Vinod Joseph writes well, with a crisp, clear, no nonsense style. He writes with a bravado, typical of the new generation of young writers, who don’t need publicity to feel that they can succeed. The novel is a thriller, where the protagonist, a man called Ritwick is an espionage agent, who is, (like penny pulp fiction writers intend,) immediately accessible to the imagination. He is always dressed simply, picked up by Al Qaeda thugs, interrogated by them quite dreadfully and then plays his double hand of professional treachery in espionage, which has fortuitously, all the terrorists killed or imprisoned by the end of the book. But the key protagonists are also a mixed bunch, so Al Qaeda is only one aspect of the group, among them are the Taliban and the ISI, where Pakistan’s diplomatic moves are hindered by the working of this dissolute Indian agent working for the British, who is kept from drinking his Old Monk whiskey for two weeks while in confinement. Since protagonist and author are not to be confused, the prose is lucid, and the author is able to bring to us the complex fictional sense of being an Indian in UK, where working for Intelligence Assesment Group (IAG) in London provides him with a gut sense of manoeuvring murderers in a bedroom, with his own guile and spittle. Of course, there is a woman from Lahore, in a burkha, whom the agent falls in love with, but that too is part of the plot which cannot be given away, as the fast pace of the thriller depends on the smug quality of foreknowledge which the author has, and the reader does not.
Vinod Joseph writes with the assurance of a young man who knows that he has the intellectual drive to prove that fiction does not have to be best selling, diaspora-linked, or publicity driven. It is a good story, morally neutral as fiction often is, though in the end, it becomes like ‘cat’s cradle’ where the threads have stretched beyond the puzzle maker’s ability to control the web. Being a Malayalee is one way of saying that all nationalities may be known, including speaking Farsee if one’s hero is recruited. However, there are no Keralites in the novel.
The slow time of incarceration is made up by the pulse of the romance, where the agent accepts that he is indeed someone who has no one to look out for him, and yet, the fall of perpetual snow, slowly turning into slush is the leitmotif, and his inability to fathom where he is, is revoked by his dreams. The surprise comes from his falling into line with the terrorists who believe that they have got him to give them the information that they want. Yet, when the climax arrives it is in the form of yet another betrayal, which leaves the author with lots more questions as to how he will proceed with the sequel. Does love recede when betrayed? The agent’s curiosity propels him to believe that in the world he lives in, punishment is meted out in irregular proportions. and that the actors have to make sense of their actions with the political insights that they have. Does the state make use of these emotions, or are they merely feelings which shock the reader with their inappropriateness? The agent is someone who thinks that the question will be answered by his venality, and his alcoholism, which the state uses to its own purpose. Vinod Joseph has a precise imagination, and a clear voice. Interestingly, no sides are taken, all are characteristically evil as in the genre of pulp fiction, and for those who read in trains and planes, this is a good buy, since the author is familiar with how important the tube is to the readers’ view of London, and so from Hammersmith and its smoke screen cafetaria, to the anonymity of the suburbs, the novel runs along its very catastrophic track in the author’s imagination. Amaryllis, an independent publisher has given him an error free text, and a tactile embossed cover, in red and black.
Susan Visvanathan is Professor of Sociology at JNU. She is the author of Nelicinda and Other Stories (Roli 2012) and Reading Marx, Weber and Durkheim Today (Palmleaf Publications 2012).