Three old friends get together in Goa because somebody they knew back in school has committed suicide in her Panjim home. They can’t quite get their heads around why Rachel, the ambitious journalist, would hang herself. They’re all in their late twenties and not living the rosy futures they hoped for—Sara got married but then divorced her philandering yuppie husband, uptight Neel reluctantly joined the army but saw his life collapse when his family died due to his own standoffishness, and Omar is still the Romeo but currently has a bunch of violent recovery agents on his heels.
Baggage, a lot of it. But Rachel’s destiny seems particularly harsh and there’s something jarring about the police’s suicide theory.
Her last job was to investigate the gruesome killing of a Russian teenager, a promiscuous beauty who seduced all manner of corporate honchos and politicos she encountered on Goa’s beaches. Her body was washed up on Baga beach with fourteen stab wounds.
As the trio traverses a picture postcard, tourist’s version of Goa and makes enquiries, a black SUV follows. And whoever they speak to invariably ends up dead—be it from a drug overdose or a bullet in the head. But how might all this be linked to their old schoolmate Roy, who disappeared at the age of 17 during a trek the gang undertook twelve years ago, shortly after Roy’s sweetheart was found murdered? Everything taking place in the present seems interlinked in a weave of pure evil with the things they thought they had put behind them.
The various strands of the plot converge into a skilfully orchestrated climax, which goes to prove that this book is an example of ambitious thriller-crafting. These excellent qualities counterbalance the somewhat dull writing. The story is told from three different points of view—those of Neel, Sara and Omar—but they all sound bewilderingly similar.
It could be argued that this uniformity of expression indicates that they belong to the same social class and went to the same boarding school. Then again one would have expected a bit more individuality in their ways of expression, considering that one is a Muslim who grew up an orphan, another is an upper-class Catholic, and the third is a traditional Hindu—basically an Amar Akbar Anthony type of setup.
In essence, the author doesn’t quite make use of the multi-character narration technique he has chosen, which ought to have allowed readers to view everything from wildly differing perspectives, layering the story with a lot more emotional depth.
All the same I found myself unable to put down this thriller because of its unremitting twists and turns, some of which were perhaps a trifle too incredible and coincidental. The book references Shibumi, the 1970s cult novel by an author who wrote under the pseudonym Trevanian about a retired super spy, trained in Japanese martial arts, and which was a spoof on all the James Bonds of literature.
But Trevanian’s writing style was very close to perfection—like a literary version of a bonsai tree. Sarkar is more like an Indian answer to Dan Brown and Agatha Christie, authors who also disregard characterisation and probability, and therefore I am fairly certain that he, another few thrillers down the line, will be selling millions of copies like them.