Close Call – Stella Rimington – Book Review


CloseCall

Goodreads blurb: The Arab Spring has swept through the Middle East and Liz Carlyle and her compatriots in the Thames House’s counter-espionage division are racing to investigate arms deals in Yemen. There’s a UN embargo forbidding any member country from supplying arms to either side in the uprisings, but Andy Bokus, head of the CIA’s London Station, has evidence that the weapons being smuggled into Yemen are not only being sold to both sides, but are coming from a connection in the UK—a highly embarrassing black mark on the government and, if true, full of disastrous consequences.

British-American cooperation widens as Liz teams up with her old rival Bruno McKay, MI6’s Head of Station in Paris, and Isobel Florian of the French domestic service, the DCRI, to trail and trap the elusive weapons dealer. The evidence points to a former French intelligence officer, Antoine Milraud, who leads them all on a mad chase across Europe until investigators witness him passing something to an elegantly dressed, very mysterious man.

When Milraud is caught and informs on his fellow conspirators, Liz finds herself embroiled in a larger, potentially explosive situation that twists all the way back to what she feared most—that the arms are being sold through the UK, and the mysterious man is closer and more capable of brutal violence than she ever could have imagined.

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As the blurb reads, the world is a changed place after The Arab Spring, and more and more weapons are finding themselves in the wrong hands. This puts the entire world’s intelligence agencies into top gear and they are constantly on the lookout for the suppliers and the middlemen for all these weapon deals. And when the CIA sniffs a faint whiff of a British supplier this sets in motion the action of this particular novel.

Headed by Liz Carlyle from MI6 who teams up with her compatriots from France and the US, the team painstakingly unearths bits and pieces of evidence one by one and pretty soon are convinced that there are bigger plans afoot than was originally envisaged. And to complicate things even further, the entire action seems closer home in the UK than they initially thought it to be. Soon, the team is racing against time, resources and at the same time battling demons from an earlier time in the form of old partners who have gone over to the other side as well.

Does this team comprising of probably the best intelligence agencies of the world manage to unravel the plot of the bad guys? Or do the bad guys manage to pull a number on them? The answers to these questions form the crux of this well written novel.

An intelligence agency ‘procedural’, for lack of a better word, this book is not your standard guns-girls-action guide to espionage and terrorist hunting. The author instead draws on her real world experiences as an ex-boss of MI6 and gives readers a ringside view of the painfully slow and long drawn process of intelligence gathering, analysis, planning and finally acting on the intelligence gathered. And this is what makes this book vastly different from almost all other books that I have read in this genre. And this is also what makes this book immensely readable as well.

Although this is the eighth book in the Liz Carlyle series, I can confidently say that this can very easily be read as a standalone book (like I did) without the danger of missing out on any ‘historical baggage’ that the earlier books in this series might have carried over. So, what are you waiting for? Go ahead and purchase the book from Flipkart [Link] or Amazon [Link].

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A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers in return for an honest and unbiased review of the same.

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For Love and Honour – Anand Ranganathan – Book Review


ForLoveAndHonourGoodreads blurb: Even as Kapil Dev lifts the 1983 World Cup, thousands of miles away, in the dense jungles of Mizoram, a secret mission stands compromised. At a terrible cost. Forced to engage in fierce combat with a group of insurgents, Captain Akhil Mehra loses his right hand. Leaving the army, he arrives at Carlington tea estate, owned by the dignified and wealthy Rai Bahadur, hoping to start a new chapter. His troubles, though, are just beginning. Here he meets Norden, the Rai Bahadur’s reticent and faithful assistant, the beautiful Indrani and wheelchair-bound Ipsita, the Rai Bahadur’s free-spirited daughters, whose cloistered lives are turned-upside down upon his arrival.

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I had a couple of issues with this book right from the outset, and trust me when I say this, the issues were more of my own doing than with the book itself – one, I am not a big fan of the romantic genre of books and two, the blurb doesn’t quite let readers know what the book itself is all about. And in this case, for me, it was a classic case of judging a book by its cover and I got it horribly wrong this time around.

Don’t let me dissuade you from reading the book itself, but the fact is that given that this book firmly falls within the romantic genre, it didn’t work for me at multiple levels. Yes, the book is well written and decently plotted, but the huge mental block I have against this genre worked against the book big time.

And to add to it all, the ending seemed very ambiguous to me and ended up leaving an overall bitter taste to the entire reading experience.

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A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in return for an honest and unbiased review of the book.

Paradise City – Elizabeth Day – Book Review


ParadiseCityGoodreads blurb: A novel that seeks to answer big questions—of love and death, ambition and failure, responsibility and guilt—with a rich cast of characters from every strata of society.

Four disparate characters find themselves linked together in Paradise City. Howard Pink is a wildly successful businessman still struggling to cope fifteen years after his nineteen-year-old daughter disappeared. Beatrice Kizza fled persecution from Uganda where homosexuality is illegal. She now works as a maid at a hotel Howard frequents. Esme Reade, an ambitious staff reporter on a Sunday tabloid, is desperate to get the Howard Pink interview for which all London reporters froth at the mouths. Carol Hetherington, a widow who has time to keep an eye on her neighbors’ actions, makes an astonishing discovery.

Paradise City explores what a city means to those who come seeking their fortune or a better life. It is also a story of absence and loss, of how we shape ourselves around the spaces that people leave behind.

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Let me first confess that although I kind of liked how this book began I was kind of disappointed with how it all ended up. While the premise of four different characters who are from different walks of life, different stages of their life, different careers and entirely different backgrounds strung together by a peculiar series of events in their lives is interesting, I guess the characters themselves lacked enough of depth, at least in my opinion, to make it an interesting book overall.

While the writing is extremely competent, the pacing good, what the book lacked was an overall overarching structure against which the characters and the overall plot had to be put up against. The fact that the proceedings of the book kept moving on despite the lack of an overall coherence to what was happening put me off at multiple times during the reading of the book. Yes, while the book does provide a commentary on the existing subtle layers of class differentiation in modern day London, it is not quite brought out starkly and harshly enough to leave an impact on the reader. The author would have been well advised to use her dramatic and creative license to make some of the occurrences in the book more hard hitting rather than take the subtle approach to her story telling.

In a nutshell, this book was not quite my cup of tea, although I suspect that people who have a flair for enjoying the ‘literary fiction’ genre of books might find this book to be a good read.

Click here to purchase the book from Flipkart [Link] or Amazon [Link].

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A review copy of this book was provided in return for an honest and unbiased review of the same.

Hollow Mountain – Thomas Mogford – Book Review


HollowMountainGoodreads blurb: The late-morning sun beats down on the Rock of Gibraltar as bored tourists photograph the Barbary Apes. A child’s scream pierces the silence as she sees a monkey cradling a macabre trophy. A man’s severed arm.

In the narrow streets of the Old Town below, lawyer Spike Sanguinetti’s friend and colleague is critically injured in a mysterious hit-and-run. Spike must drop everything and return home to Gibraltar, where he is drawn into a case defending a ruthless salvage company hunting for treasure in the Straits.

As Spike battles to save his business, he realizes that his investigations have triggered a terrifying sequence of events, and that everything he holds dear is under threat.

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As I had stated sometime earlier my exposure to European fiction is quite limited and therefore when the opportunity to read some well written crime thrillers by European authors presents itself I enjoy myself quite a bit. And Hollow Mountain by Thomas Mogford does not disappoint on any counts, in fact it is more than reasonably competent in this genre.

Set in Gibraltar, about which I know very little or practically nothing of, the book travels almost all of Gibraltar and the areas surrounding Genoa in Italy with Spike Sanguinetti, corporate lawyer who is in search of a girl who has been missing from his life for quite a while now. When his colleague and business partner is injured in a hit and run case, Spike returns home and takes up the case of Neptune Holdings, a shipping company which is engaged in salvaging deep sea wrecks.

This opens up the veritable Pandora’s Box as far as the proceedings in the book are concerned. Pretty soon Spike finds himself embroiled with sunken treasure, corporate skullduggery, blackmail and other assorted crimes of a more violent nature. As if this weren’t enough, the fact that he was looking for the girl in Italy seems to have pissed off some powerful people and they are also hot on Spike’s heels warning him to buzz off or else…

The net result – proceedings in the book move at a breakneck pace while ensuring that readers are not overwhelmed by all that is happening. Slowly, all the pieces of the puzzle start falling in place and the book jogs towards its climax. Suffice to say that readers will not only enjoy Spike as a protagonist but will also mark Gibraltar as a must-see place in their Southern European itineraries if they ever have one.

Click here to purchase the book from Flipkart [Link] or Amazon [Link].

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A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers in return for an honest and unbiased review of the same.

Junkyard Planet – Adam Minter – Book Review


JunkyardPlanetGoodreads blurb: When you drop your Diet Coke can or yesterday’s newspaper in the recycling bin, where does it go? Probably halfway around the world, to people and places that clean up what you don’t want and turn it into something you can’t wait to buy. In Junkyard Planet, Adam Minter—veteran journalist and son of an American junkyard owner—travels deeply into a vast, often hidden, multibillion-dollar industry that’s transforming our economy and environment.

Minter takes us from back-alley Chinese computer recycling operations to high-tech facilities capable of processing a jumbo jet’s worth of recyclable trash every day. Along the way, we meet an unforgettable cast of characters who’ve figured out how to build fortunes from what we throw away: Leonard Fritz, a young boy “grubbing” in Detroit’s city dumps in the 1930s; Johnson Zeng, a former plastics engineer roaming America in search of scrap; and Homer Lai, an unassuming barber turned scrap titan in Qingyuan, China. Junkyard Planet reveals how “going green” usually means making money—and why that’s often the most sustainable choice, even when the recycling methods aren’t pretty.

With unmatched access to and insight on the junk trade, and the explanatory gifts and an eye for detail worthy of a John McPhee or William Langewiesche, Minter traces the export of America’s recyclables and the massive profits that China and other rising nations earn from it. What emerges is an engaging, colorful, and sometimes troubling tale of consumption, innovation, and the ascent of a developing world that recognizes value where Americans don’t. Junkyard Planet reveals that we might need to learn a smarter way to take out the trash.

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Anybody who has ever been to a mall or to any IT Park would have surely noticed separate colored plastic waste baskets with a green one marked as the ‘Recycle Bin’, and most of us would have also probably used it as well, even feeling a little good about ourselves for ‘having done some good for the planet’. But how many of us have ever stopped and wondered where all that ‘recyclable waste’ actually goes to, what happens of it, does it have a way of ever finding its way back to us in a different form? And these are probably some of the questions that Junkyard Planet by Adam Minter answers, although not quite in as straightforward a manner as I have suggested above.

The author himself grew up in a metal scrapyard in America and his association with scrap therefore began at a very young age. He, however, did not join the family business and instead moved into journalism and given his precedents it therefore quite naturally followed that he started reporting and writing about scrap. This book is the result of his travels to various scrapyards around the world, from America to China, from metal scrapyards to towns in China which are probably the biggest handlers of e-waste, and so on.

While this book chronicles what essentially remains a lesser known industry, that of the processing of scrap material of various items, to me, the major takeaway from this book (and this is something that the author emphasizes in the last chapter as well) is that while recycling as a concept is important, what is more important are the two R’s preceding recycling, Reduce and Reuse. And while this important tenet of the three R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – is very critical for American consumers in particular, the day is not too far off when Chinese and Indian consumers will also have to be taught to internalize the same.

Given the development boom currently underway in China, and India nipping at its heels with initiatives such as Make in India, this part of the world finds itself in a situation with large consumer markets and in China’s case a large manufacturing hub as well. The result would be a large supply as well as a demand for scrap material of all forms. This book therefore assumes that much more importance in our part of the world for us to get a better understanding of junk, its processing and the various other facets of this business as well.

A refreshingly different, well researched and well written book.

Click here to purchase the book from Flipkart [Link] or Amazon [Link]

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A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers in return for an honest and unbiased review of the same.