Saturday, July 25, 2015

Those In Peril - Wilbur Smith

Wilbur Smith is my friends Vardha's and Madhav's favorite author from his school days. I have somehow never read any of his novels though I have heard much about them. So when Wilbur Smith himself came to India to launch his latest - Those in Peril - in December 2011 I called Vardha and told him. Vardha of course made it a point to travel 30 kms to meet his favorite author (it's always nice to meet old friends said Mr. Smith). I got myself a signed copy and came home. However it took me a while (3 and a half years!) to actually read it.

Here's a link to that day! Interesting stuff.

The book takes off like a gunshot and stays at that pace. An oil tycoon's young and beautiful widow, an ex-tennis champion, is now heading the company Bannock Oil. On the company payroll is a security agency headed by battle scarred Hector Cross, supported by a band of merry men. The daughter of the tycoon is kidnapped by a ruthless tribal chief who also heads pirate operations. A large ransom is sought. Hazel Bannock has only Hector to turn to in a moment when even the US Government is helpless. Hector is the man for the season with his witty one liners, encyclopedic knowledge and hard-to-beat action.

The action scenes in the book are brilliant. (In the same breath the romance is weak and rather misplaced.) As a thriller with tons of action, the book is among the best. Wilbur Smith is a master story teller, so he chooses well plotted places to twist the story on its head. He dispenses with his characters ruthlessly and hikes up the stakes so we as readers are panting for more. (I wondered if I could be so ruthless with any character of mine. It does take something.) He is at his very best with the men, the weapons, their camaraderie. Overall one of the fastest paced books I have read in a long time - one where you are skipping pages feverishly to know what's going to happen (even when you know it already!)

What did not work for me was the romance. For a hardcore professional engaged for a specific job, it was perhaps unprofessional at the least to quickly get into a romantic relationship with someone, his client and boss, who was already low on morale and emotional strength. For the woman to get into a relationship when so much is happening to her own daughter is another odd situation. For them to just walk off after securing the daughter and not expect a retaliation, or for that matter, not wanting to eliminate that threat or compromise with it did not make sense. What did they expect? That the pirates would keep quiet and let them go to college and go about their lives as normal?

Anyways those minor issues of mine aside, Mr. Smith is by far one of the best action thriller writers in the trade. For its small flaws, its a much recommended book by me and one you will enjoy if you enjoy the masala of Bollywood films. And hey, there is a TATA truck that plays an admirable role in helping the hero rescue the girl! Well done TATA!

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