Sunday, September 02, 2012

Book Review: WHEN THE SNOW MELTS

Title: When the Snow Melts
Author: Vinod Joseph
Publisher: Amaryllis
Publication: 2012









The world that Vinod Joseph recreates in his thriller, When the Snow Melts, is a world that all of us who sleep peacefully in our warm beds at night mercifully know nothing of. It is the world of spies and double agents, men and women who live dangerous lives, infiltrating the enemy camp, working through fair means and foul for information that could spell the critical difference between life and death in a scenario in which countries appear to be at peace with each other, but where tensions continue to simmer below the surface.

Ritwik Kumar is an Indian spy who has been sent by the Indian government to work as part of the Intelligence Assessment Group (IAG), a London-based organisation that consists of intelligence agents from around the world who work together in a concerted effort in the global fight against terrorism. Two of IAG’s main goals involve nabbing Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar and ridding the ISI, Pakistan’s secret service agency, of rogues and fundamentalists.

An old hand at the game, Ritwik defects to the Al Qaeda, to escape the consequences of borrowed funds that he cannot pay back and funds that he has embezzled from the office. Disappearing from sight seems like the only solution for him, in the face of imprisonment and conviction by the Indian government and the IAG.

And that is how Ritwik comes to find himself in the clutches of the dreaded Al Qaeda. From now on, he must play a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse to outwit the Al Qaeda’s operatives and convince them that his intentions are above suspicion, even as the net tightens around him.

What I liked about the book, written in first person from Ritwik’s point of view, was that its hero was more of an anti-hero. Far from being a Boy Scout with a squeaky clean reputation, Ritwik is a man who is continuously on the run, desperate to escape the censure and penalty of having borrowed heavily from loan sharks and stealing from the office in an attempt to make good. But make good he cannot. This inability, combined with his addiction to alcohol and to gambling, makes it difficult for him to continue on the payroll of the Indian government.

The pace of the book is quite racy, leading us on to follow Ritwik as he defects to the enemy’s side. There is a hint of mystery surrounding the man. Author Joseph cleverly chooses to keep us ignorant of Ritwik’s motives. We are therefore led to keep wondering whether the man is actually a defector, actuated by mercenary motives, or a double agent as the Al Qaeda suspects him to be.

It is difficult to empathise with an anti-hero, yet Joseph pulls off this difficult task by imbuing his character with a subtle sense of humour and an almost imperceptible sense of loyalty, as evinced by his penchant for Old Monk, as against other brands.

Joseph has a great style of writing, one that keeps the reader hooked until the end. I was also quite impressed with the manner in which he leads us into the world of the Al Qaeda, keeping us on edge.  The section in which Ritwik, suspected of being a double agent by the Al Qaeda, is tortured by them in an attempt to extract a confession out of him is brilliantly written.

If there is anything that marred the book for me, it was the less than perfect editing. In one or two places, I found the grammar questionable. There were also one or two spelling errors. In one place, Ritwik, having defected to the Al Qaeda, is relieved to note that he is now accepted as one of them and talks of the shock and surprise having ‘subsidised’ when he actually means ‘subsided’.

I thought the novel began to pick up pace only in Chapter 1, when Ritwik is introduced to us by name, and it slowly dawns on us that this man is actually going to defect. The lengthy Prologue, with its attempt to establish the background to the story, is dreary, despite being well written. It is only when Ritwik plunges into the story from his own perspective that things begin to heat up, and stay that way.

When the Snow Melts is a thriller that stays with you, long after the snow melts.





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