Book Review: The Teacher by Freida Mcfadden


It’s Sunday again and I picked up yet another Freida Mcfadden.

‘The Teacher’ is the author’s first release of the year and like her previous works , this one is also an edge-of-the-seat popcorn thriller. Eve Bennett is the Maths teacher at the local high school, Caseham High. She has a beautiful house, a fulfilling career and a super handsome husband, Nathaniel Bennett. All is as it should be. But it’s then  Caseham high is rocked by a scandal involving a student teacher affair, with one student, Addie Severson , at it’s centre. The teacher involved in the scandal is disgraced and leaves the school and Addie joins the class tutored by Eve. But Eve’s real problem starts when she realizes that the troubled kid is also assigned to her husband, Nat for teaching English.

Devoid of too many characters and too many perspectives over crowding and confusing the narrative , ‘The Teacher’ is a really engaging thriller. Besides Eve, Nat and Addie, there are only a handful of characters- (the school bully – Kenzie and her boy friend, Hudson being the most significant of the lot) and this works to it’s advantage as the readers are hooked to the lives of Eve and Addie for the most part.

The twists are hard to predict and just as you believe that you have figured out the ending , Frieda pulls the rug out from under your feet with a really surprising plot twist making this one a really addictive thriller.

Though this pop corn read doesn’t break any new grounds in terms of suspense, full credits to the writer for smartly using even the most conventional narrative tropes to her advantage. For instance, there is a brief portion in the book where the character of Eve, goes missing and at this point, the book could have easily fallen into the regular run-of-the-mill thriller zone, but Mcfadden doesn’t take the easier route there and the readers are rewarded with one brilliant twist after the other from there on. There is a double twist happening towards the end and though I liked the first one (the one involving Eve’s past), I didn’t like the epilogue one (the age time lines confused me there) and I believe Freida could have easily done away with the latter.

On the whole, ‘The Teacher’ is a paisa vasool  pop-corn thriller and I am pretty sure that someone will make a film adaptation of this one soon!


Regional: 1980 by Anver Abdulla

 Though Anver Abdulla is an accomplished name in Malayalam Detective fiction (he has given us some genuinely memorable detective Novels like Compartment and Onnaam Saakshi Sethuramaiyyer), not many know that he is also a screenwriter and Director. The writer’s fascination for the film industry has been evident in some of his past work (Operation Blue Star, Republic, Camera- the Novella in ‘Kappal Chethathinte Raathry’). But it is in 1980 (his latest work and the fourth installment in the Detective Perumaal franchise), his knowledge and mastery over the visual medium has come out in full glory.

One  night, an old acquaintance turns up in Detective Perumal’s house with a rather odd request- re-investigate the accidental death of the yesteryear Super Star Jagan! Jagan died almost 40 years back in the sets of a film named Padayorukkam during its Helicopter climax fight sequence shooting, which had received widespread media attention. So, when the Detective is confronted with this rather strange request, he is taken aback by the sheer absurdity of this request and he  immediately dismisses it.But a rather strange turn of events forces him to go back on this decision and pretty soon Perumal finds himself in the middle of the most challenging murder investigation of his career. Will he be successful in bringing out the mystery behind one of the most ‘notorious accidents’ from the past? 1980 is the story (but not limited to ) of this latest investigation by Detective Perumal.  

1980 is a work never confines within the limited realms of crime fiction .This can also be called as a  a work of speculative and altered historical fiction. With almost all the characters modelled on real-life personalities and real-life events, and the author’s perspective and imagination spicing up the proceedings, it often becomes impossible to distinguish the thin line between fact and fiction. Even the enigma around the late actor Jayan’s unreleased film (Panchapaandavar, incidentally set in Bombay) which had a stellar cast of Jayan, Raghavan, Poojappura Ravi and two others gets the author’s take in 1980. The Novel also serves as an ode to the Malayalam Cinema of the 70 s and 80 s. The story also has genuine heart warming moments. The episode involving the yesteryear stunt master  , and his final moments were delicately done. It is also pretty evident that the writer has also been inspired by some of the youtube interviews of yester year technicians of Malayalam and Tamil Cinema. It is remarkable that Anver Abdulla could come up with a gripping tale around an incident that shook not only the Film industry , but the whole of Indian Film Industry in the 80 s. The incident also paved the way for serious debates about the safety in the film shooting sets.

On the downside, the book also has it’s own share of cheesy moments. Some of the wild guesses of Perumal, including the speculative theory about Jagan living a secret life in America turned out to be unintentionally funny. Like wise, the portions pertaining to M.V.R’s crush with Saumini was also stretched a bit too far. Also at times, the reader finds it extremely difficult to differentaiate the real life personality from the fictional character. You also feel like Kamalhassan, Prem Nazir, MG.R, Latha , Balan K Nair, I.V Sasi, Seema et al are reprising their real life roles as fictional characters in the Novel which was some sort of dampener for the reader in me.The climax was also a bit convenient.

On the whole, these minor flaws aside, 1980 is a brilliantly written work by one of the finest writers of Detective Fiction in Malayalam.


Regional: Sakhaavu By T.Padmanabhan

 Prakaasham Parathunna Penkutty was one of the first short stories in Malayalam I read in my lifetime. If my memory is correct, the story was there in the Malayalam curriculum of Kerala State Syllabus in sixth or seventh grade.

T Padmanaabhan’s Sakhaavu, published by Mathrubhumi Books, is the compilation of his ten latest short stories. The book also features an interview with the author by Pradeep Perashanoor. Though most of the stories in this anthology were published in the leading weeklies of Malayalam in the past year or so, I hadn’t read any of them. So I didn’t hesitate much before buying this latest compilation.

Critics often lament in Public Forums and Social Media Platforms that stalwarts like T Padmanabhan and M.T. have lost their mojo and have, in turn, lost connection with the present-day realities. But after reading this latest work by T. Padmanabhan, I can confidently say that none of these so-called critics hasn’t probably read any of the recent works by T.P.

In most of the stories in this anthology, the author is the narrator/principal character. The black humour and wit in some of them are spot on. Be it the episode around the wannabe NRI writer in ‘ Aadyathe Novel’ or the hullabaloo ensuing in the event of a famous officer’s superannuation in ‘Manoharam’; the sarcasm is unmissable. The title story, ‘Sakhaavu,’ tries to be a commentary on present-day politics and partially succeeds in its attempt. Peerumettilekkulla Vazhi is a memory lane trip that deals with themes like immigration and self-discovery. Snehathinte Vila is about kindness and humanity, whereas Ennittu delves with second chances. Though some stories have ambiguous endings, it doesn’t make them monotonous reads.

The book is edited well and has a good production design. The cover design and the beautiful illustrations (Devaprakash) interspersed between stories also deserve special mention. The interview with the author is also genuinely exciting and manages to illuminate the writer’s perspective on the current socio-political scenario.

On the whole, ‘Sakhaavu’ is an enjoyable anthology.

Ps- In the author’s bio, it is mentioned that he had refused Odakkuzhal Award, Kerala Sahithya Academy Award and Kendra Sahithya Academy Award. I found it rather amusing. I am unaware of the circumstances for him declining  the award, but if he found himself accepting those awards not worthy of his stature, why is he proclaiming the same in his bio as if refusing it is a great badge of honour?! Pathetic, to say the least!


The Ten Notable Books of 2022: Part 1

 It's that time of the year when everyone is scribbling down their year-ender lists, and not wanting to be left too far behind, out of the 80-odd books read in the past year, I also managed to compile my list of the best of the year gone by. (Opinions, strictly personal and based on the books read last year)

 Rock Paper Scissors (Alice Feeney, HQ)

Alice Feeney's Rock Paper Scissors is one of the few genuine thrillers I have read for a long time. Adam and Amelia are spending the weekend in the Scottish Highlands. Adam is a successful screenwriter, and Amelia is his wife. The remote location is perfect for what they have planned. But can they trust each other? Twisty and engaging with a bit of horror element thrown in, this one is definitely worth your time and money!


1980 (Anver Abdulla, Mathrubhumi)

1980 is a work which can be safely bracketed as a work of speculative fiction. Inspired by the real-life accident of yester year Super Star Jayan, 1980 marked the return of Detective Perumal. An engaging mystery and an ode to the Malayalam Cinema of the 80 s, this work by Anver Abdulla can be regarded as one of the best works in the franchise. With Characters modelled on real-life personalities, the Novel also has some genuinely heartwarming moments, which makes this one much more than your typical detective story.

3.      The Tattoo Murder (Akimitsu Takagi, Pushkin Vertigo)

2022 was also a year where I found a taste for vintage Japanese Crime fiction. Set in Post War Tokyo, this vintage locked room Japanese mystery is the story of three cursed tattoos and the series of murders connected with them. Though the core story might have gotten dated a bit, the backdrop of Seedy Tokyo, dive bars and Yakuza Gangs makes this one a worthy read.


Aanandha Bhaaram (Jisa Jose, Mathrubhumi)

In a year which saw a slew of below-par works which tried to compensate for their hollowness with fake female centricity,  Aanandhabhaaram, stood out for its genuine writing and believable characters. Rathnamekhala and Parimalam were real, and their miseries were relatable. The Novel also had many heartwarming moments, and the ending was quite satisfying. Mudritha indeed got its worthy successor in AanandhaBhaaram.


The Trees (Percival Everett, Influx press)

Perhaps the bluntest and the most provocative books of this lot, this black comedy was short-listed in this year's Man Booker Prize. A series of murders are happening in a small town in Mississippi, and two State Detectives are brought in to investigate the same. This page-turning potent Satire of U.S. racism is a challenging yet racy read. Though this one is packaged as a regular Murder Mystery, its themes are pertinent and thought-provoking.

 (The Second Part of this post will be post will be published tomorrow)


The Third Wife By Lisa jewell

The Third Wife is one of the earlier works by Lisa Jewell and came out in 2014, i.e., much before she made it big with psychological and domestic crime fiction. This one almost reads like a cross-over work and cannot be categorized into one genre, per se. It's a domestic drama with some crime and psychological thriller elements.

The protagonist, Adrian, lost his third wife (Maya) to an accident. He is still coping with the tragedy, but then he stumbles upon another woman, Jane, who mysteriously leaves behind her phone in his house and suddenly disappears. But pretty soon, it becomes clear that she might have had something to do with Maya's death and how Adrian, with the help of his 'extended family and Children, tries to solve the secret behind the mystery girl is what The Third Wife is all about.

With a rather implausible and unbelievable plot, The Third Wife could have quickly become a work that could top anyone's DNF (did not finish) list, but thanks to Jewell's impeccable skills, this one ends up as a page-turner.

Adrian is one of the most unlikeable characters I have come across recently, and the premise around his extended family feels like a bit of a stretch. The book explores Adrian's transformation from a selfish, self-centered man to a more mature and considerate human being and could have quickly become a boring read. Still, the mystery around Jane and Maya keeps the proceedings interesting. The final reveal might be a bit underwhelming, but by the time the reader has figured out what is happening, the Novel reaches its climax, and full marks to Lisa for maintaining the suspense intact. The author has handled the core themes of stalking, cyberbullying, and shared responsibilities maturely and sensitively.

Coming to the negatives, as I mentioned earlier, this one is essentially a family drama. The climax portions involving Adrian's children and their secret letters try desperately to manipulate the readers emotionally and end up as cringe-worthy stuff. There are very few characters in the story who are relatable and believable. The mystery around Jane and her stalking Adrian comes a cropper, and by the time you get to know the real reason 'behind' her acts, you can't help thinking about the silliness of it all! There is also too much 'feel-goodness' in the middle portions of the Novel, which makes some of the final revelations in the climax predictable stuff.

On the whole, The Third Wife is an okay read. It's not your typical psychological thriller. If a passable domestic drama with a little bit of mystery is your kind of read, then do give this one a try!



Adulting by Neharika Gupta


There was a time when I used to relish escapist urban chick lit works by Indian Authors. The likes of Advaita Kala, Ahmed Faiyas, and Durjoy Dutta came to my rescue whenever I used to suffer from reader's block. For that matter, I had even enjoyed the then-teen sensation Kavya Vishwanathan's How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, got wild, and got a life (which incidentally was pulled off the shelves due to plagiarism charges).

I picked up Adulting by Neharika Guptha, expecting it to be an entertaining young urban chick lit. The cover was somewhat attractive, and the blurb promised a 'Bold, unapologetic story of love and self-discovery, heartache, and book launches. Harper Collins had put faith in a debutant Indian author was another bait for picking up this one. Also, it's cool to get indulged in reading about rich people's problems once in a while, right?

The principal characters are Aisha, a famous blogger; Ruhi, a publishing consultant and Tejas, a budding author. The snail-paced plot tries to trace their lives, ambitions, and love life.

With bland, unlikeable characters, tedious scenes, and an unimaginative setting, Adulting suffers from pacing issues and a flimsy plot. The writer herself seems confused about the core theme of the book, and the narrative drags aimlessly, trying to fit in so many themes topically, parenting,  the cut-throat world of trade publishing, urban love, and body issues with none managing to leave any kind of impression with the hapless reader. Pages and Pages of boring text ensue, and even the love triangle involving Ruhi-Tejas-Aisha comes a cropper. The insipid journal entries by Aisha only serve to add to the boredom. The track involving the writer, Litracy Publishing House and the writer's block also comes across as half baked and monotonous and the reader never gets to sympathise with the predicaments of Tejas.

On the whole, I picked up this one expecting to read a fun, Indian Chick-lit after a long time. Sad that I couldn't even finish this one published by Harper Collins.Also, I don't think I will pick up an Indian Chick-lit any time in the near future, again!

Ps- Why the title, by the way?


Sesishi Yokomizo's The Inugami Curse


Thanks to the overnight success of the English Translations of kiego Higashino, many forgotten classics from Japanese Mystery have started finding their way to global readers. The efforts of  Pushkin Vertigo in reviving many of the forgotten Japanese classic murder mysteries and presenting them to bibliophiles worldwide are also worth mentioning.

Since this one is a mystery, and I don't wish to spoil the fun for those who are yet to read it, I am not going much into the plot details. But if you ask me to brief a bit, here it is- The story is set in the 40 s, the wealthy head of the Inugami clan has just died, and his family is eagerly waiting for the reading of his will. But a series of bizarre, graphic murders ensue, and how these all are connected with Inugami's will and his past is what the Novel is about.

Though this work is almost 82+ years old, it has to be noted that it hasn't become outdated. The twists and turns feel fresh, and not even during the narrative can the reader feel that the whole story is happening in an era where mobile phones and modern gizmos were unheard of. It is also recalled that even though this work was written a long time ago, that hasn't given way to any jarring plotholes in the narrative. Though I have had this book with me for almost a year now, I had so far refrained from picking it up to read as I had anticipated this one to be a confusing mystery. Still, I am glad this one ended up as a pretty straightforward, engaging Mystery for me. Special thanks to the Publishers for including the character list upfront so those who might find it difficult to follow the character names can use this as a ready reckoner. The translation is quite good, and special mention the efforts taken by Yumiko Yamazaki for making this an enjoyable read for present-day readers. The backdrop of the War and Japanese tradition also comes across nicely in the Novel.

On the downside, I found the climax revelation slightly underwhelming. Agreed, all the loose ends have been tied up, but still, the villain's identity didn't come as a shocker to me.

Overall, The Inugami Curse by Seishi Yokomizo, Published by Pushkin Vertigo, is engaging. If you love Mystery thrillers, you should try this one.



Regional: A.K by Amith Kumar


Despite Financial Thrillers being a sensation globally, not many authors from India have tried this exciting sub-genre. Though Ravi Subramanian and Ashwin Sanghi are notable exceptions, it is ironic that not many present-day authors have attempted anything related to financial fraud. This becomes more startling, considering that some of the present-day best-selling authors have a professional background in the Banking field. Ashish Ben Ajay's first two Novels had a banker as their protagonist, but I believe it is unfair to call them financial thrillers as corporate/financial frauds were not precisely the core plot points in either of them.

A.K, written by Amith Kumar and published by Logos books, aspires to be a legitimate banking thriller and depicts two significant episodes in the life of A.K and his deputy H.M. They work in the financial fraud investigation division of a Corporate Bank. A large-scale Gold Loan fraud has happened in one of the branches of the Bank, and the duo is sent there to investigate the matter and find a solution so that the Bank doesn't have to solicit the services of the Police. How they go about it and whether they manage to pin down the fraudsters is what the Novel is all about.

Coming to the positives, as mentioned before, this one is perhaps the most legitimate financial thriller to have come out in Malayalam in recent times. The narrative is smooth and gripping, and the writer has smartly avoided most cliches usually associated with the genre. This is no murder investigation to begin with (though something is happening towards the fag end of the story), and this alone adds to the freshness in the story. The setting feels fresh and relatable, and Amith Kumar has successfully included many interesting tidbits about the banking sector in the story. Twists and turns happen at regular intervals, and the book's tone also suits the genre. Though a significant portion of the book occurs in a closed setting with serial interrogations and the accompanying leads, the writer has managed to make the proceedings racy to a large extent. A.K. and H.M. come across as Holmes & Watson clones in a corporate bank setting. The occasional banter they indulge in (mainly concerning food and a few fellow characters) tries to make the proceedings light.

On the downside, one major issue I found with the book is the bland language and the overuse of local slang in the main text (nondialogue portions). Typos, grammatical errors, and incorrect usage of words are plenty and some of the dialogues that are supposed to sound 'heroic' end up cringe-worthy! The occasional attempts at humor and world play (including the one involving the protagonist's name, quite early on in the story) also fall flat and feel unnecessary. Also, I thought the dialogue mouthed by the principal characters could have been significantly improved. Though the writer has smartly tried to justify A.K.'s inability to speak in 'sanitised Malayalam' towards the Novel's closing pages, the inconsistent slang and the pointless cuss words he used don't gel well with the intended characterization of the protagonist. The introductory scene meant to establish A.K.'s intelligence and cunningness also fails to achieve the desired effect, as a large portion of the 'solution' seems to have happened by chance!

On the whole, A.K does have its flaws, but it is genuinely a decent read and deserves mention for trying out a sub-genre that hasn't been explored that much in the recent Malayalam Popular Fiction space in recent times!


The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins


Though this one had been on my wishlist for quite a long time, I had almost refrained from picking it up as I had almost thought this one was a parody novel. The title sounded quite similar to another International Best Seller (The Family Upstairs- Lisa Jewell), and the author also seemed like the namesake of another Best Selling Author (Paula Hawkins). But a little bit of googling told me that the author is already a known name in young adult paranormal romance, and it’s just that this particular title is her debut work in adult fiction.

Set in Birmingham, Alabama, and narrated from multiple perspectives, The Wife Upstairs is the story of Jane, a broke, small-town girl with a past who is now a dog walker in an upscale neighborhood. She chances upon Eddie, the rich widowed millionaire, and love blossoms between the two, and Jane cannot believe her luck when she proposes to her. Bea, Eddie’s first wife, had died in a tragic boat accident with her best friend Blanche a couple of months ago while they were on a girl’s out during the weekend. But pretty soon, Jane realizes that it had all been a farce and Eddie might have had something to do with their death. So, is she in real danger?

Besides Jane, Eddie and Bea, there are only a few characters in this 250+ pages Novel. We have Tripp, Blanche’s drunkard husband; Emelie and Co- the posh, rich, gossipy wives in the neighborhood whom Jane befriends; John, Jane’s former tenant and who is nothing but a creep and the Detective who turns up with strange questions just before each significant plot twist. None of the characters are likable, and ironically, I could feel a little bit of sympathy for Trip Ingram, who is portrayed as a drunkard and a perpetual nuisance in the neighborhood.

Though pretty generic, the book is well-paced, and the multiple narrative technique has come out quite well. Hawkins has managed to retain the suspense for a larger part of the narrative with limited characters. The twists though a few, are done decently, but I must confess that I had figured out the final reveal (which was also a bit underwhelming) before the author intended it. Though the writer has tried to portray Jane as someone with a dark past, by the time this supposedly ‘dark past’ is revealed, you can’t stop asking what the big deal was about it all, though! But having said that, I liked how Hawkins drew parallels between Bea and Jane. The climax also felt abrupt, and the author seemed unconvinced to take sides.

On the whole, The Wife Upstairs is an average thriller. It’s nothing extraordinary, but not bad, either!


Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney


Alice Feeney's Rock Paper Scissors is one of the few genuine thrillers I have read for a long time.

Adam and Amelia are spending the weekend in the Scottish Highlands. Adam is a successful screenwriter, and Amelia is his wife. The remote location is perfect for what they have planned. But can they trust each other?

Though none of the protagonists, be it Adam or Amelia, are likable characters, I think the author is justified as he has made up for it with the twists which happen towards the climax and explains why they are written the way they are.

As mentioned earlier, though there are only a handful of characters in this 300+ page-long thriller, the author gets full marks for making this one genuinely entertaining with the suspense intact. There are a couple of killer twists she has reserved for the climax, and the moment you think that you have figured it out, Feeney pulls the rug under your feet with yet another killer twist. The tail end portion with a tinge of horror is also dealt with nicely.

Coming to the characters, though there are only a few, it's the character of Henry Winter, the best-selling writer, who gets the reader's sympathy. Though in the initial portions, he appears to be a self-centered man who is full of himself, how the character gets revealed towards the climatic parts of the book blew me away. I think Robin, the hermit, also evokes similar feelings in the mind of the readers. Though she comes across as a lady with evil intentions, initially, you start rooting for her once the mystery about her is revealed. Though some of her actions are genuinely questionable, it doesn't matter as the author has managed to make her convincing to a more significant part of the narrative. The writing is fast-paced and is peppered with twists at regular intervals. Full credit goes to the writer for getting the atmosphere right. The Scottish Highlands, the converted Chapel, and the setting have come across well and set the Novel's mood right from the beginning.

On the downside, some of the great reveals were a bit contrived. The mystery around the disappearance of an internationally acclaimed best-selling author like Henry Winter was pretty hard to digest. Though Feeney has tried to make it sound convincing by making him an introvert and hermit, the supposedly shocking twist surrounding him became a cropper just because it appeared silly and illogical.

On the whole, this one is an entertaining read.



Harlan Coben's Win

Harlan Coben's runaway success was with the Myron Bolitar Series, which first came out in the mid-nineties. Myron Bolitar, the handsome former Basket Ball Player and superstar sports agent, is now 11 books old. Bolitar's partner and accomplice, Windsor Horne Lockwood III, the eccentric, philandering Millionaire, gets his first stand-alone Novel in Win.

On Newyork's Upper West Side, a hermit is found murdered. The investigating officers have yet to find his identity,but Windor Horne Lockwood (Win) is called to the crime scene, as some of the articles the victim left behind seem to have a personal connection with him. Pretty soon, Win figures out that the crime has a connection with not only him but also his cousin, Patricia. With so much at stake, including his family's reputation and personal fortune, Win decides to solve the mystery in this fast-paced thriller.

True to his style, Coben has delivered a solid thriller with Win. The plot twists keep coming at regular intervals, and there is never a dull moment in this 400+ page long Novel. The fans of the Myron Bolitar series will definitely enjoy reading more about their favorite sidekick's adventures. Those who regularly follow the series might recall that Windsor Lockwood III has always been an anti-hero who doesn't hesitate to give a punch, even at the cost of being politically incorrect. Full credit goes to the writer for not diluting his character trait to make him a bit more likable, as he is the protagonist here. You get Win, as he is! In the intro sequence (with that terrific scene at Indianapolis Lucas Oil Stadium), Coben establishes his protagonist and his ways with great success.

As mentioned before, this one is a genuine page-turner, and as the secrets of the Windsor Family are revealed one by one, the reader is also aghast along with Win. The climax is also brilliantly done with all the loose ends getting tied up. The supporting characters in the Novel are also etched out well.

On the downside, the pace slackens towards the middle of the story, and some cliffhangers didn't work that well for me.

On the whole, this one is a paisa vasool thriller which is racy and entertaining.



Book Review: The Teacher by Freida Mcfadden

  It’s Sunday again and I picked up yet another Freida Mcfadden. ‘The Teacher’ is the author’s first release of the year and like her prev...