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April 15, 2012

As I have mentioned before on this blog, my favourite genre of writing is the kind of books that are broadly classified as thrillers. However, they are reality difficult to fit into any one particular group. To start with, the term ‘Thriller’ itself is a misnomer, as nobody would call Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy a thriller. Not by a long stretch. But  that does not mean that anybody who does not like it is not fit for exile in Siberia. These favourite genres are usually clubbed together either as as spy fiction, or as crime fiction (which can be subclassified into detective fiction, police procedurals, etc.). This does not mean pulp, mind, as many of these books are examples of the best fiction writing there is, with practitioners ranging from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Isaac Asimov to Fyodor Dostoevsky.

So coming back to the point – I love reading crime, detective and spy novels, even though I have reasonably cultured reading tastes which I generally advertise by sneering at fans of the Twilight series, and quoting randomly from hard to read books. I feel that crime novels speak best and most truthfully about the human condition, because as someone has said, a society is only as good as it’s worst crimes (I am not sure if somebody actually said that – maybe I am just extrapolating the “weakest link” concept). The people inhabiting these pages are all trying to get by in less than perfect circumstances – the victims (that is, if they aren’t dead), their families, the criminals, the cops, the private eyes, the moles, the spymasters, and specific to spy-fi, the occasionally sweaty Presidents of nations on brink of war. The detective / police novel,  even more than the others, is a microcosm of what life can be at it’s worst. And how people still learn to accept their lot and move on. Often after justice, or a semblance of it, prevails.

I was reminded of this when I completed Mind Prey by John Sanford this morning. It is not a path-breaking book, like Tinker, Tailor.. or The Alienist, but it is definitely superb entertainment. An out and out thriller, with a menacing villain, believable (and mostly likable – unless they are not supposed to be liked) characters, and of course, Deputy Chief Lucas Davenport of the Minneapolis PD as the protagonist hero. Davenport, like most of the famous detectives of fiction (and mind you, the Prey series has a lot of fans), has a strong personality quirks. He has this felicity with technology, especially computers – he moonlights as a computer game designer with a loyal fan-base amongst the geeks and has his own company – which has made him rich. He dresses nattily, drives a Porsche and believes that criminals have it coming, and the ends will justify the means. An Amazon comment mentioned that “what about the victim’s rights?” is a phrase he is very likely to say.

What I liked best about the book is the easy camaraderie between the cops working on the case (which is in fact true for most cop capers – but the banter here was exceptional), brought out by some crackling ripostes between Davenport and his boss, Chief Rose Marie Roux. This really helps relieve the tension coming after some of the most brutal crime sequences I have read in recent times. The language throughout is easy-going, freely peppered with slang – just like I imagine tough cops and criminals should speak. Which also sort of brings me to the title of this post. “Huh” as a word used by almost every character as a response to somebody, whether in agreement, sarcastically, or as a statement of understanding – which is so much like real life! I wonder why no other author has used this interjection and common “filler” so effectively before this? The amazing “fitability” of this word is best brought out when Davenport spots a very subtle comforting action by one of the secondary characters towards another – an action that their apparent relationship does not justify.  Davenport’s only reaction is to say “Huh” to himself, but you can visualise the gears spinning fast in his head at that moment. It is little things like this that have raised this book a notch above the standard police procedural and kept it from becoming hackneyed like, say, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

All in all, very much recommended for readers who like crime stories, but with the stomach to take some very sickening scenes of rape and violence.

(I know it has been a long while since my previous post. Hope to be much more regular from here on and to continue writing more and more, especially book reviews!)

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