Bashmachkin / The Overcoat / Nikolai Gogol [‘Tween The Covers: New Indian Express]

09 August 2017

Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin was born in St Petersburg. He works as a clerk at some unremarkable (but nonetheless, let’s have no names) government office in his hometown, and gets paid 400 rubles every year for his efforts. There is nothing especially distinguishable or memorable about him, nothing that can be worth a story. But his is the story, written by Nikolai Gogol, which is the subject of the memorable quote ‘We all come out of Gogol’s Overcoat’ – famously attributed to Turgenev, Dostoevsky and other later Russian literary greats.  

Bashmachkin is a copying clerk, he likes his job the way you like any regular routine of yours – it is what you do, and you are comfortable doing it. He is good at his job apparently, and is glad to do nothing more than this specific job. His earnings allow him a merely existential standard of living, alone in a small room in the shabbier parts of town. He is content, however, in this small life of his; and the only bit of sadness in his life is the condition of his overcoat – much-used, much-repaired and much-patched-up. When the bitter Russian cold comes along again that year, Bashmachkin takes his overcoat to the tailor, Petrovich, who pronounces the overcoat irreparable, and that Bashmachkin will now have to get another coat. 

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Rorschach / Watchmen / Alan Moore [‘Tween The Covers: New Indian Express]

02 August 2017

Rorschach. Heavens, Rorschach really stays with you. Just the experience of seeing a panel with Rorschach on it — it’s visceral. It’s a punch in the gut, and the pain lingers. I read Watchmen for the first time maybe ten years ago, and I might have forgotten little details right now but every panel that featured Rorschach is branded into the memory.

Watchmen is one of the 100 best novels of the last century. A comicbook, or a graphic novel if you will. No, It’s THE graphic novel. The line on the sand. It was first serialised in September 1986, and the world of comicbooks would never be the same again. Then came The Dark Knight Returns, and that sealed and confirmed the new age of the comicbook. Darker. Not a release from the real-life, but indeed, the real-life itself, in all its hideous glory. And Rorschach, all 5 feet 6 inches, all 140 pounds of brutal, cruel, merciless, super-judgmental, murdering masked vigilante of him, is that entire transformation to a darker comicbook, made flesh. Or panel. It’s complex — if you root for Rorschach, what would that tell you about yourself? This is, in a way, your own Rorschach test.

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Salvation of a Saint / Keigo Higashiino / Book [It’s a Crime: New Indian Express]

18 January 2017

Keigo Higashino is one of the best living exponents of the detective novel. He writes in Japanese, and is one of the most successful writers in the language. His novels have also been successful worldwide, in translation. Alexander O Smith is the regular English translator of Higashino’s works, and while I do not read Japanese, the verdict of online detective forums and review sites is that he does an excellent job in keeping the flavour of the original text intact. I used to have a grouse that translation of genre fiction, especially detective fiction, is either rare to find, or of substandard quality. I am delighted that the trend is reversing.

Higashino’s novels, featuring his famous Professor Manabu Yukawa aka Detective Galileo, veer far away from mainstream detective fiction, and yet retains the feel of a normal crime novel. Higashino does this by maintaining many common tropes of the genre. There’s the lead man, an eccentric pompous, curmudgeonly genius of a private detective. The police are full of bluster and quick to draw conclusions, but are not absolutely hopeless.

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The Name of the Rose / Umberto Eco / Book [It’s a Crime: New Indian Express]

28 December 2016

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco is not a book for the faint-hearted reader. If this would be a Cricket Test Match, it would be a long-drawn-out fifth-day decider, with slowly-evolving turning points and glacially slow changes which will overturn the destiny of the plot. Don’t try this novel unless you are ready to invest the time, and if you are unwilling to put in a bit of effort. This is real gold, but it shall have to be mined. This is a detective story for the purist.

Umberto Eco was an Italian literary critic, intellectual and writer. His novels are tomes of erudition, complex in theme and language, and deep with historical and biblical references. That they are wonderfully complicated and innovative detective novels is by the by. But detective novels they are, and the novel I would talk about today, The Name of the Rose is one of the absolute best detective novels ever written.

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Day of The Jackal vs. The Bourne Series / Thrillers [It’s a Crime: New Indian Express]

14 December 2016

There has been substantially more analysis of detective novels and stories than of thrillers. This is not entirely unexpected – reviewers are a persnickety lot.

Chandler and Hammett wrote some sparkling prose, and sure, Christie was just so excruciatingly popular; and criticizing Holmes is the equivalent of throwing stones at the Mount Everest; and heck, the New York Trilogy is a masterpiece. Therefore, there is analysis of the detective fiction. Thrillers on the other hand are only analyzed when they are made into movies.

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Alistair MacLean / Writer / Thrillers [It’s a Crime: New Indian Express]

07 December 2016

I’d have been a lot more of a discerning reader had I not discovered Alistair MacLean; and gobbled up the whole lot of those short, squat, 250-odd page Rupa reprints of his books. Between classes six and nine, I had fi nished off the 30-odd books that he had written, and whatever else within the general framework of thrillers that I could get my hands on – Desmond Bagley, Frederick Forsyth, Sidney Sheldon, Jeffrey Archer and the likes. So dear college literary society senior who thought a snooty ‘reads too many thrillers’ was a putdown of any kind, it isn’t quite so.

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Criminal Comics / Ed Brubaker, Sean Philips [It’s a Crime: New Indian Express]

30 November 2016

Graphic Novels cost too much, they say… But think of it this way – you can read the best graphic novels thrice. The first time, read it for the story. The second time, read it for the dialogues. And the third time, read it for the artwork. So the best graphic novels are very reasonably priced, I would say.
And one of the best pure crime graphic novels is the ongoing series, ‘Criminal’.

I have only read the first two storylines of the series, written by Ed Brubaker and with artwork by Sean Philips. No superheroes, no supernatural elements, no mythology, just gritty, tightly written crime stories. I would definitely recommend them to any fan of crime fiction who would like to try something different from the run-of-the-mill.

Read the rest of it here, or here.

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