Aug 29 2016

2 Disappointing Books

Published by under Books

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Memory Man, the first book in David Baldacci’s new series came as a big surprise for a long-time reader like me. With a new central character Amos Decker who had hyperthymesia – the ability to remember everything -the book featured some good mysteries and didn’t have even a whiff of American politics, the subject of almost all Baldacci books. The second book in the series, The Last Mile, also kicks off with a good mystery as a high school football player Melvin Mars, who is jail for the murder of his parents, gets a last-minute reprieve when another criminal confesses to the murders. Decker, who hears the news on the radio, takes up the case.

The plot moves briskly for a while with some interesting questions(like the timeline) surrounding the day Mars supposedly killed his parents and the reasons behind the confession by a man seemingly unrelated to Mars. But beyond a certain point, it starts to get incredibly convoluted. It touches everything from a foreign drug mafia to racism in the past and takes too many turns to connect them all up. At the same time, the answers to the most interesting questions end up being too simplistic. The way the mystery is solved isn’t very satisfactory either. Decker has too many leaps of intuition and there are points where he seems to be clairvoyant rather than just having a good memory.

With Think of a Number, John Verdon jumped right to the top of my favorite authors list. The intriguing mysteries, the interesting investigation and the elegant solutions made it a suspenseful, gripping read. The next 2 books weren’t as good but still good reads but his fourth book Peter Pan Must Die saw Verdon return to form with a good mystery and a surprising but logical answer. In his latest book Wolf Lake, detective Dave Gurney gets involved in the case of a hypnotherapist John Hammond, 3 of whose patients have committed suicide after getting identical dreams. Hammond is the resident hypnotherapist at a resort(the owner also committed suicide after getting the same dream) and that’s where Gurney goes to investigate the case.

The question about how different persons can get the same dream is an interesting question but its unfortunately the only interesting question that the book throws up. Gurney’s investigation eventually leads to an incident in the past, a very cliched plot point and the answers to main mystery end up being quite disappointing. The case also involves some hi-tech gadgetry and government involvement but they don’t amount to much other than some small mysteries that are solved soon. In the previous books, Gurney’s wife stayed on the sidelines. Here she is directly involved with her own link to Wolf Lake but her parts become quite irritating as they simply distract Gurney from his main investigation at key points in the story.

Baldacci and Verdon are 2 of my favorite authors and it was rather sad to read disappointing books from both of them. I’m now reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and so far it looks like Rowling isn’t going to disappoint. More on that later…

 

3 responses so far

Aug 25 2016

Amma Kanakku

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema

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Amma Kanakku is a sweet, feel-good film about the efforts of a mother to set her daughter on the right path in life. The mom is Shanthi(Amala Paul), who is widowed and works as a maid in the house of Dr. Nandhini(Revathi) but also does a couple of other jobs to supplement her income. Though she is a maid, Shanthi’s daily life quickly makes it clear to us that Amma Kanakku is no Kutty or even Kakka Muttai. We never see her do any menial tasks and Nandhini is very affectionate towards her. Though she is a single mom, there are no leering men making unwanted advances or comments and her co-workers at her other jobs are also nice(even when firing her!). All these help the film maintain its feel-good vibe throughout.

Shanthi’s only aim in life is to see her daughter Abhi(Yuvasree) do well in school and succeed in life. The good news is that these characters come across as real even in this sanitized world . This starts in the very first scene when Shanthi tries to wake Abhi up. She coddles her daughter but as soon as the stresses of life appear(in the form of a cooking accident),  her tone and attitude change. So the characters and the conversations they have mostly ring true and this ensures that though the film is filled to the brim with ‘nice’ characters, it is never boring.

Abhi pays scant regard to her studies and Shanthi is devastated when Abhi reveals that her ambition in life is to become a maid like her mother. So Shanthi takes matters into her own hands to get Abhi to study. Her plan is cute like the rest of the movie  and the competition that ensues between mom and daughter as a result of that is a lot of fun. Amala Paul does well in these portions with her tiny smiles and the glint in her eyes egging Abhi on. Samuthirakani plays a teacher in Abhi’s school and though he indulges in some buffoonery like most of our cinema teachers, he also conveys his seriousness about his job.

While Shanthi’s plan takes up the bulk of the movie, it doesn’t directly lead to the resolution. Eventually there is a showdown between Shanthi and Abhi(this is where Amala comes up a bit short. She seems inhibited when expressing her disappointment and anger at Abhi’s act) that plays a more direct role in Abhi’s realization. The ensuing climax is handled with subtlety and grace and that makes it all the more effective.

 

5 responses so far

Aug 22 2016

The Olympics

Published by under Misc

olympics

For the last couple of weeks, the Olympics have been a daily staple of my TV watching. With all the NBC channels showing some portion of the games at different times, there was always some sport going on on one of the channels, whenever I switched on the TV. And I quickly realized that it didn’t have to be one of the traditionally favorite sports like gymnastics, tennis or track & field either. Even when I saw sports like wrestling, fencing or sailing that I knew little about, it was easy to quickly pick a favorite and then follow their progress with interest.

Of course, the bulk of my watching happened during the 8pm primetime slot, which is when NBC showed the most important sporting events of the day. The coverage left a lot to be desired. There was understandably a lot of focus on American athletes, which let to almost all coverage being devoted to events where American athletes participated. And the stories about these athletes that preceded the event coverage were at the level of the stories presented by Vijay TV on the participants in its reality shows with a lot of manipulative sentiments. But the most frustrating part of the daily telecast was that it was delayed which meant that we knew the results long before we started watching them on TV. So the element of suspense was missing.

Still it was amazing to watch the feats performed by the athletes. Whether it was Phelps adding to his already astounding medal tally, Ledecky dominating to such an extent that she seemed to be the only one in the pool, Simone executing her routines with incredible grace or Bolt winning his races with ease and showmanship, the games were filled with many moments that made us admire the talent, dedication and achievements of these gifted athletes.

It was always exciting to spot an Indian athlete even if it was usually only in the preliminary rounds. I saw some of them in swimming and track and field though the only sport I was really following India’s progress in was badminton, thanks to my daughter playing the sport and Saina’s high ranking making her a solid medal hope. I certainly wasn’t following wrestling and it was a pleasant surprise to read about Sakshi opening our medal tally. And Dipa made us proud in gymnastics qualifying for the finals and performing a difficult vault to place 4th. Things didn’t look good in badminton with Saina losing early but Sindhu surprised me by making steady progress. She really raised hopes when she beat Wang Yihan, the 2nd ranked player to enter the semifinals. The first match I saw live was Sindhu’s semifinals match against Japan’s Nozomi and I was amazed by her aggression and athletic ability. She was in great form as she won quite easily, winning 11 straight points to win the 2nd game 21-10 after being tied at 10-10. Unfazed by her opponent’s no. 1 ranking, Sindhu fought well to win the first game in the finals too. But a pumped-up Marin dominated the next two games to win the gold and Sindhu earned the silver medal. It was certainly a proud moment seeing her stand on the podium with the silver medal hanging around her neck.

The euphoria surrounding our 2 medals and the performances of these athletes helped us end the Olympics on a high and the athletes are being honored well by our government. But other news reports like our partying officials and a long distance runner fainting since the stations to give her water and energy drinks were unmanned by our officials, point to the lack of support our sports persons get even when attending prestigious events like the Olympics. One wonders if the situation will improve enough to increase our medal tally in the 2020 games in Tokyo.

With the games finally done, its time to catch up on the movies I missed the last couple of weeks…

5 responses so far

Aug 11 2016

Kabali

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema

kabali

Kabali was easily the most-hyped Tamil film to ever hit our screens. The usual hype associated with any Rajni film was amplified many times over due to the curiosity generated by his team up with a young, relatively new director in Ranjith and the hit soundtrack and well-cut trailer whetted fans’ appetites.  Smart marketing by producer Dhanu, who managed to tie the film in to everything from gold coins to airlines, further ensured that Kabali was everywhere and the (only) talk of the town in the days leading up to its release.

The film, set almost entirely in Malaysia, is the story of a gangster Kabali(Rajni) and the film opens with his release from prison after 25 years. Since the character is played by Rajni, it comes as no surprise that Kabali is a ‘good’ gangster. We learn this soon enough as we are told that his 00 gang never dealt in drugs or trafficking women and during the time he was in jail, the gang started the ‘Free Life’ foundation to rehabilitate misguided youngsters lured by gangs. It isn’t long before Kabali goes after the gang members of the rival 43 gang, led by Tony Lee(Winston Chao) and Veerasekharan(Kishore).

Rajni the star takes center stage whenever Kabali is in this kind of a gangster mode. Looking dapper in finely tailored suits, he employs his trademark stares, stylish walk, finger swishes and a magizhchi that rolls off the tongue with just a hint of authority to imbue the character with the kind of larger-than-life persona that only he can pull off. Its purely Rajni’s stature and charisma that carries these portions(Santosh Narayanan’s fiery Neruppuda… and stylish bgm work well too). With only little knowledge about the gang wars and the players, there is little chance for emotions as he goes after the gangsters.

The rivalry between the 2 gangs is the film’s mainstay and we get a history lesson about it via the flashback sequences(kudos to the make-up artist for Rajni’s young look here). The basic story about a man leading the people against oppression is familiar but the Malaysian setting makes it seem fresh as even the dress the players wear gains significance. Ranjith also does that he did with local politics in Madras, capturing the jealousies and infighting in the gangs to set the stage for everything that happens later.

Still the members of the 43 gang, all the way to the boss Tony Lee, aren’t fleshed out enough to feel like worthy adversaries to Kabali. Only towards the end, when they attack people close to Kabali(one particular attack, where the target is ambushed by bottles thrown at him is filmed very well and makes us feel for him), do they earn the feelings that are usually reserved for the bad guys and make us root for the hero. So the climax, though a little over the top(the location, the roof of a skyscraper is a big reason for this) and weak on style, is more effective than some of the fight sequences that come earlier.

But Kabali doesn’t not rely just on Rajni’s star power and also has a strong emotional core. Though Kabali walks out of jail alone, he gains a family. First is his daughter. Though there are some weak attempts at misdirection involving the foundation, it is not a big surprise when his daughter’s identity is revealed. This then paves the way for him to learn about his wife Kumudhavalli(Radhika Apte). We saw snatches of the sweet, loving relationship between them during the flashback too. But it gets better as his search for her is handled beautifully with the various steps increasing the dramatic tension and the scene where they finally meet and the beautiful Maya Nadhi… number both serve as a fitting end. Radhika Apte is phenomenal in this sequence and the way she breaks down is a nice contrast to Rajni’s composed reactions though both of them convey the emotions of the moment equally well.

The best part of the dramatic portions is the way Rajni is portrayed. In his recent movies, his character, the supporting roles and the scenes were all shaped to make him a larger than life superhero. But as the older Kabali, he comes across as down-to-earth and human and it works very well. Playing his age with little or no make-up, quite vulnerable(he is saved by others a couple of times) and narrating a fable during a speech(the free-flowing nature of this speech as he jumps between several topics is very natural), he is more an actor than a star here. Many of the actors from Ranjith’s earlier films Attakathi and Madras make an appearance here too. Among them Dinesh makes an impression as the over-enthusiastic Jeeva and Dhansika, in a tomboyish hairdo, does well also.

With Lingaa, it became clear Rajni couldn’t continue doing masala films – the kind that that had made him a superstar – for much longer. Kabali, which provides fodder for both the star and actor in him, is a perfect vehicle at this stage in his career when he is a huge star but too old to be playing the young, energetic action hero . It will be interesting to see if it is just a one-off or a transition point that sees him take on more dramatic, mature roles.

24 responses so far

Jul 25 2016

Dubai Trip

Published by under Family,Travel

Its been a busy summer with a trip to Chennai and a business trip within a few days of coming back. This India trip being one of the few trips where the whole family left at the same time – mom and dad usually fly out and return a couple of weeks apart to let the kids spend more time in India – we stopped over in Dubai for 3 days on the way. Since we visited during the month of Ramadan, we had to make some minor adjustments (we couldn’t eat or drink outdoors until Iftar, which was around 7pm, and so we had a heavy breakfast, came back to the hotel to order some takeout for lunch and then didn’t eat till dinner) but other than that, it was a fun trip to a nice tourist spot.

The first day we took a tour of Dubai city. This mainly meant gawking at the skyscrapers dotting the landscape. Most of the buildings had very unique and eye-catching designs and shapes and when bunched together as in the downtown area or along the Marina, they offered a spectacular sight. Of course some of the popular buildings stood out as they doubled as tourist spots. One was the Burj Khalifa, the tallest in the world and another was the Burj Al Arab hotel, standing right next to the beach.

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As part of the tour we also visited a couple of famous mosques and viewed from rather far away, the residence of the Sheikh.

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A very interesting part of the tour was a shopping area, a small street with shops lining both sides. The shops sold a lot of knickknacks(Dubai t-shirts, shawls, footwear, spices) that were obviously targeted at tourists. Many shopkeepers were also discreetly advertising fake branded watches though we didn’t actually see any displayed. Particularly colorful were shops that sold bright, colored lamps that were all lit up, making for come colorful interiors.

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Since it was Ramadan, the tours started only in the late afternoon. So we just spent the mornings indoors at the two most popular malls – Mall of the Emirates and the Dubai Mall. Both of these were huge and we barely covered a fraction of them though we were only window shopping. Their size can be gauged from the fact that the Mall of the Emirates has a ski slope inside the mall. While we didn’t actually ski, it was pretty amazing that one minute you were walking in sweltering heat and the next, you stepped inside a mall and could change into ski clothes and go skiing!

That afternoon we took what was a Desert Safari tour. This was a very unique part of the trip and covered a variety of activities. First was the actual desert safari, which was a jeep ride in the desert. The ride over the sand dunes was quite adventurous with the jeep going precariously sideways many times as it climbed up and down the dunes. Then they took us to a campsite-like place with short camel rides and sandboarding(riding down the sand dunes on a snowboard). The evening was wrapped up with two shows, a light show and a fire show, and a sumptuous dinner.

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On the last day we visited the Burj Khalifa in the afternoon. We first rode to the top for some spectacular 360 degree views of Dubai. After dinner, there was a show outside the Burj Khalifa. The building itself was lit up in fantastic colors set to music and this was followed by a fountain show in the lake outside.

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Over the 3 days we took many cab rides and met drivers from Mayiladuthurai, Kerala, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It was a good indication of people from all over the world working in Dubai. The country itself banks almost completely on tourism. Many of the attractions felt like they had been inspired by some popular attractions in other places(the light show on the Burj Khalifa was similar to the show on the Disneyworld castle, the fountain show was similar to the one outside the Bellagio, next month they are unveiling Venice-like canals, and so on), but the growth of Dubai in the past 10-15 years is a testament to the single-minded dedication of its rulers to make it one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.

13 responses so far

Jun 09 2016

24

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema

24

Like Enthiran, 24 is sci-fi masala. The sci-fi aspect is immediately apparent as the film begins with a scientist Sethuraman(Suriya) inventing a wrist watch in a futuristic lab(the watch and the crib Sethu built for his baby go beyond futuristic to being outlandish though). We learn later that the watch enables one to shift time itself. In other words, the watch is like a VCR for time in that it can rewind, forward or pause time. This subject – the manipulation of time – has served as fodder for many sci-fi stories but 24 isn’t overly concerned with the physics behind it, it treats it in rather simplistic fashion(for instance, the capabilities of the time-shifting watch are expanded tremendously by a watch repairman by adding a single button) and it doesn’t worry about multiple timelines. The film simply uses it as a take-off point to add some new dimensions to a story filled with familiar elements. The result, as in Enthiran, is immensely entertaining.

The watch is coveted by Sethu’s twin brother Athreya(Suriya, enjoying himself playing a bad guy).  Athreya is established as a ruthless and a heartless villain as Sethu escapes with his baby and the watch and manages to keep them both out of Athreya’s hands. The baby grows up to become a watch mechanic Mani(Suriya, this time in familiar romantic hero mode) and the watch eventually makes its way to him(the way director Vikram Kumar establishes even small things, like Mani’s habit of spitting out gum or a switch with an electrical problem, before using them to move the story forward is a good sign that stands him in good stead throughout the movie).

In most superhero origin films, the fun parts are usually the ones where the new superhero discovers his new powers, gets used to them and experiments with them. Its the same here as Mani realizes what the watch can do. The sequences where Mani discovers the powers of the new gadget and then employs them to woo Sathya(Samantha) are fun in a Groundhog Day kinda way. Particularly delightful are the ideas and visuals behind the moments where he freezes time, both as part of the story(splashing a couple of raindrops and the time when he takes a minute to pop a kernel of popcorn in his mouth are my favorites) and in the Kaalam En Kaadhali… song sequence(teaching the spitter a lesson is cool). The Mei Nigara… song also has some good ideas, though the basic concept was already seen in the Azhagu… number in Baasha,

After Athreya comes back into the picture, the film’s screenplay keeps us guessing. The way that Mani and Athreya connect, the sequence where Mani goes to Athreya’s office(all the way to its completely unexpected end), Athreya’s plan to manipulate Mani into doing what he wants, all these are developed smoothly and beautifully. Athreya’s plan is devious but also complex but the time shift elements are not overdone and some clever touches(like making a key event happen on Independence day to make it easy to see the fact that the day is being repeated) keep things from getting confusing.

The romantic track also gets a twist as the film establishes a surprising connection between Mani and Sathya through his mom(Saranya). The revived romance, with the Naan Un Azhaginile… number, is a painful speed breaker but once the story gets over the bump, it zooms ahead with the same smarts we saw before. Scenes like the one where Athreya signs a check and then thwarts the uncovering of his plan are staged well and the climax is set up in interesting fashion.  The unpredictability continues into the superb climax. There is genuine suspense about how things are going to proceed as a character lies helpless, there is a feeling of joy as the tables are turned in delightful fashion and there is a very nice aha moment as an event from before is made use of to explain how things happened. The feel-good vibe is also seen in the epilogue as we see things unfold in a very different way to how they originally happened.

 

12 responses so far

Jun 07 2016

Manithan

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema

manithan

In Manithan, Udhayanidhi Stalin plays Sakthi, a small-time lawyer (Gethu saw the actor trying to turn into a mass hero but here he is more down-to-earth with the heroics limited to the courtroom. In a very rare occurrence for a Tamil film hero, Sakthi at one point gets beaten up in a fight with some rowdies). Sakthi then moves to Chennai to try his luck but isn’t very successful. The movie does give us a glimpse into the tough grind of lawyers trying to land cases while waiting for their big breaks. But there is not much depth to this and its played more for laughs.

Udhayanidhi Stalin hasn’t had much success with romantic tracks in his movies and so its a relief when the film introduces Priya(Hansika, who is quite restrained) as Sakthi’s lover rather than make us go through a contrived meet-cute and a bad romance(though it would be tough to top the crudeness of the romantic track in Gethu). Priya, for her part, doesn’t do much to help Sakthi – the help comes from TV reporter Jennifer(Aishwarya Rajesh) – with his case but isn’t completely irrelevant either as she acts like his moral compass at some key points.

Sakthi soon gets involved in a high-profile case where Rahul, the son of a rich businessman, is on trial for running over, while driving under the influence, a few workers sleeping on the pavement (Manithan is the remake of Hindi film Jolly LLB. I wonder if the story was more controversial considering the similarities to Salman Khan’s case).  Fighting for Rahul is famed criminal lawyer Adiseshan(Prakashraj). The case seems to be a bit too easy initially with a convenient witness but a nice twist makes it a worthwhile fight.

For a courtroom drama, the final showdown is a bit disappointing. The suspense regarding the whereabouts of a last-minute witness is good but there’s not a lot of excitement barring that. Sakthi does some work to dig up information but he is helped out by some easy evidence(like a video recording) and the greedy actions of a corrupt cop. So there is not much of old-fashioned investigation or dramatic revelations to make the court proceedings exciting. Not to mention the actions of the judge(at one point he tells Adhiseshan that he would allow him to cross-examine a witness later but it never happens). So the case ends up feeling too easy considering the build up.

4 responses so far

May 25 2016

Pencil

Published by under Review,Tamil Cinema

Tamil Movie Pencil New Stills, Pencil Movie Sridivya Latest Photos 2015

Tamil Movie Pencil New Stills, Pencil Movie Sridivya Latest Photos 2015

Pencil, a murder mystery set in high school, starts off with a rather bloody murder as a XII standard student Nitin(Shariq Hasan) is stabbed in the neck with a pencil. Along with some slightly unsettling opening credits, it sets the stage for an engrossing whodunit in the unusual setting of a school. But the moment T.P Gajendran shows up as the school’s principal, the film’s serious tone, a necessity for a successful thriller, takes an early hit. And it turns out to be a frequent problem since the film never abandons the silly comedy.

The film does do a good job of setting up a long list of potential suspects for the murder of Nitin, a rich, spoiled brat and the son of a popular actor. There’s Shiva(composer G.V.Prakash, in his acting debut), whose academic aspirations have been derailed by Nitin. There’s Shiva’s girlfriend Maya(Sridivya), also has her problems with Nitin because of the way he treats some of her friends. There are the two teachers who were being blackmailed by Nitin. There’s a lab attendant who was insulted by Nitin. There’s the correspondent of a competing school who is unhappy with the way one of his teachers was poached. There is a gang of guys who want revenge on Nitin for insulting one of them. The time when suspicion switches between these suspects is when the movie is most effective.

Thanks to the big list of suspects, the film is successful in maintaining the suspense about the real killer. Its nice to see Maya take the lead in finding the killer(the film sets this up by making her the Police Commissioner’s daughter) but her guesses and actions are quite amateurish and many of the things Shiva and Maya do as they act upon her ideas(keep the murder a secret, search the teachers’ staff room, break into computers, etc.) stretch credulity. Setting the murder on the day of the ISO inspection inserts some complications but it is used more for comedy as the principal tries to impress the inspector(Urvasi).

The identity of the real killer does come as a surprise but doesn’t have much of an impact since its a little out of the blue and the particularly dark act that serves as the motive is also revealed only near the end and seems quite abrupt. It doesn’t help that the film ends with an awkward diatribe against private schools.

 

One response so far

May 19 2016

JJ Is Back

Published by under Misc,Politics

jj

After a suspense filled election, JJ is back in the CM’s seat with a rather convincing victory.

I always thought the DMK would win the election for a simple reason – the anti-incumbency factor. Yes, there were a few other things. There were rumors about JJ’s failing health. There were grumblings about JJ’s rule, seen most recently in the ‘sticker’ controversies during the floods. A lot of good things were said about the DMK party manifesto. Stalin seemed to have earned a lot of goodwill with his campaigning. And the third front, led by Vijayakanth’s DMDK, looked like it could pose a reasonable challenge and take away some of the AIADMK’s votes. But I felt that the anti-incumbency feeling would be the biggest factor that would take the DMK to victory.

I’ve been seeing the anti-incumbency factor in play for a long time now since I’m so used to seeing the AIADMK and the DMK win alternate elections. It was a sad state of affairs where it was always obvious that the people were voting against the party in power rather than voting for the party waiting in the wings. The primary mandate was always to say goodbye to whoever was in power and the other party’s victory was just a corollary brought on by the lack of other choices. So the biggest surprise is that JJ has bucked the trend to come back to power. Beating that anti-incumbency factor must’ve been a tougher challenge than beating the DMK.

I personally think JJ’s victory is due to the fact that there have been no major scandals or charges against her during this last term. When she won the 2011 elections, she rode an anti-DMK wave that was brought on by the staggering corruption in the party/government(the 2G Spectrum scandal) and the feeling that the Karunanidhi clan was growing too powerful and greedy with a finger in every pie. But I don’t recall any such scandal during her reign. There were complaints about her wealth, her autocratic style of leadership, her inaccessibility, etc. but none of these were new. The bar has been set so low that I think the people were satisfied that she didn’t do anything atrocious and were happy to maintain the status quo.

Another big surprise in the election has been the way Vijayakanth has been pushed to irrelevance. From someone who played a big role in the last elections and emerged as the main opposition party, his fall – his party didn’t win a single seat and even he lost his deposit – has been quite shocking. Actually I was very surprised that he was  a candidate for Chief Minister for the alliance his party was a part of. While I always saw the ubiquitous memes as just jokes, I did see some videos where he came off as a joke rather than a legitimate politician. I wonder if he can come back from a setback of this magnitude.

An election should be a time of new hope since we think that the victorious party will learn from its past mistakes and not repeat them. But the overriding feeling after these elections seems to be cynicism. Now its time to wait and see how JJ’s second consecutive term shapes up.

8 responses so far

May 15 2016

The Steel Kiss

Published by under Books

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Its been a while since I read a book and I recently picked up The Steel Kiss by the ever-dependent Jeffery Deaver. I didn’t read Deaver’s previous novel Solitude Creek since it featured Kathryn Dance, who I didn’t find very interesting in her previous two novels. But Lincoln Rhyme has rarely disappointed and so I was happy to see that The Steel Kiss featured him.

The story takes an inordinate amount of time to take off. An escalator accident at a shopping mall takes place right at the start but it is a long time before it is discovered to be a willful act and Rhyme and his team start working on finding the perpetrator who hacked into the controller and caused the escalator to malfunction. Until then, the action involves their attempts to draw up a valid case to get compensation for the victim’s wife and these sections are rather dry with conversations with lawyers and investigation of the escalator model that failed.

Rhyme gets a new assistant, Juliette Archer, who is also confined to a wheelchair like him(another spin-off series coming?) and their interactions  as they investigate the case are fresh. But there are also other tracks that proceed in parallel with the main track. One has Amelia investigating a murder that happened on a construction site. Then we have her ex-boyfriend Nick, who was jailed for a hijacking, popping back into her life by asking for her help in proving his innocence. The young cop in their team, Ron, is after a new, illegal drug that could help him deal with the pain he is having. The novel jumps between these different tracks and though not all of them are equally interesting, Deaver incorporates some twists in all of them to keep us reading.

Once Rhyme and team start pursuing the bad guy, the story’s pace naturally picks up (it also helps that the other tracks also become more active as they move forward). Deaver is known for the twists in the tale and having read all Rhyme books, his MO is very familiar to me. He ends a chapter by putting a character in danger and then reveals later the actual outcome that saved the character, usually due to some intervention from Rhyme and/or Amelia. He doesn’t move away from that style here and so not all the twists come as big surprises. But there are still some enjoyable twists in many of the tracks(I particularly liked the way the track with Nick proceeds) and most importantly, the big twist in the main track, as well as the subsequent small twists, are all good surprises.

 

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