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May 16, 2011

Book Review - 29 : Hickory Dickory Shock!

Author: Sundip Gurai
Publisher: Rupa Publications

Tuten(210) Chatterjee, a mathematical whiz-kid with an uncanny knack for finding pattens, chances upon a web chat between two mysterious people-HICKORY and DICKORY, and learns about the deep conspiracy brewing inside SHIVAN computers. Things take a murky turn when a software innovator is murdered in a packed auditorium by an invisible killer, an unseen assassin kills a software visionary in a locked room, and a mysterious masked man sabotages a server room and vanishes with LoRD - a cutting-edge software invention from India. The trouble heightens when Raja, Chairman of SHIVAN Computers, hatches an accounting fraud of unimaginable proportion by manipulating the accounting books of LoRD. 210, along with Geetika (210's romantic interest), Gurpreet (210's mom), and others are now inadvertently sucked in a race against time to save LoRD and the livelihood of thousand of techies. They have six hours before all goes topsy turvy. Will the techies succeed in stopping the villains, or will SHIVAN computers fade in the hoary mists of time?

Murder mysteries have always fascinated me, but i need to have certain basics in the story well defined to keep me hooked. The basic plot of setting a murder mystery at the backdrop of an accounting scandal in an IT company (clearly inspired from the Satyam Scandal) is an unique and well-thought off concept. The answer to every mystery in this book lies locked in a trail of bizarre clues- Bhagavad Gita, CD-ROMs, flutes, Napolean, Newton, Hitler, Vedic Math, Lord Ganesha, Indus valley scripts, secret codes and more. The research is impeccable and is seamlessly woven in the narrative. But is that enough to provide us with a taut, racy murder mystery it promises to be?

The narrative is brisk, things seldom drag here. The dialogues are short, sharp and to the point. The technical jargon may irk a few readers, but it is being kept to minimum so that readers can relate to it. Moving between past and present, it provides an optimum balance in showing the resolution of a murder mystery and the murky details of an corporate scandal brewing in the top management of the company. It even does not have your typical stereotypes, which is such a refreshing change- so there is a mom who is an ex-Kabaddi champ with a flair for wisecracks and a Girl friend with a razor-sharp brain. But again, should this be enough to hook the readers with a pacy, well-packed thriller it promises to be?

The basic flaw in this book is even though it keeps you hooked on a fast racy ride, it leaves you dissatisfied in the end. The narrative falls flat because the author abundantly uses convenient coincidences and creative liberties to get out of tricky screenplay situations. Sample these:

(a) 210 is the prime accused after the twin murders. Still he roams around freely in the company collecting clues including in the 'closed' room where one of the murder has happened. So basically no one in the company (or the villains to be more specific) is bothered what he and his accomplices are up to. Not only this, the exact character who accused him of being present during the murder, ultimately leading to 210's arrest actually starts helping him. He even goes abroad to deliver a presentation in-spite of being under the police radar. Quite implausible, some would say!

(b) The police disappear miraculously from the initial interrogation scene leaving 210 and his accomplices to carry on all the investigations. Considering that SHIVAN computers is such a high profile company in turmoil of an accounting scandal, this negligible role of the cops is difficult to believe. Infact, in one of the sub-plots, police actually help 210 verify an important suspicion. Really...what does he done to deserve that? He is the prime accused of the murders, right?

(c) The leaving behind of clues by a major character in the company cafeteria is again tad confusing. Using these clues, 210 finally solve the riddle which gives him a bigger clue to solve all the murder mystery. But are you trying to tell me that 'someone' quietly comes everyday, put on those clues on the wall without anyone noticing and move away in full presence of highly secured cameras and a well-guarded corporate place. This is a company where a murder investigation and a scandal is on, right?

These kind of loopholes are generally the albatross around the neck for any good screenplay. But it still provides a decent read because it is well edited and researched. It moves at a such a speed that it hardly gives you a moment to ponder how impractical it is actually turning out to be in the end.

I am going with generous (2.5+0.5=) 3/5 for Sundip Gorai debut novel, Hickory Dickory Shock. It is a kind of book which you desperately wants to like more because of the research efforts put in by the author. It could have been an excellent, almost unique thriller set in the Indian corporate world. Unfortunately, for me personally, there are too many loopholes to enjoy it more.

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