Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Book Review: THE EDGE OF THE MACHETE (NaBloPoMo Day 27)

Title: The Edge of the Machete
Author: Abhisar Sharma
Publisher: Westland
Pages: 333
My GoodReads Rating: 

The Edge of the Machete by noted journalist Abhisar Sharma is the second of The Taliban Conundrum trilogy, with The Eye of the Predator and The Dark Side of Me being Books 1 and 3.
CIA operative Jason Wilson has just been executed most brutally. His killer, Aamir Sherzai of the Tehreek-e-Taliban, a bloodthirsty jehadi, has the killing filmed and uploaded on YouTube.
Jason’s best friend and fellow agent Eduardo Gomez, Ed, for short, is eager to avenge his death and volunteers to be part of a secret mission to destroy, from the inside, a conglomeration of the most deadly terror organisations in the world, all of whom intend to kill in the name of religion.

Transforming into Sarfaraz Khan, he cleverly implants himself into the Beast, the heart of the most devious terror mission ever, located in Pakistan.

While there he meets the British-born white Shaun Marsh, now a converted Shahid Khan, who is led by circumstances and his own conflicting emotions to take up the jehadi cause.

The third outsider here is an Indian journalist, Rahul Sharma, who has been kidnapped and imprisoned in the Beast. All three are obstacles in the eyes of Sherzai, and it seems only a matter of time before they fall prey to the wiles of his machete.

With a plot like that, I was eager to see what the book would offer. The author has done a fantastic job of recreating the tensions and milieu of the hotbed of unrest and danger that is the AfPak region. His background as a seasoned journalist has helped him to make his fiction more realistic. There were many times when I got the impression that I was reading a most well-researched piece of non-fiction.
Sharma has been able to draw upon his 17 years of experience in broadcast journalism to create a backdrop that is fraught with peril for the infidel. Against this volatile backdrop, the author has created a fictional world that touches one with the sincerity of his intentions.

There were some things, however, that stuck out sorely, particularly the many typos and editing errors. Also, the tendency of so many of the characters to scratch their eyebrows with their fingernails is annoying. As is the author’s need to call attention to this habit.
One glaring inconsistency, Ed comes to learn of the events that led to Jason’s death when he reads Jason’s diary, handed to him by Sherzai. We do not get a glimpse of the contents of this diary, but we get to read a third-person account of the brutal killing. Since this entire section is preceded and followed by Ed’s response to the diary, one wonders if Jason’s ghost had returned to write down the gory details of how he was put to death, not to mention the gratuitous description of his sexual encounter.

Where the author slips up shoddily is when he tries to recreate the idiom of the Americans at the CIA headquarters in Langley. There is a world of difference between American English and British English, a fact that he does not seem to have taken into account. Sharma’s Americans get their slang wrong. They insist on peppering their conversations with words like ‘arse,’ when even the most cursory viewing of Hollywood films would have told Sharma that an American would have used the word ‘ass’ instead.
Also, a Senator’s repeated usage of the phrase, son of the soil, seems like a direct translation of our homegrown bhoomiputra concept. Similarly, the passages delineating the close friendship between Ed and Jason are annoying. ‘Brothers from different mothers’ is a cliché I would gladly have done without.

The book could have been made shorter, and tighter, had some sections been edited out. These include the Uzbeki torture scene, which do not necessarily propel the action onward, and could have been left out of the story without affecting it adversely.

The writing itself perks up remarkably once Ed dons the guise of Sarfaraz Khan, and stays that way even as it goes on to introduce us to Marsh, the second of three guys whose stories intersect and lead us on to the climax of this book.
Unfortunately, the back story, though interesting and remarkably well-written, just takes up too much paper, occupying more than two-thirds of the book, with Marsh’s story being the most detailed, followed by that of Ed. That might explain the short shrift given to Rahul Sharma, whose story starts in the here and now. We are told that he met his wife, Marsh’s ex, when he, and she, went to an ashram in Haridwar to exorcise themselves of their demons. At this point, the author mercifully realises that it is about time he tackled the main plot of the story and spares us the details of those demons.

Perhaps if there had been a little more of Sarfaraz and the psychological battle of wits that takes place between him and Ed, rather than the tired Bollywood technique of a talking reflection in the mirror and a slight swagger in the walk, it might have been more explosive. You feel a fair amount of sympathy for Rahul who is going to pay for his overeagerness for a good story with his life.

There were some parts of this book that were extremely well-written, and a few that stood out for all the wrong reasons, chiefly editing-related issues.

For me, this machete was dull in parts and sharp in others.

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