November 06, 2013

The Shadow Throne- A review

Here is a review that engages as much as the subject itself, courtesy my father, an avid reader, who passed on the gene to all of us.

It is major challenge to embed a story in current geo-political reality and make it plausible. I have always wondered about Fredrick Forsyth’s “The Day of the  Jackal” whether it could have actually happened. Aroon Raman’s “The Shadow Throne” makes us wonder the same. It is so plausible. Part of the reason could be that Mr Raman, an engineer in his other life, not only gets the technical details right but conveys them to us in simple terms. He has also researched (an absolute must for today’s writers) his story well.

Chandra, a freelance journalist living in Chandini Chowk, is just getting over his wife’s death. His mysterious friend Inspector Hassan calls him over to view a death scene at the Qutub Minar. The dead man is a huge foreigner with a very flat back skull. Chandra’s friend Meenakshi, the smart history professor, researches and concludes that the dead man belongs to the Kushan tribe descending from Greeks left behind by Alexander the great in Afganistan. The tribe which had flourished under their greatest king Kanishka were rising again to recapture to the old glory under one Xiphos Soter.

Meanwhile Pakistani intelligence ISI suspects a plot by the hawks of Indian Intelligence RAW to use Soter to assemble nuclear missiles in Afganistan, transport them into Pakistan and fire them into India. The resulting outrage against Pakistan would result in US control of Pak nuclear capabilities, Chinese disenchantment, dismemberment of Pakistan and establishment of Kushan homeland.

The rest of the story is about how our trio manage to deduce things and risk life and limb to defuse the situation without any uproar. There are of course two upright officers, one each in India and Pakistan to help them along.Now for the ‘cons’- It is the birthright of every critic to sit in his/her armchair and say how things could be better. So here goes:The typical thriller reader likes to get into action quickly. He does not mind if the emotional turmoil of the protagonists is covered somewhere in the middle of all the action. Lengthily dwelling on the emotional state of Chandra and Meenakshi right at start is a bit of a put off as it keeps thriller reader away from the action which he craves. It would have better if Mr Raman had merely alluded to it at start. Also Chandra’s parents appear at two places in the story.

I wonder if it was really necessary. As for additions, some more words could have been devoted to historical background on Kushans. Thriller readers are of two types: those who go for the jugular and anyway skim through the details rapidly and others who thrive on details and never have enough. A writer has to provide for both.

A word about editing- Most writers don’t need an editor to correct grammar and spelling. The modern editor has to tear the story apart and provide alternate prose. He/She has to play the Devil’s Advocate and keep spotting places where the story fails to interest. Such an editor should never be an unpaid friend but a professional with reputation willing to quarrel with the author over every line.
The resultant prose would be of international standard.

Finally Mr Raman, with encouragement, can become an international thriller writer of Indian origin. There are enough Indian writers philosophising on our situation, we need someone who will simply thrill us from cover to cover.

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