last updated on: 25th Mar 2018

Black Water Lilies, Michel Bussi
Translated from French, this novel is the best book I read this year. The plot revolves around 2 murders in Giverny, France where the great painter Claude Monet lived the last 20 years or so of his life and painted just water lilies. An old lady in her eighties is the protagonist and relates the story from her viewpoint. Unfortunately I can’t reveal more since it would then give away the suspense. I will just say that the twist is that it is more of a love story than a crime story.

03:02, Mainak Dhar
Bought this e-book at a very low price in an Amazon sale, so was pleasantly surprised to find it very good. Due to an attack on India and other countries, all electrical and electronic equipments break down. (This happens at 3 am, hence the title.) The story revolves around a few societies in Mumbai – how they cope up with a world which has suddenly gone back 100 years, and how they deal with the attackers. It does have a lot of melodrama just like a Bollywood movie, but the novel is still worth a read. 🙂

Behind Closed Doors, B A Paris
This psychological thriller is very disturbing. I am not sure what scared me so much – the way it was written or the story itself. A very handsome successful lawyer marries a woman with an invalid sister, but there is a something extremely wrong with this guy, starting with the house in which they stay. Everything looks great in their marriage to everyone, but there is a horrible secret. I have decided to not pick up such scary books!

Cut like Wound and Chain of Custody, Anita Nair
These were the first 2 novels I read by this award-winning author. Inspector Gowda, progressing in both age and cynicism, hasn’t lost his sharp crime-solving skills. His career is going nowhere, his marriage is suffering, but he still manages to solve disturbing crimes in both the books. What grabbed me were the realistic yet funny scenes a policeman might have to deal with on a daily basis – auto-rickshaw walas not trusting them, policemen getting angry at the municipal workers for not cleaning the area near their station, a network of informers right from paan shop owners to urchins, many of the policemen not enjoying their jobs – some doing it out of a sense of duty, and some because they won’t get another job elsewhere.

Journey under the Midnight Sun, Keigo Higashino
Translated from Japanese, this crime novel has a very different structure compared to the ones I have read before. It tracks the lives of the people related to a murder in Osaka, over 20 years. The murder remains unsolved but the detective assigned to the case keeps trying even after retiring from the police. Does he finally find the murderer and the motive?
Other books by Higashino that I would suggest are Malice and Salvation of a Saint. (I am yet to read his most popular work Devotion of Suspect X.)

3, Krishna Udayasankar
I was nearly planning to ditch this slim book after finding the first few chapters very boring. Glad I didn’t! This historical-fictional story shows how Singapore became a trade hub in early 13th century, much before its current rise. But what I found inspiring is that in the process of making the island an international commercial power, the protagonist Nila Utama finds what it means to truly be a king.

The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair, Joel Dicker
This is perhaps one of the most gripping (and humorous) murder mysteries I have read. The dead body of a girl who disappeared 20 years ago in a small US town, suddenly resurfaces from the grounds of an author, Harry Quebert. The protagonist, who is a mentee of this author, sets out to solve the murder and writes a novel in the process. (Although it was a best-seller and critically acclaimed, there were some plagiarism concerns when it was released.)

The Valley of Masks, Tarun J Tejpal
Suggested by my cousin Harish, this engaging novel by Tejpal (yes, the Tehelka guy) is about a person who escapes from a cult-like isolated community in a Himalayan valley, and shares his life story to make everyone aware what it means to blindly follow some ideology. He is among the fastest rising and most devoted disciples of the cult, till he undergoes something disturbing and everything goes haywire. You find that out only in the last 15 pages or so. This is perhaps the best fiction I read in 2016. (His other book The Alchemy of Desire is good too.)

The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm, J K Rowling (writing as Robert Galbraith)
I might be among the few who haven’t read a single Harry Potter book, but I will definitely follow Rowling’s new crime fiction series! In case you aren’t aware, she has begun writing crime under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, with a one-legged war veteran turned private detective as the protagonist. Cormoran Strike goes around London solving gruesome crimes along with his secretary Robin.
In the first novel, Strike solves a murder case of a British fashion model. In the 2nd, he helps find the murderer of a writer, who is killed in the same way as the lead in his last book.

Haruki Murakami

Norwegian Wood – My first Murakami book. And I loved it. A young man deals with the loss of his best friend and his girlfriend. And also falls in love with another girl. Very very touching. It became an instant national hit when released in Japan 20 years ago, slowly turning into a cult novel throughout the world.

1Q84 -Mesmerizing is the only word I could use to describe this 3-volume novel. 2 people – a fitness instructor cum part-time assassin and a maths school teacher cum part-time writer get transported into a parallel world in 1980s Japan, when the assassin murders the head of a secret cult and the writer ghost-writes a book. I found parts of the novel very beautifully and sensitively written (even though it is a translation). It became an instant hit when released in 2009.

Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie
Rushdie is among the most controversial writers. And if you have read this book of his, you will realize why he is a genius. All his later books seem to fade in front of this masterpiece. No wonder it was awarded the Booker of Bookers in 1993. This fantasy novel is about a Mumbai guy born on India’s Independence Day (August 15, 1947) with special powers on account of his date of birth (along with many others born on the same day), and how he escapes being hunted.

Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
Borrowing a cliché – you love her, you hate her, but you can’t ignore her. Everyone who has done a good bit of reading will definitely have come across Ayn Rand. I don’t agree with a lot of things she puts forward, but there is a great charm in this book of hers. The theme of the novel – how a single person (John Galt) fights against all the parasitic socialists and creates a world of his own. For me, the most interesting character in it is Francisco d’Anconia, a copper industrialist who destroys everything he has created, so that the people who don’t deserve it don’t get their hands on it.

Dune, Frank Herbert
Nearly half a century old, this masterpiece ranks among the top selling science fiction books in the world. Words are not enough to describe this haunting novel – it has science, religion, adventure, fantasy, ecology and what not. The story is of a king’s son Paul Atreides, who moves on to the desert planet Arrakis, where he is forced to accept and live out his cruel destiny of becoming the ruler of the universe and a religious cult leader.

The Interpretation of Murder, Jed Rubenfeld
In this re-creation of 1920s New York, Sigmund Freud and the protagonist go about solving a crime using their psychoanalytical skills. I initially didn’t have high expectations from the book, but was proved wrong. I kept turning page after page, following the protagonist find an interpretation below each action of the murderer as well as the victims.

The Rosie Project, Graeme Simion
My cousin passed this one to me. Very slim, this book is hilarious. I actually fell down laughing at many points. Tillman, a genetics professor, in search of a woman, encounters someone entire opposite to him. I won’t say more because you can find the entire story on Wikipedia.

All books in Kurt Wallander series, Henning Mankell
Once I began, just couldn’t take my hands off these detective books! Based in 1990s Ystad, Sweden, I have started to like the protagonist as much as Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes. Kurt Wallander, the police inspector, gives his best in solving violent crimes in small-town Sweden despite being faced with a multitude of personal problems – a recent divorce, an uncommunicative daughter, an insane father and his own poor health. All his books in this series are worth reading.

All books, Agatha Christie
Just like millions of fans, I too recommend any book by her, whether it is Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple as the protagonist.

Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle
Same as above. Pick any book of Sherlock Holmes and you wouldn’t be disappointed. (I am actually a bigger fan of Holmes than Agatha Christie’s books.)

The Millennium Trilogy, Stieg Larsson
Based in Sweden, these fictional novels are extremely gripping. The story revolves around an extremely intelligent but asocial girl (the protagonist) and a journalist. Won’t say more. Read them.

The Sari Shop, Rupa Bajwa
This by far the most touching novel I have read in recent times. The story of a simple orphaned guy working in a sari shop in Amritsar who dreams of changing his life by learning English and how he then faces the brutal reality of life. Everything is described in perfect detail, including seemingly mundane things like the rich industrialist’s wife spending hours selecting a sari and finally not buying and, his companions escaping for an hour from the sari shop to eat samosas when the shop manager is on leave.

Bernard Samson series, Len Deighton
These are a series of 9 spy novels written by Deighton with the main character as Bernard Samson, a spy who now works a desk job with the intelligence department in 1970s UK. He misses his field days in Berlin. His satirical look at the various people he meets and the events he undergoes is very enjoyable. Action is primarily in form of conversation and not actual shooting, running, etc. – more of, perhaps, an intelligent person’s idea of espionage. (I later found out from the internet that Deighton has a cult-like fan following.) I read 3 of the series – Berlin Game, Mexico Set and Spy Hook.

The Information Officer and House of the Hanged, Mark Mills
I picked these 2 up to try out some new authors. And Mills didn’t disappoint. The novels are based in Europe, with World War 2 and international espionage as a backdrop. I am not a big fan of WW 2 novels, but as they say – a good story is always good, regardless of the context. Both are very engrossing and you can get lost in the storyline.
The first one is about murders being committed in Malta, and the British officer investigating finds out that it might be another officer and not a Maltese. The second involves an ex-British SIS operative who starts a fresh life as a writer in France, but the past soon catches up. I am not going to reveal more than that. 🙂

The Seeker, Karan Bajaj
A recommendation by my cousin Harish, this recently released book is my 3rd by Bajaj. As you can probably guess from the title, Max, a New York investment banker leaves his cushy job to search for enlightenment in India.
Initially slow, it becomes fast paced and the reader will want to know where Max’s quest is leading him (I finished it in 2 days). On similar lines to the classic Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, I liked the message – no matter where you go and what you do, the solution is only through this world, and not in its escape.

The Dog, Joseph O’ Neill
This funny novel tells the story of a single guy who gets an opportunity to work as a financial advisor for a Lebanese family owned business empire in Dubai around 2010. The way he goes around describing his life in Dubai – the Emiratis, the expats, the continuous construction, the quirks of working with unprofessional bosses, as well as his past life with his ex-girlfriend in London, is hilarious.

One more interesting book I would recommend is The Palace of Illusions, which I mentioned in this post.