Friday, July 20, 2012

Camilla Lackberg

Camilla Lackberg is the best selling Swedish author specializing in crime fiction. The specialty of her books are that all the books are in sequence. The characters develop over the years and over her books. Not all her books are available in English and even less in India at present, but hopefully that will change, for finally, after Agatha Christie, I find myself loving a series in this genre again!
How is this series different from most other Scandinavian crime writing? Say for eg, Stieg Larsson? Lackberg, like Christie, uses domestic settings for her crimes, friends and neighbours, local police, local detectives, the snoopy neighbour who provides clues. Even when she goes beyond the immediately domestic, say, in :The Hidden Child" where she deals with the Nazi threat on Sweden in the 1930-s and 40-s, it is still rooted in the characters surrounding the locality.The books available in India are- The Ice Princess, The Preacher, The Stone Cutter, The Stranger, The Hidden Child. (The Drowning has not yet come to India).
Though domestic details abound in her books and some of it is plain distracting from the main mystery, it is nice to see how the characters and the life stories develop over the books. However, it can be really a dampener when you are dying to know if your suspicions about the criminal is right. I confess I am guilty of skipping pages at a time while reading many of her books. Not quite the next Christie or the next Larsson, but definitely worth a read if you are a crime fan.
Her protagonist is Erica Falck and her partner Patrick Hedstrom who slowly takes over the action as the sequence progresses and Erica gets relegated to the background as his wife.

This is the first of the series and of course it is a joy to see how the events she has been talking about in her next books start off here. Erica's parents have just died in the accident and her mother is talked about, the mystery of her aloof motherhood is finally solved in "The Hidden Child" of course. She meets Patrik and by Hidden Child they have a one year old child and another on the way. Anna- Erica's sister, Dan, Mellberg, Annika, all these characters develop over the course of her series and it is wonderful to see how they were conceived. It good to see how well planned the series was, or did she just stumble upon ideas along the way. As I have said before, there is too much domestic detail in her books which can, frankly be skipped, and does not necessary increase the value of the mystery. But there are people who like the pictures of domesticity, for them, this is a double whammy. The mystery is well resolved in the end. Lackberg has often been compared to Steig Larsson, but I have felt that she is more akin to the style of Agatha Christie, the food-home-nosy neighbour troubles rather than politics and the outside world.

The Preacher, The Stone Cutter and The Stranger are all mysteries which break the peace of the quiet town again and again and Patrick manages to get to the bottom of every mystery. The Preacher deals with the murder of young girls both in the present day juxtaposed with many years back and that makes it interesting. But there is too much details about superfluous characters and the language seemed a little lost in translation. The Stone Cutter has a lot of issues like ADHD, Autism and child abuse/ pornography stuffed into it and is quite dark in its cruelty. The Stranger has a very scattered plot which does not quite make sense in the end.

Oh yes, after reading so many of her books at one go, this is the exact thing I was waiting for. Have Lackberg move out of her modern Fjallbacka and go back in time to a more interesting era, to some history, historical crime. In all her other books, I have skipped parts where she goes to much into domestic details or into the lives of characters quite unrelated to the mystery at hand. Anna, Erica's sister for example, is not important as part of her mysteries in any of her books till date, but her life is dealt with in great detail from her first book. In this too, her moving in with Dan and the troubles they have with their sets of kids, especially Dan's older daughter is not in any way connected to the main plot of the book. However one has to remember, she is writing a series where her characters develop over time. Just like her parents, especially her mothers lack of love towards the sisters, and its reason is finally dealt with in this book, who knows, one day, Anna may become one of the pivotal characters in her next mystery.

Also read my blog on gender issues in her books at

Man of a Thousand Chances

I started reading this book without knowing much about the author, including the gender. I was under the impression that the author is male and hence, while reading the book, mid way, I was surprised at the depiction of domesticity. It is true then, women write differently, and one can make that distinction, at least in this case. 
That said, its good Chennai writing, replete with local lingo and what wonderful true-to-life depiction of dusk on the beach. If one has not seen it, one will not fully appreciate the beauty of that scene, of fire flakes showered in the sir from corn, merry go rounds, fortune tellers etc. However what could have made it great, that touch of fate, of indeterminate pull towards a karmic solution to the whole conundrum, is absent. The fortune teller- what wonderful chance it was to showcase a touch of the occult, it was used but without any enthusiasm, makes it almost without meaning. Karma- the story hinges on it, and yet, what is the cause and what is the effect? The lost boy, the daughters marriage, which is concluded successfully, the theft of the precious historical artifact, from which the protagonist is forgiven too conveniently... it seems the pawn broker is the one who had sinned... Karma seems to have lost its way somewhere. And the characters- apart from the protagonist, none of them come to the fore as totally explained. I would form half a view about a character and then change my mind in the next chapter... they dont build in natural progression, especially that of the coin collector.
It is a good book which could have been great if the situations were tweaked and used, but the prose is eminently readable without being prosaic, the bane of Indian writing today!

Monday, June 4, 2012

The importance of having and not having a diary

A weekend of spring-cleaning in a flat I have left almost 4 years back and am not coming back to for some time yet, threw up some interesting stuff, old books, old cards, letters and an old diary which had about ten entries. This was 8-9 years back, from 2003- 2004, when I was yet to be married, and had crossed through a rough patch, coming out of it relatively unscathed apparently, but scarred in my mind, and I didnt know then, forever.
At that time I was still fresh from my 2001 accident, still coming out of the eternal cycle of treatment and hospital and pain. Personally I was going through a rather rough patch where my wedding date had to be rescheduled to a later date. Thus my original wedding date of February 2004 went unnoticed, by all but me. The poems I wrote at the time are full of heartbreak and a type of agony I cannot associate with anymore. I was so lonely. Every minute I spent at home was full of a sense of hopelessness. That has come back in phases like depression usually does, but then you pick up the pieces and move on a stronger person.
And you forget.
And then if you have written a diary, after a decade, suddenly it is brought back to you in very great detail, what every day was like. The hurt which people caused you, you go through remembering every tear, the pain of missing teeth, the helplessness of not being in control of a situation, the angst of your younger self, when you cant go back and advise, do this, dont do that...
So is it worth it, keeping a diary? Do I need to re-live all those moments once again? When we dont keep a day to day account, with our memories turning hazy with time, we remember the overall good or bad feelings of a stretch of time. Do we need to remember the details of the bad? If there has been any bitterness, do we remember the gory details of the source of that bitterness? Or is it fine to have an overall sense of negativity without much detail?
Maybe it is therapeutic? Probably going through all that again would heal deep wounds?
I still dont know.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Noon: Aatish Taseer: A review

Any in depth analysis of Aatish Taseer's books would be quite incomplete, in fact, impossible without having an insight into his life and what shaped him and his words. He was born of Tavleen Singh, one of India's leading lournalists of the 80-s and 90-s, and Salman Taseer, a Pakistani businessman and politician. His parents didnt get married. Salman Taseer had a house in London where Tavleen Singh stayed with her son until she decided to return to India and start afresh.
Hence here is what Aatish grew up with, without a father figure, with his mothers overbearing loud garrulous family wherein he was accepted but where he always felt alienated, the odd one out. Also by faith he was Muslim, and he was growing up in a Sikh environment, with Hindu influence all around him. He went to London to study but returned to India to write and I suppose "find himself".

All his three books are heavily autobiographical. Hence giving that strange idea when you read gossip columns without names- you know some of it fictional but other things are true and cant really tell how much. Therefore that voyeuristic pleasure gives an added element to reading him.
All his books run into the next one quite seamlessly. You can read one or you can read them all. The voice is mature and yet the under lying angst is palpable through his telling.

"Noon" is about Rehan Tabassum, the 'other' Taseer, with the same background. It shows him travelling to Pakistan to meet his estranged father because he is 'curious' about him. Here he comes in contact with his fathers family, cousins, uncles, and falls bang in the middle of a power struggle where his half brother is fighting his uncle for the attention of his father.
It also shows him in his writing setting in Delhi, is a very domestic situation which bares the underbelly of petty Delhi crime and the role of the police. In the farmhouse where he is staying that season from his break in London, two laptops and a safe with jewels get stolen, and the servants, till then all trusted long time folks with families, come into the firing line of the Delhi police.
There is no plot as such, the narrative is broken and the book is written like separate stories. What it does though, is that it brings out the society of both countries in all its stark reality. For Rehan is only a high class son of influential people in both countries... yet he talks about people who come in contact with this class, and are not part of it, the servants, the sycophants, the homosexual partner who can be used and thrown... totally a 'sex, lies and videotape' situation, literally.
But none of the characters really gain any flesh throughout the story, not his father, nor his step father, nor his mother, or grandmother, hot the servants, or the gay characters. In fact one can never really know how he feels about any of these characters- does he sympathise with them? Especially his step father- I never really understood how Rehan wants his step father to be known- for he treats the man with varying degrees of respect through his narrative. In fact the character of Rehan himself is not clear. What is his role in the storied events. Surely even in his Pakistan experiences, he plays a very important role which leads to the climax of the story. But it seems very suspiciously like he is trying to remove himself from the events, like a hovering angel figure, not really part of the mess on the land. In fact sometimes it seems the voice of Rehan is too mature, too demure, too all-knowing to be comfortable.
One can hope that he will slowly lose his leaning toward heavy autobiography and tell different kinds of stories (he definitely has the range of experience for it), but for now, one can look forward to the next installment of insight into society, politics, sociology, power play and fanaticism in his two lands.