Monday, October 20, 2008


Andrew Rosenheim – Hutchinson - $36.99

Author Andrew Rosenheim was born in Chicago and grew up there and in Michigan. He attended Yale and then Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. He subsequently worked in publishing including eight years at Oxford University Press and more recently at Penguin Books. Since 2001 he has been a full-time writer, Without Prejudice is his fourth novel. He is married and lives near Oxford with his wife and twin daughters.
He seems to have quite a lot in common with Robert Danziger, the protagonist in his latest book. Danziger is an American publisher who has recently returned to his home city of Chicago to take up the post of Publisher at a university press there. He has brought with him his English lawyer wife and daughter.

There are three strands running through the novel. The major one is the unexpected call Danziger gets from a childhood friend, Duval Morgan, who has spent 24 years in prison for an horrific rape and assault, but is now out on parole.
Then there is Danziger’s publishing life and the struggles he is having with a senior colleague jealous that she didn’t get his job, and the battle to sign the university’s high profile football coach who has just written his memoir and who is being courted by several leading New York trade publishers.
Then finally there is his marriage which is showing signs of strain as the Danzigers adjust to life in the US.
Rosenheim blends the three strands together but not totally successfully.

When Danziger’s lawyer wife read’s Duval Morgan’s trial notes, the case was in the days before DNA, and decides to take up his cause then Danziger is, for reasons he doesn’t himself understand, most reluctant to get involved.

A psychological thriller with crime fiction overtones that makes for a good holiday read but one that will soon be forgotten.

Vikas Swarup – Doubleday - $36.99

This is a 550 page sprawling novel about life and politics and corruption and greed in contemporary India. It reminded me somewhat of Aravind Adiga’s Man Booker Prize winner, The White Tiger, certainly the class and caste system and the vast gulf between the life of the privileged and under-privileged is strongly present in both.

A rich, young and totally unscrupulous man named Vicky Rai, who knows his corrupt politician father can get him out of any scrape shoots dead a barmaid when she refuses him a drink after closing time. Although the crime is witnessed by several he is acquitted after a farcical trial and widespread outrage among the masses follows.

To add insult to injury the acquitted man holds a huge celebratory party for several hundred guests at his luxurious farmhouse outside Delhi. At the party, shortly after midnight, he is shot dead and there are six suspects all found to have pistols in their possession when the police search the party-goers.

This then is how the novels begins.
Swarup then looks bnack and presents us with the life story of each of these suspects all unknown to each other, with Vicky Rai being the only common link. It really is a breathtaking piece of writing on an epic scale and once I got the sound of the various voices in my head I must say I found it an engrossing read. It does take some concentration though with a vast number of colourful characters throughout.

The six suspects are an American tourist, a Bollywood starlet, a mobile phone thief, a corrupt businessman, a tribesman from Andaman Islands, and the victim’s father, Jagannath Rai, who is also the Home Minister for the State of Uttar Pradesh. All have strong motives and of course all have come to the party armed.

In a way Swarup provides a collection of six longish short stories or novellas about each of the suspects and what a diverse bunch they are. Although this is a crime fiction novel with its fair share of murder and mayhem there is also a great deal of humour to be found in Six Suspects and I found myself chuckling out loud at times. At one stage when our corrupt businessman is in jail he shares a cell with a former Professor of English whose conversation is made up entirely of the names of great English novels which is very well done.

In the end I found this a long and meandering, somewhat flawed novel but one I enjoyed and would warmly recommend if you are facing two twelve hour flights to get to Europe or have a week planned on a Pacific Island.

I should mention too that the author is an Indian diplomat serving as India's Deputy High Commissioner to South Africa.
My above reviews were first published in the Sunday Star Times yesterday, 19 October.

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