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Book review: Private India (2014)

When one of America’s best-selling crime writers joins forces with one of India’s best writers, the results are bound to take readers on a thrill ride through the city of Mumbai. From Marine Drive to Andheri and all parts in between, James Patterson and Ashwin Sanghi showcase the energy of the Maximum City in Private India.

The good

The fast-paced structure reads more like a film than a book, a tendency some have criticized. Nevertheless, for readers seeking a gripping read, that structure quickens the pace. Each chapter reveals a key plot point to readers. Along the way, we learn many other important elements, but we’re rewarded with a major twist or reveal at the end of each chapter that keeps us longing for the next one.

The collaboration between James Patterson and Ashwin Sanghi offers American readers an opportunity to see Mumbai from a Mumbaiker’s perspective with an American lens filter. Sanghi is a well-known Indian writer, but, like so many others, his audience tends to stop at the country’s borders. Sanghi’s Yale MBA and business acumen make him an excellent candidate to popularize Indian crime fiction for an international audience. In an interview with Hello magazine, Sanghi talks about how the shared task of writing drafts (and good editors) kept their voices balanced.

As India’s financial capital, Mumbai is known for its Ganpati festival. Yet, Sanghi chose a lesser-known Hindu festival as the focal point of the plot. That decision opens Indian culture to an international audience in an unexpected, refreshing way.

A recent article about bad South Asian fiction highlighted the 17 tropes that stereotype the genre and hold back South Asian authors. Fortunately, this novel does not contain any of those tropes. However, it does fall prey to the inevitable ride on a Mumbai local train. Americans seem particularly obsessed with Mumbai local trains. Fortunately, Patterson has the benefit of Sanghi’s local knowledge to keep the trope in check. Sanghi also avoided that time-honored, overused Mumbai hotspot, Leopold’s, but seems to have confused the JW Marriott in Juhu with the Renaissance in Powai.

The bad

The DNA evidence is a little fuzzy. Readers are thrown a red herring that makes the conclusion problematic. The murderer’s motivation feels a bit forced, and the deeper psychological issues underpinning that motivation remain largely unexplored as a theme throughout the book.

Given the timing of the book during a festival at the end of monsoon, I am disappointed by the lack of rain references in the book. In the three monsoons I have experienced in Mumbai, I have been caught in at least one major, sky-splitting downpour as I’m headed to Powai’s Durga puja grounds. In some ways, by avoiding monsoon, the authors sidestep a stereotypical image of Mumbai, and for that I applaud them. Nevertheless, monsoon complicates life in Mumbai and should have affected some scenes, especially toward the climax.

The verdict

Ashwin Sanghi’s collaboration with James Patterson brings Mumbai-style mayhem, murder to Private franchise in Private India.
4 Stars (4 / 5)