Gripping. That’s what Prem Rao’s debut novel is. He calls it a psychological thriller. I’m gonna call it a psychological crime thriller – the murder of Colonel Belliapa (Retd) is at the centre of the novel. In fact, the first line of the novel states that. The name of the novel, too, It Can’t Be You.. is well chosen and explained in the initial few pages. The author balances the crime and psychological parts beautifully.
The novel is set in the hilly district of Coorg, in south Karnataka, and is told in first person narrative by four people in the Colonel’s family, including the Colonel himself. His son, daughter and second wife all have their own reasons to have the Colonel dead. But, finally, his death comes as a mystery to all of them. And, more so for the readers!
The author’s plot is descriptively framed for the reader to grasp the essence of each speaker’s words. When we read the son’s account, we are quick to think that it was him who killed the Colonel. But then, you read his daughter’s story told by her and you pinpoint her. His seductress of a second wife has her own wish to see his dead body. But the last two chapters of the novel have something in store for you. It takes you on a swift whirlwind – one that leaves you gasping long after the page is turned.
Believe me, this is one of the best books in its genre. The author isn’t trying to rapidly reach the end of the investigation nor is he in a hurry to reveal the climax. And, when it comes, it’s superb. More than often, I grinned at myself, thinking of how well Rao has crafted this murder mystery. The graphic scenes blend well with the mellow ones, to create a novel that slowly but steadily rises in tempo, to tease and treat you, alternatively.
The book’s cover is impressive – a collage of themes discussed in the book. The black background gives it an important focus, too. Coming to the themes, there are many! Rao has successfully dealt with several themes, some of them about family, money management, lust, politics, hatred and relationships. There are several instances of the love-hate relationships between spouses, familial fall-outs, generation gap and anger outbursts as well as those precious moments spend together as a family, vacations and others. I feel that we can learn quite a bit from them, if not see ourselves in a different light.
Characters are fleshed out to the point where we tend to identify with several of their traits and behaviour. Even the minor characters play a vital role in their respective situations. Belliapa is a decorated war hero, almost a crazy maverick. I think there needs to be a little more work on the events in Belliapa’s Army life in order to do justice to the names the author gives him, one being where he attributes the Colonel with aggressive, maniacal bravery. Belliapa’s achievements need to come forth stronger to the reader.
A major portion of the book takes us through the history of Belliapa the person, his childhood, life in the Army, and later his aggression, leading up to his very end. The ‘Spiral of Vengeance’ does end, and that, too, horrifically. This thrilling tale is superbly told to us through plainly-understood words, vivid scenarios and also the occasional, ‘the reader ought to figure out the meaning’ type sentences and ideas. The author invites the readers to get into the minds of his four main characters to analyse them by ourselves, which works to his credit.
Sometimes, Rao uses a certain imagery that will linger on in the minds of the readers. And, if you’re the kind who reads a book in one go, this provides a great connect through the whole book – images mentioned in certain parts of the book have bearing on the others, thereby creating a ‘strung-together’ feeling.
The author uses, rather misuses, the hyphen and the comma at different places. Now, that’s something which interrupted my flow of reading. Another this is the fact that there is no spacing between dialogues by two different people. One quote ends just as another’s starts – this tends to confuse the reader as to who is saying those lines. These are absolutely negligible slips that we can overlook. All the same, without them, the reading and the pace would be considerably enhanced.
This is a great book to read about how people in the Armed Forces deal with everyday situations in life and how wars and conflicts affect them and the difference it creates in them when they return to the society. The bullet that hits a soldier can be removed fast, but not the trauma it causes in his life.
A thoroughly readable book by someone who has over 30 years in the Talent Management field and as an executive coach. Rao has two blogs: People at work and play, Writing to be read.
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