaksha’s The Circle for Vice (Rupa, 2005) was called as “a thinking man’s thriller” by the media, in general. It starts with the murder investigation of a young research scholar in Pune and the attempted murder on his colleagues. The police suspect something in the research that could be the cause of the killing. One thing leads to another and the reader soon discovers that these modern day murders are inextricably linked with Kautilya’s “Arthashastra”. What the nexus is forms the plot of the novel. Published close on the heels of the success of Da Vinci Code, the novel was a success. Say’s Sucharit, who is presently working on his second novel, an espionage thriller surrounding the Indo- Pak relationship- “No doubt the success of Da Vinci Code helped my novel…but it was an inadvertent coincidence. I had long submitted the manuscript even before Da Vinci Code became a rage.” The Da Vinci Code also proved to be an inspiration for Ashwin Sanghi. His debut work The Rozabal Line (Tata- Westland, 2008) investigates the secret behind the tomb of Rozabal in Kashmir, which supposedly contains the body of Saint Yuz Asaf. The author exploits to fabulous success the theory of Jesus Christ having lived in India in this novel, and Rozabal Line proved to be one of the successes of 2008 in the realm of religious conspiracy thrillers.

After a long hiatus, (since the Seventies) legal thrillers are back in reckoning with Mumbai lawyer Armin Wandrewala’s lawyer Zerxes Avari series of crime novels. The Turning (1994) was a well crafted whodunit, surrounding the mysterious death of a couple, who married against their community’s interest. Zerxes Avari also returns in fine form in The Ceremony of Innocents (2009). Delhi lawyer Aditya Sudarshan also scored with A Nice Quiet Holiday, a cozy mystery which had a maverick Judge – Harish Shinde solving a murder. His protégée – lawyer Anant is his sidekick, and the narrator of the story. A good debut, the author packs a punch in this legal mystery.

The success of the films Lord of the Rings and Beowulf has certainly inspired many Indian authors to take up fantasy writing. Eighteen year old Sukrat Gupta’s The Forgotten Myth: Evolution (Trafford Publishing) is the first in a planned Evolution series. The author combines in the novels some snippets of history with fantasy to weave a good story. The work follows the exploits of Joseph D’Souja, an eighteen-year-old teen, who faces an uphill task to defeat Mahmud Ghazni, who has come from the past, attained magical powers and became the Dark King of the Magic World. This novel was published in 2007, and the author is now on work on its sequel, Damsel and Dulcimer. Gopal Mukerjee’s The Armageddon Mandala (Revenge Ink 2006) is another fantasy thriller to attain a bestseller status. The author, a Non-resident Indian, tells the story of a private eye, Allen Ginsberg, who finds himself trapped in a vortex of bizarre rituals and life-threatening ordeals- all in his efforts to prevent a planetary holocaust.

Samit Basu’s GameWorld Trilogy (Penguin, 2004- 07) consisting of The Simoqin Prophecies, The Manticore’s Secret and The Unwaba Revelations was yet another groundbreaking effort in fantasy writing. A “Starwars” style series, with a taut plot and tight narrative style, the GameWorld series proved to be a hit in India. Evan Wonderwood, a neo- fantasy thriller written Bengalee (by an author whose real identity is kept under wraps) is also on the anvil to be published in late 2009. Rupa will be bringing out later this year (the publishing house’s first venture into fantasy thriller writing) Legend of the Blood Samurai by twenty year old Ramkumar Deb. The novel is about an unusual friendship between a boy, Rammy and an alien, Smerd- and the effort by the alien to create a superhuman. Nithin Koshy from Kerala debuted with Atlas Reborn– a “Terminator” style sci- fi thriller set in United States (2007). It seems the market will be bright, at least for the next couple of years for fantasy thriller fiction.

Gaurav Suri & Hartosh S Bal, A Certain Ambiguity (Penguin, 2007) is billed as India’s first ‘mathematical thriller’. The plot spins around a character, Ravi Kapoor, whose mission in life is to fight an obscurantist administration that had persecuted his grandfather for his mathematical beliefs which militated against a regressive blasphemy law in a New Jersey town very early in the 20th century. So, Ravi’s journey from India to the US, chapter after chapter, is interspersed with puzzles – from those that are mere hobbies to those that are make-or-break situations- all of which have numerical underpinnings. Penguin has put lot of hope in this novel which hit the stands this year. Another youngster who has recently carved a neat niche in this realm of fiction is Nikhil Khanna. His debut work Day of the Dead, (Frog Books, 2006) though published in India, is however, set in United States and feature American and Mexican protagonists. It is an action oriented tale of a renegade, all set to kill a powerful United States Senator, who is the chief patron of the dug mafia in the United States.

The graphic detective novel is achieving popularity in the West- but only few in India have tried their hands at the same. Tejas Modak’s Private Eye Anonymous: The Art Gallery Case, about a “bumbling” sleuth named Anonymous, set in the bewildering world of fake paintings is the pioneer in this realm. Anonymous is called to protect the paintings of Van Gaur in an art gallery. Together with his sidekick Chikki, its upto Anonymous to protect the paintings from the clutches of conmen. An amusing and hilarious graphic novel.

Though these books have achieved successes, contributions by Indian authors remain sporadic and far between. It might be because there is a latent hesitation on the part of the Indian reader to accept crime thrillers as a part of Indian popular reading culture. Readers who enjoy Grisham, Sheldon and Tom Clancy are actually seeking fantasy. Maybe the whole charm of the thriller genre is that American or firangi setting, those foreign characters and lifestyle, that whole ‘other world’ that one loses oneself in for a few entertaining hours. Maybe by bringing it down, to Indian everyday reality, it robs the whole motivation of reading a thriller. Maybe what Indian readers want from Indian authors is one thing – ambitious, literary prose poems that win awards and accolades worldwide, doing us proud, while what they want from thrillers is an entirely different thing – exotic lifestyles and ‘those crazy American’ behavioural quirks’ and serial killers and madcap courtroom dramas, et al… The moment one writes an Indian thriller, it becomes too close to home for comfort. The fantasy-comfort factor is lost completely. In fact, some very fine crime novels authored by Indian writers are languishing for want of publishers. Save for a Penguin or a Rupa, no major publishing company has shown real interest in publishing crime fiction. Mumbai based medical representative K.V. Ramesh, himself a spy novel aficionado has knocked many a door to get his spy novel published, but as of date has found no takers. Says Ramesh, “I have written a trilogy of novels titled, Outer Circle, Middle Circle and Inner Circle, featuring an Indian counter- espionage agent, Ravi Varma. But without a Ludlumish sounding name, I find it difficult to attract publishers.” Same is the fate of Hari R. Krishna of Chennai who is hoping that his 6000 page fantasy thriller series Blood of Fire– modelled on The Lord of the Rings trilogy will find a suitable publisher one day. Even Shashi Tharoor could not break this jinx. His first literary effort, an adventure story for kids featuring “The Six Solvers” in The Solvers on the Trail (the first in a planned series modelled on Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series) hit the rock. Educationist Matthew Panmkat who also tried to bring out a desi Enid Blyton series couldn’t find any publisher for his adventure books, save for the first in the planned series Rony and the Mystery of the Missing Kids. Former Malayalam actor and cartoonist Thomas Burleigh Kurushingal is busy with his suspense thriller The Worm, and is keeping his fingers crossed that a suitable publisher will evince interest in the same.

That said, it must also be submitted that Indian Crime Writing in English recently received a much needed boost through Blaft Publishers. Blaft, owned by a crime fiction aficionado Rajesh Khanna, recently published an anthology of Tamil crime fiction short stories translated into English. The work titled Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction was huge succeess. The Indian market is also looking forward to the fate of prolific Hindi pulp fiction novelist- Surender Mohan Pathak’s crime caper Painsath Lakh Ki Dakaiti (translated to The Rs 65 Lakh Heist) would fare in the Indian maket. It must be confessed that a lot is riding on the success of this translated novel.

Ashok Banker, famed author and the pioneer in modern crime fiction in India also is hopeful of a fruitful innings of crime fiction in English in India. In an interview with the author, Banker remarked- “Indian publishers would love to publish more crime fiction–especially by Indian authors. There is a substantial market for it today. The problem is that there is very little really good crime writing in this country. It’s also a myth that you need to be a ‘name’ to get published–it’s actually easier for an unknown author to get a good book published, than for an established author to get a mediocre book published…the day an Indian author, preferably a complete unknown, writes a really good crime thriller, trust me, it will be published and sell decently well–not brilliantly because the market isn’t that big and may never be that big for crime fiction here, but decently enough to be counted a success.”

But how far, will these books be accepted by the Indian reader? Only with more patronage and a conscientious effort on the part of the Indian reader to buy and read books written by Indian authors will Indian thriller writing in English, really achieve the much needed popularity and recognition it truly deserves.

Chills, Thrills & Dishum Dishum Pt. 2

Chills, Thrills & Dishum Dishum Pt. 1

Popular Fiction Writing in English by Indian Authors [Revised]

By Narayan Radhakrishnan

Narayan is a lawyer by profession, a voracious reader by passion – of mysteries and thrillers from Trivandrum, India. A self proclaimed numero – uno legal thriller lover, he is the author of A FICTION OF LAW: A STUDY IN LAW AND LITERATURE which looks into the growth and development of the legal thriller genre. Author of a couple of other books on law- he is also the official reviewer for two web journals www.rebeccasreads.com and www.newmysteryreader.com – wherein he reviews the latest and best in mysteries.

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“A work that strikes at the very root of Christianity,
the way we know it”
-reads the blurb of the novel.

And I am NOT raving about The Da Vinci Code. I am speaking about The Thomas Document, by Hugh Gantzer written in 1977. Names like Shyam Dave, Sucharit Rajadhyaksha, K.P. Bahadur seldom cross ones mind when we discuss Indian Writing in English. Its always Salman Rushdie, Chetan Bhagat or Arundhati Roy that comes to mind and we generally tend to go for John Grisham, Sidney Sheldon or Jeffrey Archer as far as mysteries and thrillers are concerned. Though Indian thriller writing commands a small but steadfast readership, most Indian authors remain unknown and more often than not second editions of their books are not available. At the same time English author H.R.F. Keating with his Inspector Ghote Series of police procedurals set in Mumbai; Irish author Paul Mann’s lawyer George Sansi series of thrillers set in Goa, and more recently the Detective Vish Puri “Most Private Investigator” series of novels by British author Tarquin Hall achieves tremendous successes in the West. Why do we tend to relegate to second class our mystery and thriller authors?

While researching this article, I found information woefully inadequate and even the Net couldn’t come to my rescue. This is surprising, because detective and mystery writing traces its origin in India itself. Sudraka’s Mricchakatika, written in the 1st Century AD, about the effect of a false alibi on a trial, is the recognized first detective fiction work in the World . Even before Mricchakatika, many of the Jataka Tales (fables) featured stories of Buddha as lawyer, judge and investigator and Buddha’s concept of justice, and were narrated in the modern day whodunit style.

The first modern day thriller by an Indian writer was Partha Chatterjee’s Princely Imposter? The Strange and Universal History of the Kumar of Bhawal written in 1933. Loosely based on Natalie Zemon Davis’s The Return of Martin Guerre and the true-life ‘Bhawal case’ where a person long thought dead miraculously return to claim a stake in the family property culminating in an exciting courtroom drama, was bestseller when it was published in 1933. Originally published in Bengali, the English translated version came a few years later, and the same has run into numerous editions.

In 1940, S.K. Chettur stunned the Indian detective writing with Bombay Murder; while his brother G.K. Chettur tasted success with Ghost City. However, the same are no longer available in print.

However, till the Sixties, there was not much takers for detective or thriller writing in India. But in the late Sixties and early Seventies, when Ian Fleming’s James Bond series and novels of Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason series began to capture the Indian market, some of our desi authors also tried their hands in pulp fiction. The pioneer in this realm was Hugh Gantzer, now more renowned as travel author and author of the bestseller The Year Before Sunset. Gantzer had just retired as Judge Advocate from the Indian Navy, and seeing the popularity that James Bond commanded in India, tried to create the Indian version of Bond. Under the pseudonym Shyam Dave, Hugh Gantzer together with his wife Colleen, created India’s first super spy, Jawaharlal Atim Zadu- JAZ, and his girlfriend Sonia. Zadu detested guns, drank Indian whiskey, was an expert in kalarippayat (a martial art form of Kerala, India), a Tantrist, and spoke a number of Indian languages. But then he, too, was engaged in rescuing India when it teetered on the edge of assorted disasters. Zadu was one cool guy, suave and glamourous, Bond-ish in style. For a decade from the early Seventies, Zadu appeared in a series of novels including The Guru Docket, The Brian Drain Docket, The Isaac Docket (Orient Paperbacks) etc. At the same time Hugh Gantzer in his own name wrote another series of political thrillers featuring Netto. Netto was the antithesis of Zadu in all respects. He was quiet, unassuming and used more of brain than brawn in tackling sensitive issues. In the first of the series Operation Overkill (Orient Paperbacks, 1973) Netto was involved in bringing to book four Indian Naval officers who assassinated disparate leaders in order to create chaos in the country, forcing the government to declare military rule. The second was The President’s Ransom (Orient Paperbacks, 1973) in which the Director of Internal Security had the President kidnapped just before the visit of the US President to India, so that the United Front Government would fall and his backers … unidentified … could take over. Interestingly The President’s Ransom mentioned a paper called “Midday” long before the real “Midday” was launched. The authors also predicted India being ruled by a coalition government, called “The United Front”, many years in advance of coalition politics becoming a Union reality. The third and last in the Netto series was The Thomas Document (Orient Paperback 1977), a work, which is truly a forerunner to The Da Vinci Code in all respects. The novel centered on a secret document written by St. Thomas, the Apostle of Christ, the contents of which, if released would wreck the faith of millions, and strike at the very root of all Christian teaching. It is up to Netto to find the document, before the Nation falls into religious disharmony. However, after this book, Ganzter stopped the Netto series. The highlight of the Netto- Zadu series was that though the authors were inspired by Ian Fleming and other spy novelists of the West, the novels were not parodies, and were totally Indian in all respects.

A couple of other authors also tried to emulate the James Bond formula in India, but met with little success. The only exception might be Dara: The Indian James Bond and Prince of Spies created by Kamini Uppal. The stories, told in comic form were published by the erstwhile Indrajal Comics (1988- 1990). Comics included The Enemy Agent, Sparks of Treason, Jaws of Treachery etc. Dara was both brainy and brawny and an avid mountain climber. In his real life, Dara was Rana Bikram Bir Singh, who enjoyed meditation and an occasional glass of orange juice. However, no further Dara works were published since the demise of Indrajal in 1990.

During the same period, (in the Sixties and Seventies), some authors also tried to emulate the Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason series of courtroom dramas. The pioneer in this realm was P. Parameswaran Nair of Trivandrum. Inspired by the Perry Mason mysteries, which the author himself is quick to admit, Parameswaran Nair wrote a series of mysteries featuring a police officer- lawyer duo of Sam Laxter and Stewart Sangster. The novels which were published between the late Sixties and the early Eighties followed a stereo formula. A crime is committed, Laxter makes an arrest, the criminal lawyer Stewart Sangster comes to the rescue of the accused, proving that Laxter was wrong and hasty in making the arrest, and gets the accused off. Laxter reinvestigates and finally the real culprit is brought to the dock. Being locally published, the books didn’t made much of an impact outside Kerala. In The Case of the Traveling Toxin (Karmabhoomi Press, 1977), the author presented a strange case where a poison powder, send by post results in the death of the addressee. Though the author doesn’t use the phrase “Anthrax”- it seems that the fiction turned a reality 25 years later, when incidents of Anthrax poisoning through post created havoc in the country. In The Case of the Broken Belt (Karmabhoomi Press, 1983) the last of the series, the author did a ‘reverse Sherlock Holmes’- instead of killing of the character, the author decided that the character should kill the author. Nair presented himself as one of the characters, and asks Laxter whether he can solve the crime the author had committed- he just says that he has committed a crime- what, where, who, why- etc., Laxter will have to find it out and prove it. Laxter succeeds- but before he can arrest Parameswaran Nair (the character) he kills himself. Though most books feature heavy courtroom action, the same borders on ludicrousness. Other novels in the series included The Case of the Spookish Spouse, Case of the Innocent Accomplice etc. However, poor marketing, insipid printing, and a bland narrative style had affected the popularity of the works. Yet, as the creator of the first modern day legal thrillers from India, Parameswaran Nair deserves mention herein.

Lawyer Harsh Bahadur of Delhi also wrote a Perry Mason pastiche in 1977 titled The Case of the Sprightly Widow (Sterling Paperbacks, 1977). It was an obvious rip-off featuring advocate S.H. Jung, a Della Street Secretary, Nina Sinha and a detective ala Paul Drake, Peter Aylmer. The work, a murder mystery, was rich in courtroom action. Renowned historian K.P. Bahadur’s contribution to thriller writing was The Case of the Poisoned Cat and Murder in the Delhi Mail, (Sterling Paperbacks 1974- 76) both featuring lawyer- detective Kumar. Though the protagonist is a lawyer, both books were prototypes of the popular Agatha Christie mysteries, and Murder in the Delhi Mail, is truly the desi version of Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Tamil Author Devan’s Justice Jagannatan originally written in Tamil was recently translated to English by Lakshmi Venketaraman. A regular courtroom drama, the novel commanded a good readership in Tamil Nadu.

Shakuntala Devi, renowned mathematician had tried her luck in fiction writing also. Her novel The Perfect Murder (Orient Paperbacks, 1976) is a tense and solid read wherein a criminal lawyer plans the perfect murder. The finesse of style of attention to detail is reminiscent of the early Fredrick Forsyth novels. Likewise E.N. Mangat Rai, a retired IAS Officer, had written a wonderful whodunit The Lalru Murders (Orient Paperbacks, 1973), set in the background of a drug related murder case. But all these novels also have been relegated to out-of-print category. Gujarat based Shakti Sahitya Mandir had brought out a murder mystery titled Murder (1972) featuring ace detective Lal. Written by Sarojben Shah, the novel revolved around the kidnapping of an eminent Indian scientist by Pakistanis, and the hullabaloo that follows. With convoluted sex and less action otherwise the novel is a dud…and it is no wonder why a reprint did not appear.

The Indo- Pak War and the spirit of nationalism that followed, also spurned a series of military action thrillers. Squadron Leader Amarjeet Kullar wrote Shadow of the Dragon and The Alpertol Affair (Orient Paperbacks, Late Sixties), while journalist Dilip Hiro authored A Triangular View (Orient Paperbacks, 1969). Like Kullar himself, the author’s series protagonist was a courageous Air force pilot Mark Ray. In The Shadow of the Dragon, Mark Ray is caught in the midst of an international conspiracy which involves tampering with and scuttling with the air force of many European and Asia countries. The exploits of Mark Ray continued further in The Alpertol Affair, another spy thriller.

During the Sixties and Seventies adventure- detective stories also had a good run. Prime contributors in this realm were two literary giants of Bengali literature Saradindu Bandhopadhyay with his Byomkesh Bakshi series of detective thrillers and Satyajit Ray with his charismatic Detective Feluda series. Bandhopadhyay’s Byomkesh Bakshi first hit the stands in 1932 and by the Fifties and Sixties it had loyal following, and the first English translated version of the stories also hit the bookshops during this period. In The Menagerie Byomkesh cracks a strange case involving broken motor parts, a seemingly natural death and the peculiar inhabitants of Golap Colony who seem capable of doing just about anything to safeguard the secrets of their tainted pasts. In The Jewel Case he investigates the mysterious disappearance of a priceless necklace, while in The Will That Vanished he solves a baffling riddle to fulfill the last wish of a close friend. And in The Quills of the Porcupine, the shrewd detective is in his element as he expertly foils the sinister plans of a ruthless opportunist. Sreejata Guha recently translated the Byomkesh Bakshi series to English titled The Menagerie & Other Byomkesh Bakshi Mysteries. (2006, Penguin).

Satyajit Ray wrote a total of thirty-five Feluda stories, (between 1965 and 1992) featuring the master sleuth Pradosh C Mitter, his assistant Topshe, and Lalmohan Babu alias Jatayu, a bumbling writer of crime fiction. The locales range from Gangtok and Varanasi to Jaisalmer and Ellora, apart from Feluda’s home town of Calcutta. The plots involve murder, intrigue and adventure, narrated in a racy, humorous style. All of this makes for enormously entertaining fare. In 2000 Penguin brought out in two volumes the Complete Adventures of Feluda translated from the Bengali by Gopa Majumdar and Chitrita Bannerji. Although both Ray and Bandhopadhyay largely modelled their creations on Sherlock Holmes, Feluda and Bakshi had a dedicated following among three generations of readers.

To be continued…

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Notes:
1. Joan Cook Wilson, ‘Stories of Crime and Detection: Using the Mystery Formula as an Introduction to Asian Literatures and the Cultures,’ Education About Asia 6/1 (2001), 1. See generally, Tabish Khair, “Indian Pulp Fiction in English: A Preliminary Overview from Dutt to De,” Journal of Commonwealth Literature 43/3 (2008) 59; Amrita Dutta, ‘The Missing Plot”, The Indian Express (September 21, 2008)

2. Adventure comics in English have comparatively sold well in India. In the Seventies Indrajal Comics also published Bahadur: a former dacoit who amended his ways to become the saviour of the meek. Originally created by Abid Surti, a plethora of Bahadur stories were written by Jagjit Uppal, husband of the aforementioned Kamini Uppal. In the early Eighties, famed director Gulzar introduced the Amitabh Bachchan comics, featuring the superstar as a masked super hero Supremo- who was a Bollywood actor during day and a crime fighter at night. Likewise Bharat and Shalan Savur created Sunny: The Super Sleuth- a super hero who was Sunil Gavaskar, ace cricketer during daytime and the terror of hoodlums in his other avatar. Both Supremo and Sunny were short-lived. In the late Eighties Anupam Sinha created Private Detective Kapil for the short lived Chitra Bharati Kathamala Comics. In the Nineties Diamond Comics created many an Indian super hero including Captain Vyom (the peacekeeper of the space), Fauladi Singh (who regularly protects the Earth from alien invasions), Shaktiman (desi Superman), Mahabalai Shaka (desi Tarzan), Dynamite (a revolutionary patriot, engaged in protecting India from foreign invasion) and Agniputra- Abhay (who fights crime with the state of the art technology, and with a wee bit of help from the Almighty). Raj Comics also have had a steady output of superhero comics. Raj is to Indian comics, what DC is to United States. Series super heroes includes Super Commando Dhruva, (created by Anupam Sinha, Dhruva is a private investigator who has the ability to talk with animals), Inspector Steel (desi Robocop), Doga (a vigilante and saviour of the poor and downtrodden), Nagraj (desi Snakeyes), Tiranga (India’s own Captain America), Bheriya (a wolf man), Parmanu (Atomic powered wonder man) etc. Soon cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and actress Priyanka Chopra will find their super hero avatars in Virgin Comics.

Chills, Thrills & Dishum Dishum Pt. 1

Hougly Beer & Film Review

Here’s another blogsite that I stumbled upon which I have been enjoying recently. On a cold miserable night, is there anything better than settling down with a bottle or six of your favourite amber nectar and watching a good movie? Or even a bad movie – I’m not too fussy! It seems that Lee at The Hougly Film and Beer Journal shares my sentiments. Not only does he review the films that come his way, but also his favourite tipples…you can even watch the beer reviews on Youtube.

To get loaded, click here.

Hougly Beer & Film Review

The Windsor Protocol (1996)

Country: Canada / United Kingdom
Director: George Mihalka
Starring: Kyle MacLachlan, Macha Grenon, Chris Wiggins, Lisa Bronwyn Moore, John Colicos, Alan Thicke
Music: Stanislas Syrewicz
Based on characters from Jack Higgins’ Thunder Point

My memories of the tele movie On Dangerous Ground are not fond ones, so as I loaded up this Sean Dillon adventure I wasn’t expecting too much. But I must admit I was pleasantly surprised. The start is rather confusing though because it assumes that you have seen the previous tele movie Thunder Point. Thankfully there is a brief recap which brings newcomers to the series (or those, like me, who have watched them out of order) up to speed. We are told that towards the end of the second World War, when Hitler knew that he was beat, he smuggled out of Germany a series of documents called the Windsor Protocol. These documents are a list of Nazi sympathisers and access to billions of dollars in funds. This money is intended to start a new Fourth Reich – and if you think any of this is sounding like The Holcroft Covenant, then I’d agree with you! These documents were sealed in a steel suitcase, and placed on a U-boat. The vessel set sale but was never seen again. Now the documents have been found.

This film starts in Montreal, and a world peace conference is taking place. At the conference centre, the press eagerly await the last bus load of delegates. They don’t have to wait too long, as the bus speeds up to the front of the building. From the doors, one of the delegates is tossed out onto the street – beaten, bloodied and dead. Then the bus speeds off, with the other delegates still on board.

A militant group has taken the bus load of politicians hostage. Naturally police pursue the bus as it winds through the streets, but in reality there is little they can do without harming the hostages. The bus drives into a prearranged warehouse and shuts up all the doors and windows. The hostages are marched off the bus and tied up in groups and seated on the concrete floor. Armed guards are positioned around the building, and outside the police surround the building. It’s a standoff.

Meanwhile in London, Sean Dillon (Kyle MacLachlan) is engaged in a particularly nasty bar fight. Just as it looks like Dillon is outnumbered in saunters Brigadier Charles Fergusson (Chris Wiggins). Fergusson and Dillon have quite a history. Fergusson is the head of a British Secret Service unit and he recruits Dillon to complete certain missions. The thing is Dillon is not a willing participant in any of these missions, and Fergusson usually blackmails Dillon into doing his dirty work. And so is the case here. Before you know it, they are both in Montreal. Fergusson has acquired Dillon’s services to resolve the hostage situation. It appears that one of the hostages, Sir Reginald Wheelan is somehow associated with the Windsor Protocol. His father helped bankroll the Nazis. Another hostage is a high profile US Senator named Joplin Hardy (Alan Thicke). Hardy is being touted as a future President of the United States.

At the siege, Dillon poses as a SWAT operative (or the Canadian equivalent) and secrets his way into the warehouse, shooting two guards with tranquiliser darts as he does so. Next he tosses into the mix a particularly noisy sound device – like an alarm. In the noise and confusion, the real SWAT team storm the building. The head terrorist shoots Sir Reginald, only to be cut down by Senator Hardy. Dillon believes the siege was rather suspicious, but he quickly disappears before any questions are asked.

There’s more to the case. Fergusson then takes Dillon to a safe house in Montreal. The house happens to be a tailor shop, and down stairs, Dillon is teamed with Lenore ‘Lennie’ (Lisa Bronwyn Moore), who is a computer genius in charge of tracing the various ‘Protocol’ accounts.

The siege in Montreal has significantly raised Senator Hardy’s profile, and he is quickly promoted to the Minister of the Interior. He is clearly climbing the ladder on the way to the White House. One of the reasons for his rapid climb, is that he has a sizeable bank roll behind him. Now you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see where this is all going – there is a warchest of Nazi money – and a new Senator on the block with a healthy bank balance. Who do you think the Neo-Nazi is?

Kyle MacLachlan, like Rob Lowe before him, is horribly miscast as Dillon, but at least MacLachlan, who has made a career out of playing ‘lighter’ characters, seems to be truly enjoying playing a bad-ass role. John Collicos plays the villain of the piece, Gerhardt Heinzer, who is a Nazi war criminal. It’s great to see Colicos in action again (although he never really went away – as he aged his profile dropped). In the ’70s, along with John Saxon and Michael Ansara, Colicos was one of the most familiar villains on the TV screen. He appeared in The Six Million Dollar Man, Charlie’s Angels, The Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Hawaii Five-O, Mannix, Mission Impossible and so much more. Here, once again, he gives another dispicable performance.

Now I am not going to lie to you and say that The Windso
r Protocol
is a good film, but I feel it is better than I thought it would – or should be. It is certainly miles ahead of On Dangerous Ground. The film has it’s limitations, like budget and lack of and A-grade cast, but it does the best with what it has – and that’s okay.

The Windsor Protocol (1996)

The Windsor Protocol (1996)

Country: Canada / United Kingdom
Director: George Mihalka
Starring: Kyle MacLachlan, Macha Grenon, Chris Wiggins, Lisa Bronwyn Moore, John Colicos, Alan Thicke
Music: Stanislas Syrewicz
Based on characters from Jack Higgins’ Thunder Point

My memories of the tele movie On Dangerous Ground are not fond ones, so as I loaded up this Sean Dillon adventure I wasn’t expecting too much. But I must admit I was pleasantly surprised. The start is rather confusing though because it assumes that you have seen the previous tele movie Thunder Point. Thankfully there is a brief recap which brings newcomers to the series (or those, like me, who have watched them out of order) up to speed. We are told that towards the end of the second World War, when Hitler knew that he was beat, he smuggled out of Germany a series of documents called the Windsor Protocol. These documents are a list of Nazi sympathisers and access to billions of dollars in funds. This money is intended to start a new Fourth Reich – and if you think any of this is sounding like The Holcroft Covenant, then I’d agree with you! These documents were sealed in a steel suitcase, and placed on a U-boat. The vessel set sale but was never seen again. Now the documents have been found.

This film starts in Montreal, and a world peace conference is taking place. At the conference centre, the press eagrerly await the last bus load of delegates. They don’t have to wait too long, as the bus speeds up to the front of the building. From the doors, one of the delegates is tossed out onto the street – beaten, bloodied and dead. Then the bus speeds off, with the other delegates still on board.

A militant group has taken the bus load of politicians hostage. Naturally police pursue the bus as it winds through the streets, but in reality there is little they can do without harming the hostages. The bus drives into a prearranged warehouse and shuts up all the doors and windows. The hostages are marched off the bus and tied up in groups and seated on the concrete floor. Armed guards are positioned around the building, and outside the police surround the building. It’s a standoff.

Meanwhile in London, Sean Dillion (Kyle MacLachlan) is engaged in a particularly nasty bar fight. Just as it looks like Dillon is outnumbered in saunters Brigadere Charles Fergusson (Chris Wiggins). Fergusson and Dillon have quite a history. Fergusson is the head of a British Secret Service unit and he recruits Dillon to complete certain missions. The thing is Dillon is not a willing participant in any of these missions, and Fergusson usually blackmails Dillon into doing his dirty work. And so is the case here. Before you know it, they are both in Montreal. Fergusson has acquired Dillon’s services to resolve the hostage situation. It appears that one of the hostages, Sir Reginald Wheelan is somehow asscociated with the Windsor Protocol. His father helped bankroll the Nazis. Another hostage is a high profile US Senator named Joplin Hardy (Alan Thicke). Hardy is being touted as a future President of the United States.

At the seige, Dillon poses as a SWAT operative (or the Canadian equivalent) and secrets his way into the warehouse, shooting two guards with tranquiliser darts as he does so. Next he tosses into the mix a particularly noisy sound device – like an alarm. In the noise and confusion, the real SWAT team storm the building. The head terrorist shoots Sir Reginald, only to be cut down by Senator Hardy. Dillon believes the siege was rather suspicious, but he quickly dissapears before any questions are asked.

There’s more to the case. Fergusson then takes Dillon to a safe house in Montreal. The house happens to be a tailor shop, and down stairs, Dillon is teamed with Lenore ‘Lennie’ (Lisa Bronwyn Moore), who is a computer genius in charge of tracing the various ‘Protocol’ accounts.

The siege in Montreal has significantly raised Senator Hardy’s profile, and he is quickly promoted to the Minister of the Interior. He is clearly climbing the ladder on the way to the White House. One of the reasons for his rapid climb, is that he has a sizeable bank roll behind him. Now you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see where this is all going – there is a warchest of nazi money – and a new Senator on the block with a healthy bank balance. Who do you think the Neo-Nazi is?

Kyle MacLachlan, like Rob Lowe before him, is horribly miscast as Dillon, but at least MacLachlan, who has made a career out of playing ‘lighter’ characters, seems to be truly enjoying playing a bad-ass role. John Collicos plays the villain of the piece, Gerhardt Heinzer, who is a Nazi war criminal. It’s great to see Colicos in action again (although he never really went away – as he aged his profile dropped). In the ’70s, along with John Saxon and Michael Ansara, Colicos was one of the most familiar villains on the TV screen. He appeared in The Six Million Dollar Man, Charlie’s Angels, The Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Hawaii Five-O, Mannix, Mission Impossible and so much more. Here, once again, he gives another dispicable performance.

Now I am not going to lie to you and say that The Windsor Protocol is a good film, but I feel it is better than I thought it would – or should be. It is certainly miles ahead of On Dangerous Ground. The film has it’s limitations, like budget and lack of and A-grade cast, but it does the best with what it has – and that’s okay.

The Windsor Protocol (1996)