Book Review: When The Snow Melts ( Vinod Joseph)

After a short gap, I again signed up to review a book under the blogadda book review program. First, about the program itself – I think it’s a great idea as it serves two purposes – it gives bloggers a chance to take their blogging seriously (with the realization that you might be representing something bigger than yourself), and at the same time, it creates a network effect/ word of mouth for some good books written by upcoming Indian authors.

The book that I lined up for a review is – When The Snow Melts, by Vinod George Joseph. I first came across Vinod several years back, when he was active contributor for Epic India e-magainze. The e-zine is long defunct, and so are the few forums where saw Vinod’s writing. So, it was good to see that he had published something, and not just something, but a thriller.

About the book

From amazon: Veteran spook Ritwik Kumar is sent by the Indian government to the Intelligence Assessment Group (IAG) in London, where intelligence agents from all over the world work together to fight global terrorism. The IAG has a few pet projects: nabbing Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar is one; purging Pakistan’s secret service agency, the ISI, of rogue elements and fundamentalists, is another. Despite years of working in Central Asia and Afghanistan, things don’t go well for Ritwik at the IAG. Addiction to alcohol and gambling drive him to borrow heavily from loan sharks and even misappropriate office funds. When Ritwik’s senior officer, General West, gives him only a fortnight to return the money he has stolen, Ritwik defects to the al Qaeda.But he is a man who doesn’t easily fall in line and doesn’t share al Qaeda’s ideology. Events take a turn for the worse not only for Rikwik but also for all those who come in contact with him. Even the beautiful Nilofer, who is married to the al Qaeda fanatic and one-man army Junaid, is not spared. When the Snow Melts takes you through a dangerous world of diplomats, spies and fanatics, where appearances are deceptive, and danger lurks around every corner.

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Now then! WTSM sets out to be a spy thriller set around an Indian spy working with IAG who ends up defecting to a pro-Taliban sub faction within ISI. Expectedly, the life of a defector is not too rosy to start with, since there are more people who expect the defector to be not that but a double agent. So, our protagonist, Ritwik Kumar, is in a hellhole soon enough. Or rather, moving from one to the other.

I have always been intrigued by how the best thriller writers set up a key event in a prologue which keeps you glued to the plot, and that exact setup that leads to that moment. However, my biggest disappointment from WTSM was that the prologue of the book was too simple a set up that could be smelled from a mile. X caught by bad guys, X in a mess, X shows some moves, but they are not good enough, and suddenly, X gets saved by Y, and Y knows a lot abot X already. Scene begins. You know what’s coming, right?

VGJ’s debut novel is an interesting effort in a space rather untouched by Indian authors. The recent barrage of Indian authors have abused the modern Indian male/female, life in the metros, IIMs/IITs/etc on the one end and adapted the Indian mythodology on the other. There is precious little by way of variety and style. That’s score 1 for VGJ. There are as many facts as there are myths about the Indian spooks, and you can be sure that I have been in the middle of some, given my family background. But, an interesting article to read before you start reading this book would be a recent Caravan article about the case of Madhuri Gupta. There are some minor traces of the case in the book, but that article is a good starting point if you’re new to the Indian spy world. Secondly, don’t forget that the movies have glorified spooks across the world to such heights that beatable, un-crazy spooks are not welcome, usually.

The book is a lazy afternoon read with a decent pace, but does not have much to offer. The plot is is highly predictable and the suspense not layered. The story telling is so obviously linear that it smells of a Yashraj film. It moves continuously from the same scene to the same scene without ever breaking away from the pattern. There isn’t a second vantage point in the entire book, which is its biggest weakness. If you’ve read two spy books before this, most likely, the plot will be staring in your face. In fact the surprise is that there is no surprise. From someone like VGJ, I’d have expected a lot more research into the subject. My fear is that he ended up writing the script for the next Salman Khan movie – Ek Aur Tiger. And you know that script and Salman Khan don’t quite go together, right?

The lack of context – the prologue does not explain the gambling and the debt, the IAG as an entity is never really explained, the set of caricatures that form this faction of ISI, the linkback to RAW, the way intelligence is collected, the rather talkative ring leader – these are just some of the loopholes or missing elements. The extent of stereotyping makes it worse. And there aren’t enough thrills.

The plot’s smartest setup fails because the protagonist talks too much… Or.. err.. thinks out loud too much. His doubt in the moments when he is with Niloufer, reveal the essence of the plot way up front. And the dragging end with Ritwik wanting to save Niloufer, was an avoidable mess.

So, in short, the book promises, but fails to keep them. On the positive side, the narration is breezy and well edited, and does not get boring at any point. Its one of those simple things you can do one lazy Sunday afternoon. or, when you don’t have any work at office and your twitter handle has been blocked by the government.

I remember what AKC (a friend) once remarked about bollywood movies – “These b****** have two problems – the need to explicitly explain everything. And, the need to have an explicit climax!”

If you want to read good stuff, read Mohammad Haneef’s Case of Exploding Mangoes. This one is barely passable.

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This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at BlogAdda.com. Participate now to get free books!

Some of my other book reviews are here.

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About Amit
Conventional, boring, believer, poet, Shayar (to be precise), lover of music, musical instruments, and all that can be called music (theoretically or metaphorically), jack of all master of none, more of a reader less of a writer, arbit philosopher, foolish debater.. and many more such things.. like so many people!

2 Responses to Book Review: When The Snow Melts ( Vinod Joseph)

  1. Alpa says:

    Hanif is bees knees. I loved his mango book 😀

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