Love Kills by Ismita Tandon

Summary: (from AmazonYou won’t live a boring life if you’re named after a whisky (more or less). Meet Johnny Will, named thus by an alcoholic father who died under mysterious circumstances. Johnny is the founder of Thy Will – a de-addiction centre for the rich and the famous that uses very questionable methods – and the fiancé of Mira Kermani, daughter of the richest man in town.
The beautiful, young Mira dies of an overdose of morphine. Officer Ray is convinced that Johnny is the killer. Johnny’s assistant Sera, who secretly loves him, and his half-brother Zac are working hard to protect him from the officer. Or are they? Could Aunt Adele’s hunger for what was rightfully her son’s inheritance have driven her to murder? Or is the murderer an unhappy patient?  From the author of the disturbing and controversial Jacob Hills, an unputdownable story of crime and passion in the hill-station town of Monele.
My thoughts: I read this book in one sitting, and how could I have not, when it is so engaging? The author has not fallen into the usual whodunit trap, where the convoluted characters and contrived storylines strive to keep us utterly confused, but in the process fail to sound real. Love Kills has a realistic plot, and because it is so believable, and the characters so gray, the story affects us like few others. From Johnny Wills and his malicious aunt Adele to the totally smitten Sera and Officer Ray who is irrationally convinced of Johnny’s guilt – each person has his own faults – we find ourselves siding with no one and realize soon enough how everyone, no matter how well we know them, has secrets that are better off hidden. While it’s difficult to guess who the killer is, and the author expertly keeps us on our toes, scanning for clues; it’s even more difficult to figure out who the good guy is or if there is one.
Johnny’s de-addiction center is reminiscent of the harrowing Stephen King short story, Quitters, Inc. Love Kills by Ismita Tandon drives home the idea that sometimes we don’t know what’s best for ourselves, sometimes we need to be slapped across the face to be brought to our senses. Inversely, though, however convinced we may be that we’re helping someone, it’s often best to stay put, and let people run their own lives. Guilt, resentment, obsession, misplaced concern; the story makes us question the simple feelings that could easily multiply into unrepentant cruelty. Admittedly, parts of the story are a little over-dramatized but that’s to be expected, from a scandalous theme.
The authors uses her setting well, and the hill-station town of Monele is inextricably woven into the characters’ life stories. Even in a couple of hundred pages, the book manages to have a large scope. In a sense, the novel is generation-spanning, and shows us how deeply family and the social-cage influence a child, and how our passions and failings affect not only those around us, but go on to seal the fate of the generations yet to come. 
The book reads like one written by a seasoned writer. Those who’ve read Ismita Tandon’s previous books are surely familiar with her atypical style and Love Kills is that style at its best. The writing is pithy, and funny and strewn throughout the book are the most wonderful poems. Which brings me to the author’s amazingly frequent, tongue-in-cheek references to herself, in the garb of Officer Ray’s poetic persona a.k.a ‘A Lesser Known Poet.’ 
The myriad points of view, each chapter a first person narration by one of the characters, do initially seem jarring. As do the tenses: the story is narrated in the present tense, but there are moments when the flitting timelines prove somewhat hard to follow. But what the many viewpoints provide, is a chance to see each individual closely. Besides, the viewpoints bring us the chapter-title illustrations, and you know what, why settle for a description when we could have an actual picture? —>
Here are some of my favourite quotes from the story:
The whole world wants to raise a family, no matter where their own life is headed. Buy a fancy cradle, tiny clothes, expensive toys, paint the nursery and potty train, it’s all fine, but what are they going to teach the kid when their own head is so full of fears and lies? How easy it is to make a baby and then screw up with its head! Passing on the confusion and chaos to the child, till the new seed is infected by the old.
“It can’t be! She would have told me. We were very close,” he said with the crumbling confidence of a man who had reared a child with love and affection only to lose her to an unforeseen enemy, adulthood.
That is how the world lives, in charades of loving families, no one acknowledging that all is not well and never will be. A beautiful patchwork of lies is what we create to fit in.
‘Why wash our dirty linen in public?’ She spoke with utmost dignity, the ravages of time and  alcohol had not dimmed her sense of society and social stigma.
I wondered then whether she too was to blame – this silently suffering wife who has witnessed it all, fearing for her husband’s reputation.
Let these snippets convince you not to dismiss Love Kills by Ismita Tandon as just another mystery. Grab your copy on Amazon!

Jacob Hills by Ismita Tandon Dhankher

I’m glad this wasn’t a review copy, because now I can just rant, without having to bother about a review structure or ratings. Those who do care about the review structure and ratings would be happy to know that I though it was a pretty good book! It’s fast paced, but you should know, there’s little action (not the fighting and killing kind, anyway) and there are not many clues or detectives, either. 

Here’s the blurb, which gives a pretty good idea about the book, without giving away any details (as must have been intended and saves me the trouble of writing a summary)

It’s just another evening at the Tiller’s Club. 
Near the bar, Capt. Rana, the Young Officer undergoing training at the War College stands among his course mates, consciously avoiding his pregnant, Muslim wife, Heena. Rumour has it she had forced him to marry her because of the baby. 
Saryu, village belle turned modern babe, drink in hand, chats up a YO. Her husband, Maj. Vikram Singh, shoots angry glances at her. She isn’t bothered; the question is, who will she go home with tonight? 
Pam and Gary, the flamboyant Sikh couple, chat merrily with the senior officers, charming as ever. Who’d ever guess that they lead the infamous Key Club, an underground swinger couples’ club. 
And in one corner stands the Anglo-Indian wife of Maj. George Chandy, Eva, who finds herself at the heart of a murder mystery when a woman’s bleeding body is discovered at the old church under the black cross. The murdered woman’s body is covered with cigarette burns. A six-year-old girl’s wrist is similarly marked. Another little girl shows signs of severe abuse.
Jacob Hills: an army station that houses the War College where young officers receive training. A world of army officers and genteel conversation, of smart men and graceful women. Set in the 1980s – in an India that was at the cusp of tradition and Westernized modernity – this is the story of the ugliness that lies beneath the garb of Jacob Hills’s beauty and sophistication. An ugliness the Chandys find themselves confronted with. Will they uncover the truth behind the woman’s murder? Will their love survive Jacob Hills?”
I really wanted to read Jacob Hills, because Ismita’s debut book (Love on the Rocks) was special to me. It was the first review copy I ever received. The blog and I have come a long way since and after devouring her book in just a day, I can say with confidence, so has the author. When it comes to the writing style and the narration (alternating first person views of many characters), the books are quite similar. Not to mention, the characteristic cute little title sketches for every chapter and the bits of fine poetry have comfortably snaked their way into the story, like in the first book. Both the books are murder mysteries, and at the same time, a series of character sketches that tell a lot more than the story. And despite all the glaring, uncanny similarities, Jacob Hills ends up being a much better book than Love on the Rocks. That’s a good thing, because that was a debut and this shouldn’t and doesn’t seem like one. Jacob Hills is more refined, more structured and you get a feeling that it’s not written to please someone. Love on the Rocks had a bit of that clumsy, trying-to-impress vibe to it that shouted “Debut!” and being the debut reviewer that I was, my review definitely screamed that too (it probably had phrases like “character development” and “plot arc” shoved in there.) Jacob Hills was mature and showed experience.
The difference in the plot arcs (for lack of a better term) is that while Love on the Rocks ended up with a rushed, unexpected bang, Jacob Hills has a sort of slow waltzing finish. That makes it a lot less about solving the mystery and lot more about what’s bubbling underneath it all. Ray Bradbury said that a good story is a metaphor, or something to that effect, and this one is. You have the chance to take things at face value and then dig deeper with some of the characters (the more sensible ones like George or the oddly naive ones like Eva) and then you can dig even deeper all on your own. When in Jacob Hills, the author makes a point, racy and bold though the book is, the point made is subtle and unbiased (although I am not even sure if that’s intentional.) You are not told what to think, you are only told that, maybe, it’s time to think for a bit. The mystery, who killed the woman, who abused the child, those are pieces of a puzzle that gradually fall into place. The helpless “that’s it?”, the shocked “really?” and the hopeful “what now?” that follow are left for us to chew on. 
Here comes the reviewer in me: The prose is spirited and fun and keeps you entertained. All the different perspectives give you an insight into the world that a lone narrator could not have managed. It is a delicate topic, especially with all that’s been in the news lately and it has been handled carefully and I guess, correctly. Along with giving a serious message, the book is also humorous, which keeps it from becoming a complete drab. The book could have used some finishing touches, a little smoothing out of the plot at places, but those are things I found only when I really went looking for faults. My only huge problem with the book is, I suppose, that it’s short. I would have loved it if the author had dug deeper into the world. The book had the potential to be a big fat novel and I was disappointed with what was just a little glimpse of what could have been. Since Jacob Hills is already over, I wish the author decides to write one of those longer, deeper stories soon. I’d certainly read it.

I didn’t initially like the book cover, by the way. Now I kind of do. The contrasting colours represent a sad and desolate background with something ludicrous and dramatic emblazoned on it, trying and failing to hide what’s underneath. It’s tragic, pretty much like the book, and also very up-front, almost provocative, like a chall.. wow, I’m reading too much into it, aren’t I? I should get some sleep, I have been buried in this book all day.
Meanwhile, why don’t you go buy it?

Love on the Rocks by Ismita Tandon Dhankher

Originally posted here.

One woman, twenty four men, one ship and one ocean; things are bound to get exciting! Less than a year after their wedding, Sancha and her new husband Aaron Andrews, an officer in the merchant navy, set sail on the Sea Hyena. What Sancha doesn’t know is that only a month before, the chief cook was found dead in the meat locker, the cause of his death an accident. However, following a mysterious theft on the ship, it soon becomes clear that it was, in fact, a homicide. The ever curious Sancha decides to take the investigation into her own hands. List of suspects? Among many of the ship’s “inhabitants”, it could be the obnoxious captain Popeye, the unruly engineer Harsh Castillo, the meek Baldy and not to mention, her own husband. After stumbling upon some evidence, Sancha is left stranded at crossroads, left to choose between love and justice. All the while, there is a psychopath lurking amongst them, and it is up to investigating officer Raghav Shridhar to figure out who it is, before it’s too late.
Love on the Rocks is a romantic thriller written by Ismita Tandon Dhankher. It is the author’s debut book, and a great one at that! Right from the lively cover, to the interesting blurb piece on the back, the book is a wonderful combination of love and trust and spine-chilling suspense.
The plot is full of twists and turns, but it stays consistent. The book is emotional, but without too much drama. It is quick and fast-paced. Right from the prologue, things fall quickly into action! As I read the book, I was reminded distinctly of many Sidney Sheldon books that I used to like.The language is good, with, thankfully, no use of Hindi! However, a little more descriptions would have added colour to the book. There is a tinge of humour to the author’s style of writing, which puts a smirk on your face, and a couple of running gags in the book are bound to crack you up!
The characters are great, but I think the author should have dug deeper into their thoughts. A lot is left to the imagination. A little less dialogue would have seemed better! You hear the story from different perspectives and the author has managed to wonderfully thread them together, not losing the pace of the book at any time. Yet, the only voice that distinctly stands out throughout the book, and leaves a mark on you is that of Manna. If only each of the characters had their own unique way of writing, talking, expressing; the book would have crossed another milestone.
What I liked the most about the book is that there is no pretense of a higher profound life meaning, other than what the characters experience. And why should there be? It is just a great, honest story that deserves to be read.
I’m definitely looking forward to reading more from the author. But as of now, I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a fun way to spend some time; it is surely an enjoyable book!
Rating: 3.5/5