Blurb: You wake up, parched and famished, at the bottom of a deep well—dark and dingy with the foul smell of excreta and rotting scars and no seeming way to escape—what do you do?
This is the predicament that ex-ACP Anton Pinto faces when he reluctantly joins the investigation into the mysterious disappearances of men from affluent families of Mumbai. There is an inexplicable pattern behind the abductions and all suspicions point towards an old, physically-challenged, mysterious lady. Soon, Anton discovers that the seemingly unrelated men have one common link—the most popular and expensive international school in Mumbai.
Following clues that span from schools and old-age homes to illegal dingy hospitals, Anton is led through a labyrinth of incest, abuse, torture and suffering, spanning decades.
What secret does the school hide behind its gates? What was the undisclosed crime that is thirsty for justice? Will Anton be able to save the men? Will justice be served?
First of all, let me congratulate Archana on getting her book out. I know Archana for nearly four years now and I can personally vouch for her competence and sophistication as a writer. I had the privilege of getting a signed copy from her in return for an honest review.
Birds of Prey identifies as a crime thriller, and it lives up to its stated genre by employing all the tropes necessary for a police procedural- there's an ex-ACP, a serial killer, a criminal profiler, other cops, an officious and incompetent police force, an apathetic boss and colleagues etc.
I finished this book in 2 sittings. First of all the book manages to hold the reader's attention and maintain the suspense, second of all it's written in simple language ( not pedestrian. Simple. There's a difference between the two!)
Let me enumerate the points on which the book scores first:
1. The suspense has been created and maintained very well. Readers like me, who are a sucker for crime novels, appreciate the feeling of nail-biting tension and apprehension...that feeling of what will happen next?
2. The author portrays both the city Mumbai, where the book is set, and the life of a Tamil family in Mumbai, very well.
3. The characters are well fleshed out- especially Anton and his wife Sheeba. The number of characters is less in the book so it's easy to keep up with who is whom. Every supporting character- from the stubborn boss to the quack who performs illegal abortions and his assistant, has been etched well.
4. The language is simple without being pedestrian. Anyone with a basic knowledge of English can understand this well. The author doesn't waver from the tenor of her language quality throughout, and that is appreciable. The prose is eloquent without being grandiose, and suits the potboiler character of the story well. So full marks to the author for that.
5. The author has written the novel from both the protagonist and antagonist's POV. Again, this is appreciable. Crime novels usually stick to the trope of the villain being an out-and-out bad guy who doesn't deserve a back story or an empathetic hearing. But here, the antagonist has been portrayed amazingly well, without being glamorized. One wants the hero to win while also feeling for the bad guy who might not be so bad after all, just misguided and lonely; but their actions deserve no justification.
6. The conflict has been created well. Anton and Sheeba's marital troubles, his going to help his ex-employer, the Mumbai police, despite their apathy towards him when he needed their support the most; his dilemma of going back to the job he loves or staying back with his family in Goa; Sheeba's (justified) objection to his returning to work for the police...this is all very relatable stuff. This happens with us lay folks all the time. And again, we feel for the characters.
7. The plot is original and intriguing, and the story is something unique.
8. The prologue in itself is gripping and taut. Again a good point for which author gets full marks.
9. The issue of child abuse has been tackled well in this book.
Now for the points I feel should have been addressed in the book:
1. Grammatical mistakes: At times they take away from the otherwise well-written prose. And also mar the high quality of language and prose. This is not the author's, but the editor's fault. Why didn't they iron out the inconsistencies? The author has worked hard on her craft and it shows. It's the editor's job to iron out the inconsistencies and make the writing error free. Small typos are no problem, but in a book of this caliber it is an issue.
2. The portrayal of the criminal profiler: Now I'm not saying that crime authors have to be experts in criminology. But the profiler could have used much more professional language and terminology. That matters in a crime novel, specially if it's written with a psychological POV. Even when the cops discuss about the murders being serial crimes, their analysis falls short of professional. Yes, in India, the concept of criminology or behavioral psychology hasn't taken root yet. Not among cops, especially. But here is where the author could have made a difference by doing some in-depth research on criminology and making the cops and profilers talk like professional experts.
3. At places, there are odd turns of phrases. This is again the editor''s prerogative to notice and correct. At one place there is confusion between the names of victims. Again the editor's fault.
All in all, Birds of Prey is a well-written, nicely plotted crime thriller. It will make you think about child abuse in India, about the effect it has on human beings, about how societal apathy adds to the entire vicious cycle.
Go read this book if you need a breather from the Bhagats, Duttas and Singhs of literature in India.
Birds of Prey