Both When the Snow Melts and Mumbaistan reveal one thing: the homegrown crime thriller is alive and flourishing. Sheila Kumar
An accelerated pace and action on the heels of the preceding action form the LCD (lowest common denominator) in both the crime thrillers under review here. Mumbaistan sets that eponymous city at the heart of the book and Piyush Jha weaves three quicksilver stories that attempt to address just about every slimy substance that clings to the underbelly of that vast metropolis: sex, drugs, corruption, manipulation, and all the rest of that matrix. Vinod Joseph’s sardonic protagonist works from out of London but it is a gritty, seedy London on display.
Men who think on their feet, men who use their fists, men who carry arms like they are body extensions, sexy sirens, women who are turned on by dangerous men, men who lose their heart to heartless women — both Joseph and Jha don’t stray too far from stereotype but where these books are concerned, these become stereotypes that the typical crime thriller fan can delight in.
Mumbaistan , with its positively lurid jacket, teems with (mostly) good cops, ubiquitous bad cops, gangsters, informers, molls, scheming women, fall guys, hookers, the usual Mumbai suspects. In “Bomb Day”, a cop and a former gangster race around the city, trying to stop Pakistani terrorists from following up on 26/11. “Injectionwalla” sees a mysterious killer who could be either a vigilante with a deadly bent of mind or a stool pigeon in the hands of a smart killer. There is the illegal trade of organs, there are manipulative doctors and heady doses of sex, lies and photographs. In “Coma Man”, Samir Khanna wakes up after two decades in a coma and set about seeking answers to just how he came to be in that state.
The twists and turns are just what you expect and want from a crime thriller and while you may wince at distinctly under-polished phrases here and there, the story, ultimately, is king and rises above all. Mumbai is not the backdrop for the action; Mumbai is the undisputed pivot around which the crimes are committed, discovered and dealt with.
“A spook! His lady love! The al Qaeda!” This is what the blurb at the back of When the Snow Melts exclaims somewhat breathlessly. As in Mumbaistan , here too the author deals in tried and trusted plot lines, and crafts an interesting story. Ritwik Kumar, veteran spook, is in London ostensibly to help his country in the fight against global terrorism. The protagonist is one flawed man (talk of the classic underdog!); his pronounced predilection for alcohol and gambling has him soon falling from grace and going over to the other side. But Kumar is too much of maverick to conform to any particular ideology and once he cuts and runs, or tries to, he has trouble of all shades scrambling at his heels.
Neither writer delves into the psyche of the good or bad lot: they are what they are, and the story takes off from that point onwards. Hubris and nemesis walk with confident strides in both the books but no time is spent on much contemplation of either driving sentiment. Plot delineation overshadows character delineation. With such clear one-dimensional formats, the reader immediately sinks his or her teeth into the story and emerges unsurprised but content. Which means both Joseph and Jha have done their work well.