The Banker’s Wife – Cristina Alger

Optics, Annabel reminds herself sternly. It’s all optics.”

This one line perfectly lays down the plot. When i think about Bankers, it brings the image of well dressed, culturally aware and snooty men and this book, validates the image to the core.

Annabel, our protagonist, is an art connoisseur¬†and a banker’s wife, who finds herself in Geneva, chasing the money-making dreams of her banker husband from New York. The lonely wife, with no working visa, finds herself devastated with the news of her husband’s plane crash. Then starts the unraveling of the secret life he had been living, while protecting her from the truth.

No readers, the husband does not have string of mistresses or girlfriend on the side (though occasional hints of it may make you wonder), but he is deep into the scam related to siphoning off funds for people into the offshore accounts. Swiss bank accounts have been both a source of fascination and mystery to plebeian like me, so when the book goes deep into the private banking world of Switzerland, how can you not strap yourself on to the seat and go for the ride?

The funds of world criminals, in this book the Syrian Assad family plays a pivotal role, intriguing (if any of its true) and disgusting (how can anyone support a tyrant for a few bobs) in equal measure. It’s a world so far removed from the world in which salaried people like me live, that as a reader i found myself lost into the dreams of millions, billions and trillions through this book.

The plot is fast paced and a lot of it predictable with reader separating out the good guys from the bad ones and waiting for the bad guys to reach justice. A bit ideological in the current world, or maybe its just my cynicism which made me feel a bit sarcastic towards the ending. There is not much blood and gore but press plays a strong and positive role. Part love story, part illegal monetary transactions and part politics keeps up the drama throughout. I may not want to ever date a banker or a politician after reading it, but happy to take the huge diamond ring any day.

Overall, an enjoyable read and a great weekend / beach book to bring along! happy reading.

The Scarred Woman – Jussi Adler-Olsen (Department Q Series)

Department Q Series has come a long way with this new release from Jussi Adler-Olsen. With every new book in the series, the author manages to astonish his readers with an absolutely creative plot and leave them biting their nails while reading the book. As in all the books in the series, its not so much about the suspense, but of the chase and thrill involved.

In this recent book, Rose, an integral part of Department Q (which her colleagues are just now realising) falls apart, after the hypnosis session they underwent as part of the book (The Hanging Girl). Its stunning, how beautifully, author is able to portray a very normal, average sounding person to be going through such deep depression and able to keep everyone around them absolutely ignorant about their condition.

Rose, eldest of five sisters, has been psychologically bullied throughout her childhood by her father and was a spectator to his brutal death at the steel plant. The book tackles her hidden insecurities, her methods of keeping the demons at bay and how deeply it has and is still impacting her. This book has many threads which are brought together spectacularly towards the end.

Apart from Rose, the story revolves around Anneli, a social service worker and spoilt, untalented and rather vain girls, who are dependent on or mis-using the system for state benefits. When Anneli is diagnosed with breast cancer something breaks lose within her and she turns 360 degree from her normal, good girl persona to a dark side that has always been lurking somewhere. She decides to get rid of these “leeches” as she refers to some of the girls availing unemployment benefits. Being a novice and entirely working with the help of internet information, Anneli succeeds in stealing car and hitting one of the girls. While she is happily contemplating the death of the girl, she is rather disconcerted to learn that the girl survived. Learning from her mistakes, as she went along, Anneli manages to kill two more girls in this hit and run manner.

The girls who are being targeted in the meanwhile are leading their own stories – where they are prostituting themselves to select men (calling them sugar daddies) who are in turn keeping the girls in the lavish lifestyle so desired. In order to make “big money” at once, they commit a robbery at a nightclub, which leads to an altercation with another state support girl, who is also a bully, leading to a murder.

One of the girls from this group, also happens to belong to the family, who is involved in our main plot – the grandfather being ex-nazi, grandmother being a force to reckon with, mother a compulsive alcoholic and father disappeared, Denise is suspected by her own mother of killing her grandmother.

Its quite a complex web of stories, related to one another – you will remain glued to this book, since something new will happen at every page turn. Thrown into the mix is also the police politics and finally a certain degree of camaraderie between the departments handling new cases (A) and old cases (Q) since they all seem to be interlinked. We also see Marcus Jacobson (ex chief) coming out of the woodworks and participate as an external consultant – so hopefully we will see this character more active in the next book.

The ending is very positive – where we have hope for Rose pulling through her physical and mental breakdowns, now that the truth behind her father’s death has been uncovered, maybe she will be able to put it all behind and Carl giving Mona a hug in support.

I think i have a book hangover! Sensational is the word.

The Absent One (US) Disgrace (UK) – Jussi Adler-Olsen (Department Q Series)

This is one of the horrifying and yet gripping book i have come across yet. Horrifying because of the portrayal of human depravity and gripping because once i started reading it, i could not put it down.

This is the second book by Jussi Adler-Olsen in the Department Q series, and as before, the title is different for US and UK release. Carl Morck continues to astound us with his sarcasm “That was the thing about holidays. They came to an end.” With his who-cares persona, he keeps dazzling us with his wit and intuition where solving difficult and cold cases are concerned. Still enjoying his goodwill from the solving of the first case, Carl finds himself deeply involved in the next one, which on the face of it is solved – someone has confessed to the crime and is already serving sentence, initially perplexed as to why this case would end up at his desk, he finds himself intrigued and involved as the clues / gaps keep on adding.

A group of six friends discover a dark side of their nature – which is revealed to them at the height of intoxication – both with alcohol and drugs, they find themselves enjoying brutally assaulting random people / strangers, even killing them. This high gave them a unique and heightened sexual pleasure. Five of them from upper elite class of society, finds that cooperative victims can be easily payed off and uncooperative ones can be killed, hence their brutality, violence and depravity continuing to grow along their lives. Turning point is when the five boys of the gang rape the sixth – who is a girl, Kimmie, She finds herself traumatised and humiliated after the violent episode and her solace is in the pregnancy. Her withdrawal and pregnancy incites the others and physical assault leads to her losing her child and mental breakdown.

The hunter and the prey keeps exchanging as the story progresses, with Carl Morck and his Syrian assistant Assad thrown into the mix. The story concludes with Carl finding physical evidence of the murders and himself at the mercy of these monsters. Kimmie arrives on time for her revenge, kills the bad guys and saves the police (who has shown her understanding) and then she commits suicide, as her mission in life is achieved.

Assad and Carl provide the much required humour and a sense of sanity. Manipulation of Carl into letting his boss pursue the case – inspite of orders to the contrary from so called senior management, and argument that the case is actually already solved and is not cold to be re-opened, is so surreal, its almost a training on “how to manipulate your boss” in any scenario.

The details of the assaults, the trauma of the victims, the reasons, the method, the pleasure from these attacks and killings, escalation to the point of madness and ultimate fall from the sky is riveting. Does money allows people to trade their humanity? Its a compelling book with captivating characters and a spellbinding plot.

“They earned millions, but it was the killing that made them feel alive.”

Keeper of Lost Causes (US) Mercy (UK) – Jussi Adler-Olsen (Department Q Series)

A new book by Jussi Adler-Olsen in the Department Q Series has been released as recent as yesterday (19 Sep 2017). Though i am eager to get to the new book, i decided to re-read the series and write the reviews along the way. I do enjoy reading Detective series and this one i simply love.

Carl Morck has been on the police force for twenty five years, out of which ten have been with the homicide division. On his last case, one of his team member was shot and another has been reduced to permanent state of paralysis. Carl holds himself responsible, since he escaped unscathed and he feels he didn’t react quickly enough. He is a broken man who is making life for those around him in the police department miserable and his boss is trying to find a corner for him to hide in.

As a political move, Department Q is formed to resolve cold cases of importance and Marc Jacobson, Carl’s boss, takes this opportunity to hide Carl in the basement as the head of department Q, along with an assistant cum cleaner.

Carl’s first case is the disappearance or potential death / suicide by drowning of Merete Lynggaard, one of the female ministers. Though Carl starts going through the case files and details slowly and reluctantly, mostly pushed by his assistant – who seems to be a mystery in himself, he finds himself with a lot of gaps in the information amassed by the police team that had initially worked on the case. These gaps lead to new information, which is both intriguing and mysterious to Carl, who is now trying to put the pieces together.

The whole plot revolves around an accident that took place when Merete was sixteen and her brother thirteen. While out on a drive with their parents, the playful fighting of the brother and sister caused their father to lose control of the vehicle and led to an accident with another car. It caused the destruction of two families – Merete lost her parents and her brother, Uffe, became permanently mentally handicapped ¬†and entirely dependant on her. The other car lost the father, left mother in a wheel chair, one of the twins that were given birth to at the site of accident survived but with massive burns, and the son of Merete’s age was the only one left unhurt.

The reader, alternatively is kept informed of the fact that the same minister is being kept alive in sub-human conditions and being psychologically tortured. Its now the race to bringing two pieces together and whether the outcome will be death or survival.

In my opinion, this is a very captivating book and keeps you glued – though its not truly a suspense, as you already know that the victim is not dead. Its irreverent and impertinent at times and very dark at others.

“For them she was the woman in the cage, but she was the one who decided how far apart the bard would be.”

“Carl sent a message from his brain to his hands that it was still illegal to strangle people”

I have no idea why the series was published with different names in US and UK – though, it did make me buy duplicate copies (which i did not appreciate), hence, i have listed both names in the title so that i can save other buyers some money. Follow the series with me – it really is a good read.

Smilla’s sense of snow – Peter Hoeg

The title intrigued me. The back cover synopsis described a regular thriller, i was intrigued since the book is based in Greenland and Copenhagen. I have read tons of thrillers, including those by Eric Ambler and P.D.James with their rich language and intriguing plots. This one is a bit boring, to be honest. The book goes into long paragraphs (pages, even) of mathematical details and scientific facts, some of which are extremely technical and ultimately, to figure out where the author was leading to, i had to skip over them.

The plot is based on a murder of a child, ruled accidental death by the police, which a neighbour (Smilla) does not agree with. Isaiah (child in question) had fallen off the roof of a tall building and as Smilla explained to whoever was willing to listen – Isaiah was scared of heights. Though always describing herself as emotionally detached and even cold, choosing single life over marriage and children, she is disturbed and takes it upon herself to discover the truth. As thriller goes, there is a villain (or rather a set of them) who try to intimidate her, threaten her and even kill her into abandoning her research. The book takes us into the deepest parts of Greenland in quest for a large piece of meteorite and certain living organisms (worms) which could make some people very rich and powerful.

Being single myself, i am not sure i totally agreed with authors portrayal of Smilla’s single life, but i will give him the benefit of doubt since he did make the character complex due to childhood trauma of losing mother and brother and a father who is largely absent.

The book goes on to elucidate the life in Greenland which i found very educational and strengthened my resolve to visit at some point in future.

Glass Houses – Louise Penny

Glass Houses is the 13th book in Chief Inspector Gamache series and the latest release. I have been reading / following this series since it was first published in 2005 (well! when you read 300 plus books a year, there are a lot of series to follow). It is based in Quebec, Canada and as obvious from the title, is a thriller novel series with murder, mystery, mayhem and beautiful poetry (unusual, i know)

Who hurt you, once,
so far beyond repair
that you would meet each overture
with curling lip?
While we, who knew you well,
your friends, (the focus of your scorn)
could see your courage in the face of fear,
your wit, and thoughtfulness,
and will remember you,
with something close to love. (Bury your dead)

As per me, the poem above symbolises the sensitivity and care with which each book is written. Glass Houses – i think tops all of it. It is so beautifully written, drawing the reader towards the ending the author is driving at, with suspense, conviction and interest.

Cobrador – the debt collector, first started in 1300’s is dressed in top hat and tails and he follows debtors. He is the central figure or the trigger to this entire book. Day after Halloween, cobrador appears in the Three Pines village, where Inspector Gamache resides. He makes the entire population of the village uncomfortable, just by implication of his presence. Presence leads to a murder, murder to an investigation, which in turn leads inspector and his band of loyal followers to discover the notorious drug cartel operating at a large scale under a shadow umbrella across Canada and America. It sounds pretty standard, but trust me – its anything but stale story. The beauty is in the writing, the book lies in between the lines that author has so well crafted.

It almost makes you wish, real life was as uncorrupt, challenging and loyal (for lack of better word – easy). As the author wrote in her acknowledgements – “Three Pines is a state of mind. When we choose tolerance over hate. Kindness over cruelty. Goodness over bullying. When we choose to be hopeful, not cynical. Then we live in Three Pines”

Chanakya Chants – Ashwin Sanghi

“Politics is far too serious a matter to be left to the politicians” Chanaya’s Chants – Ashwin Sanghi

Since i started reading “historical fictions” a decade or so back, i have been contemplating writing one myself. If a “Da Vinci Code” can be created taking religion as the basis, Hindu religion is full of such instances or episodes which could be converted into a mythical and yet a gripping story line.

Alas, that never happened but i chanced upon this book by an Indian author which at first go promised to be a peek into Indian History. However, what i was not counting on was a well written and compelling storyline drawing comparisons to the “oh-so-old” times” and the contemporary ways. As you read the story you wonder if “Pandit Gangaprasad Mishra” is the modern day “Chanakya” putting into action the learnings and cunnings that Chanakya is known for or is it just a disillusioned world of politics where the author is out to prove that political discussions or media may have changed slightly however, the arena itself is exactly the same as it was 2300 years or more ago.

I do think that author should have dramatised or atleast illustrated the part of story which is entirely based on a curse on Chanakya a lot more – which was coming into action only after a few centuries. Some of the episodes are avoidable and give a Bollywood like feel to the book at times. Nevertheless, the script is witty and well written with no compulsive description of surroundings and atmosphere etc, keeping the readers imagination active along with the book. There are pages in the book which ensure a few chuckles and then at times when you pick up the current newspaper – it makes you wonder if all what we read, is just a game between some politicians and their entourage.

Chandni Gupta the protagonist in the book is portrayed to be a bold and intelligent woman, however at times comes across as a puppet. Pandit GangaPrasad Mishra who seems like the anchor / narrator of the story is portrayed to be infallible. When i finished the book last night for a few minutes i kept thinking if making her the prime minister was panditji’s main aim which he achieved – who is now going to ensure that she stays where she has reached and with goodwill. Chandragupta Maurya, who was in a similar way installed on the throne of Bharat, by Chanakya, was a strong leader and a courageous warrior, who lacked the political acumen of Chanakya but more than made up for it where it came to other qualities

Well, without giving away the entire plot my dear readers, i highly recommend this book to all the fiction lovers – from entertainment value.