Reviewing the Red Queen Series

Red Queen series.png

It’s a world torn by difference, where some people are superior to the others. A daring girl from an oppressed community, different from the rest, sets out to change the world or die in the process. While on her quest, she has a chance encounter with secret community of rebels who works towards a similar goal, share the same enemies. She is torn between two suitors/lovers who seem equally good, are equally breath-taking and love her equally. Except over the course of series she’ll find one is not good enough and make her choice, after having spent enough time with both. Perhaps, you’ll pick a side too. The villains almost die to get their hands on this girl, who despite being not-so-powerful is the face of the rebellion. She  threatens to reveal who they really are, is captured, tortured, brought back again and the cycle goes on, till the greater cause of the secret community is revealed. Then everyone again makes choices and fights more battles. Before you even picked up the book, you knew it would have a bittersweet ending. All the way you hope that the protagonist survives. And your favourite characters as well.

Sounds Familiar? No, it is not the Hunger Games. Not Divergent either or the Lunar Chronicles.

I’m here reviewing the Red Queen Series, which is probably like every other dystopian young adult fantasy-fiction book out there. I know the blog title was a giveaway, so I am pretending you did not notice it.

The major problem with this genre is (at least, the books I have read), is despite the amount of new elements introduced to keep the reader thrilled, the elements seem stale, or stolen from some other fiction hit. The combination of the elements is definitely magical, and at the outset that would be the very reason you’d have considered reading one of them. However, once you set out to explore them in detail, the glamour wanes as quickly as the fragrance of a cheap perfume, unless it is bolstered by a meticulous world development or layered, relatable characters or marvellous plot that doesn’t get boring due to the narrator’s monotones or an impeccable writing style. The bestsellers perform well on one or two of the parameters, and are satisfactory at the most of the others. The lower priority parameters are mostly underperformed on.

These fictional worlds mostly are shallow or constricted, definitely not the ones you’d wish to lose yourself in, time and again. Mostly found written in the first person, they always border on over description and over detailing. Initially I thought this was the curse that came with the narrative, but reading the Bell Jar and Great Gatsby made me think otherwise. While it is enjoyable to be inside someone else’s head in a book, too much of cribbing or reminding or obviousness repels, so much so that you want to get out of their head, right then.

And yet they are hugely popular. They have a very good reason to be so.

The thrill, oh, the thrill! The plot is so action-packed that you are on the edge all the time. The moment it starts getting dull, well, a plot-twist drops and boom! You are again frantically turning pages to know what happened next, probably even peeping ahead to check if the characters survived. The unjust society and the villains make you hate them, the system and fuel your rage further. No matter how much you were annoyed or frustrated by the protagonist, you always find yourself rooting for her, wishing her and her loved ones well. You find the characters to be grey, imperfect and you love them all the same. Amidst all the emotional turmoil, both good and bad that the book has taken you through, you find that you can so easily relate to them.

Nearly all of them have that male lead (or couple of them) with charms that make you swoon, who makes you want to dip further down. Maybe the ship that you support or that starboy himself is another major reason why you follow till the end. The characters turned villains are very intriguing, especially with their tragic back stories that made them so twisted.

It wasn’t very difficult to figure out that all of them make good movie material, books that have already gathered a more-than-decent fan base. Evidence shows that the rights to their movies sold out very quickly.

Screenwriter Victoria Aveyard had sold the rights to the movie even before the book was released.  And rightly so. In spite of the many maladies it suffers due to it being another one from the dystopian YA genre, it is vivid, enthralling and captivating. The scenes are well constructed, and the characters are conflicted. Maybe even broken or twisted. The actions and situations look like they are out of a movie, and now we know why. Everything here is a shade of grey. Before long, you are already empathizing with the characters, their choices.. You relate. Perhaps even find a bit of yourself in them. And once you are done with this book, you find yourself thinking of the many what ifs, your mind wanders without control to the people in the pages.

In short, it is a reader’s delight.

Friends, Readers, Citizens of the Internet. May I have a moment to fangirl over Red Queen?

Of course I haven’t come to bury the series, but to praise it—even with its many flaws!

Call it the soft corner for X-Men like powers, or the undercutting politics of Game of Thrones, or the aura of the dystopian world, I loved the reading experience. Yes, you may judge me.

I picked the book because I couldn’t keep my eyes (or hands) off the cover. Literally. Goodreads ratings seemed to be decent enough for me to give it a try; being from a genre I liked helped as well. The first book was mediocre. I was amazed in the beginning, hooked on to the story and the elements, but as the pages kept turning, the interest faded—and for a while I didn’t even want to read the sequel, which was to  release in a couple of months. So I almost forgot about it, and went on to buy the book a whole year later. And then I even procrastinated reading that.

This would go down in my diary of disastrous blunders. The second book in the series turned out to be my favourite. It was also the trigger for me to buy the third immediately. These two books were devoured on ravenously, and consumed in a week’s time. Which was great progress, especially when I had to hunt for time to read. Most of the time was borrowed from my sleep.

I see an effort in world building, but yet it falls short. The writing was sloppy and sometimes tired me. With so many books of the genre already popular, this didn’t come exactly out as novel. What kept me going were the characters—good and evil, whose layers and choices always came to me as a pleasant surprise.  The pace helped a great deal, and so did the imagery that made everything seem as if it were happening in front of my eyes. These small factors were done artfully well, making it easy to become oblivious to the numerous blemishes.

Somehow, I never liked Maven, since the very beginning. It was Cal who led the show for me, and thankfully the author followed it through. Mare was a frustrating and repetitive narrator, but I liked her anyway. She was imperfect but that made her real life-like, and a little difficult to predict. Over the books, all the main-cast characters mature, and deepen substantially, along with the relationships that they share. Addition of more POVs made it even more exciting, though I really hope that Miss Aveyard picks some male narrators as well. The challenges posed by the looming uncertainties completely eliminated the ability to foretell. And the plot uncovers one layer at a time, revealing a greater mesh of history and hidden activities each time. The whole experience was mesmerizing, and it left me in a bad hangover after I had finished reading.

Would I recommend it? Without a doubt. This might be something that sits proudly on your bookshelf, especially if you are a follower of dystopian or YA fiction. Personally, Glass Sword (RQ#2) was my favourite and King’s Cage (RQ#3) maintained the momentum well.

I just can’t wait for the last installment to be out soon!

The Four Patriots-A Review

Four Patriots Book Cover

It is a story of patriotism, a story of transformation. It is a story of a country where the common belief is “iss desh ka kuch ni ho sakta”. It is a story of four people, like you and me, whose love for the nation and experiences with the system instigate them to take it through a metamorphosis.

Debut author Sumit Agarwal has penned down a real page turner that would keep you engrossed till the end. The pace is super-fast, the plot is enthralling-weaved meticulously through the pages, where small details emerge as major twists-an art that very few Indian writers have displayed! The writing is easy to follow and is done fairly well.  The pain taken by the writer to research the nitty-gritties to make the story as close as possible to the real India is evident in all its aspects.

The journey of all the major characters (Salman, Varun, Aditya and Raghav) have been drawn out cleverly, that easily puts the reader in the protagonists’ shoes. The background stories added at required intervals added more weight to the story line. The romance and other normal happenings were positioned in a manner to not only avoid overdoing the theme but also added some plausibility to the characters.

What is really uncanny is the similarity of events that happened after the book’s publication. Aditya’s move to purge black money from the country is quite similar (and sudden) to that of Modi’s move to demonetize, which was conducted with the same intention. There is also a scene similar to movie Dangal, where the coach asks the contender to be defensive, whereas the mentor asks him/her to be offensive, and following the mentor’s advice the contender leads the country to victory in that particular event.

In short, the book does well what it set out to do—inspire with a clear message that asks people to act in for their country and instil patriotism. It nudges the reader to go out and make an impact in any way possible, a much needed advice for the youth of the country. The underlying idea that anyone could bring about a change with their actions has been drawn out very well.

The book has been launched at a stage where people have started giving politics a thought beyond it being a mere topic of discussion, where the government is taking new steps towards the destination of making India a super power. In times where countries in the globalized world are taking a step towards protectionism, the writer calls out the youth to become the agents of change, to work towards making India the golden bird that it was.

However, the book was a tad too unrealistic. The almost miraculous happenings took away a bit of its credibility and made it appear filmy at lot of instances. Adding especially to the Bollywood-ish nature was the character Salman, who seemed to have emerged right out one of Bhai’s movies. Despite all the author’s efforts the characters were paper-thin, and villains were faded. In fact, the tyranny of villains was lost midway, and the protagonists were made way too formidable. Ironically, new India did not feature any woman at the vanguard-the women characters were present, but merely to execute plans or for emotional support.

Would I recommend this book? For those who are looking for a thriller, or looking for a light read, this is the book to go for. It may not make a place in bookshelves, but it definitely qualifies for a good one time read!

Why did it have to be “Heartless”?

(Image Coutesy: http://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/hostedimages/1463883460i/19170944._SX540_.jpg)

(This is a spoiler-free review)

Oh! How I love the fairy tales!

And how much I adore Marissa Meyer to have retold every single one of them in such a beautiful way.

In fact, she has completely eliminated the only complaint I have had from the fairy tales—the female protagonist which were bound by the olden patriarchal society rules, in all her books are strong, independent and determined to have their way!

I came across her writing back during my under-graduation, when I read “Cinder” [Part 1 of Lunar Chronicles] based on Goodreads description and reviews. At that time I was still a novice reader, and I was first trying to get through the popular fantasy/sci-fiction novels (the ones that most of the readers would have on their reading list). But really, bless the day! I had been so enchanted by the book that she became one of those few writers whom I read as soon as her book was out, right from the beginning.

To give you an introduction, the Lunar Chronicles is a series of books, each inspired from a fairy tale but twisted and retold in a science fiction setting, through the eyes of a female protagonist. She has created a completely new world linked part by part through the books, sprinkled with elements from the famous tales but tied to a breath taking plot that would have you go through a roller-coaster ride. The characters are well sketched and the writing (which slowly improves over the series) follows the “show-not-tell” pattern, and both of these would ensure that the reader is well involved in the story. The best part is, although most of the fairy tales that inspired the books* had the love story as the central theme, these books have the love angle as a side theme, with each of our fairy tale heroine tied to a mission for a greater good.

Heartless, however, is more like a prelude to Alice in Wonderland than a retelling, set well before the time when Alice falls down the rabbit hole. The book explores the history of “Queen of Hearts” before she turns into-as the title suggests-the heartless, despicable queen of wonderland as we have known. That being said, Marissa Meyer did not simply borrow from the actual Lewis Carroll novel (or rather novels, because it has some elements from Through the Looking Glass as well), but has added her own figment of imagination to the already dreamy world along with some very deep characters-the ones you could identify merely from their dialogues.

Now, Alice in Wonderland, for all its peculiarity and wonderfulness has been an all-time favourite, which demands frequent re-reading and discovery of a new element with every read. With such standards set, Heartless had a lot of expectations to match. And to say that the book did justice to the classic would actually be justified. It mirrored the absurd nature of Wonderland-the norms, the nonsensical seeming happenings and the assortment of creatures that inhabit the kingdom of “Hearts”. But most importantly it gave the “Queen of Hearts” a very, very compelling transformation. The journey of how such a kind-hearted, simple queen would turn into someone so hateful really keeps everyone hooked—especially because the readers can see for themselves how different she is (or had been).

The writing just draws you in the book, like gravity. It has drastically improved since I read Winter, which honestly could have been crisper. Ms. Meyer aced the art of showing, so much that I could literally echo Catherine’s joy, frustration, misery and also the heartlessness. I do not know how she made it possible but really after the events that led to Catherine’s transformation, instead of feeling the agony, I could only feel numbness. The ending was every bit as heart breaking as it could be, and the only solace I can provide myself is that we already saw it coming!

Additionally, Ms. Meyer has added history and layers to many of the wonderland’s characters (Mad Hatter, Mock Turtle, Cheshire Cat etc.) as well as made up some legends that makes the world of Hearts (And related kingdoms) even more intriguing. She has played with the riddles, inspired elements beyond Wonderland and based a part of plot on a nursery rhyme. The best part is she ties up all the loose ends for us to find by the end of the novel things as Alice had found them to be.

What the book fails to deliver is an exciting plot, it only focuses on Catherine’s journey and most of it is through her emotions and reactions to the happenings in her world. And maybe the plot wasn’t the point as the outcome was already known, however, I sincerely feel that involvement of some just talked about characters could have really made it even more unputdownable. As the writer claims that this is going to be a standalone novel, I can only hang on to the impossibility of her penning down additional series  becoming possible and her adding to them more of plot. Also, we see less of other characters to understand for ourselves-like Jest or the Duke of Tuskany etc., and our views shaped by how Catherine perceives them. Other than this, the book has been delightful in every way!

This has been my first read of 2017, and it has been unexpectedly magical. So I would really recommend you to pick up this book if you are looking for another dream like adventure and some madness. However, if you are looking for a romance filled story, sorry to say, but this would not be much to your liking.

*Cinder from Cinderella, Scarlet from Red Riding Hood, Cress from Rapunzel and Winter from Snow White

The Timekeeper: Chapter 1

The air lightly ruffled his hair as he pushed open the glass door. The corridor was long and white; the open window on the front wall unceremoniously broke the stark monotony. Shades of grey slowly crept into the blue sky, enhancing the glimmer of the emerging stars. Detective Eric Taylor checked the time. Ten minutes to seven? He gasped. He had intended to finish the case today.

Detective Taylor turned right hastily, taking long strides to reach the steel wall at the far end. He inserted his ID in the slot and almost smashed his index finger on the scanner. While the machine verified his identity, he donned on his overcoat, cursing the delay. “Brace for the winter,” he muttered, as the machine let out the contended beep of acceptance. The steel doors parted to let him in. Inhaling deeply, he entered the morgue.

The temperature inside dropped steeply; the chill penetrated his skin. The vinyl partition walls reflected the light from the few lighted incandescent lamps, imparting sufficient illumination to the room. He walked down to where Detective Allan Anderson and Dr. Randall Morgan stood; his steps echoed rowdily in the dead silence. Most of the beds he passed were empty. So was the hall, except for those three and a nurse who quietly noted down something on his clipboard.

He greeted them with a brusque nod and said, “I am sorry for the delay. I left as soon as the case wrapped up.”

“It wouldn’t have mattered much if you arrived an hour earlier, Detective. This one,” said Dr. Morgan, pointing to the body, “is going to take more than a week. I doubt we will even reach the end.”

“You are quick to conclude Dr. Morgan,” said Detective Taylor, glancing at the victim, his face passive. Turning to Detective Anderson, he asked, “Information about the deceased?”

“Ellery Gilbert, 35, wife of Ralph Gilbert. Found dead at 5pm by the husband in their living room,” replied Allan.

Detective Taylor moved towards the head. The body lay so serenely, that Ellery Gilbert appeared to be sleeping. The cold had turned the skin pale, giving it a stone-like look. Too unnatural for a murder, he thought. He removed the sheet from the body, and quickly scrutinized it. Creasing his brows, he spread it uniformly again. He looked at the doctor and questioned, “No signs of any fatal wounds?”

The doctor shrugged, “Nothing except a tiny pinprick at the back of her neck.” He tapped at the back of his neck to indicate its exact position.

“Strange”, was all Detective Taylor could say. He pondered for a while before he spoke, “It couldn’t be a heart attack, could it?”

“No. The skin would not have been so pale otherwise. Her relaxed face is the other pointer,” Dr. Morgan replied.

“Yes, I thought so,” said Detective Taylor, “Did you run the blood tests?”

“I did,” said the doctor, “there was nothing unusual. I have given it to the labs for further analysis but I am not expecting much.”

 “We will have to look into minute details. Careful potassium overdoses cannot be traced easily, especially when injected directly into blood,” explained Detective Taylor, tapping the back of his neck.

“It is a wishful thinking. Potassium is also released by the body after the heart stops, and is practically undetectable. But if I speak from my experience, the cause of this death does not seem to be located in the realms of our investigation,” Doctor Morgan stated, cautiously choosing his words.

“It may be doctor, but we certainly cannot base our analysis on supernatural reasons,” replied the detective, as he looked out of the window into the blackness, through their translucent reflections. Where every case presented them with numerous causes which had to be briskly narrowed down, this one hit a dead end everywhere. If Eric Taylor despised anything, it was giving up on a case. That was absolutely not going to happen. He wouldn’t let it happen.

He turned abruptly, thinking out loud, “What bothers me, Anderson, is Ralph Gilbert’s murder claim. He was evidently the last person to see her alive.”

“He is a major suspect for the case, Detective. According to Ralph Gilbert, Ellery was supposed to meet an old friend around 3 pm. It seems that the friend came in a little late, as per the footage seen in the security camera. Around 3.30 pm, a man six feet tall came in –” Anderson was interrupted by Detective Taylor.

“—who should be the claimed murderer. I expect you have already questioned him.”

“I am sorry Detective, we haven’t. The man was wearing a wide brimmed hat and he never faced the camera. The murder seemed to be perfectly staged,” clarified Anderson.

Perfect”, said Detective Taylor, irritation clear in his voice. He sighed and apologised, “I am sorry Anderson, please continue.”

“At 4.30, Ralph received a call from Ellery, who was crying and asking him to come home, aware of the potential threat. Then she screamed and the phone dropped–”, Anderson stopped as Detective Taylor opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again, waving him to continue, “and Ralph immediately rushed home from his office. The mobile lay near the parlour sofa, and there were signs of struggles in the lobby. Ralph Gilbert alibied out, but we still suspect him. For all we know, he might have been the last person to see her alive,” completed Anderson.

Detective Taylor was not wholly convinced. “The victim knew she was going to be murdered. Why did she agree to meet the old friend?” he questioned.

“I suppose she did not see it coming. The housekeeper said that Ellery was perfectly normal today. Maybe she was tricked,” said Anderson, straining hard to figure out a reason.

“I want you to begin with the investigation tomorrow morning. If there are any other cases ongoing, put them on hold. I have a feeling that delay here would cost us dearly. Is Detective Jillian here?”, he spoke to Anderson while he walked around the body.

“She was questioning the neighbours about the murder, but she should have been here by now. I’ll send her up if I see her. Good night Detective,” said Anderson, and walked away.

“Dr. Morgan”, said Detective Taylor, facing the doctor who was examining the pin-prick, “Does this murder remind you of a probable mortal cause, now that you have a background to the case?”

“None that I can think of,” replied the Doctor,

“We will have to wait for the results then. Thank you Doctor, for your assistance,” said Detective Taylor.

“Good night Detective.”

After the doctor’s departure, an eerie silence fell in the morgue. Detective Taylor could hear his heartbeat, which reminded him of the fact that he was the only living person, apart from the nurse, standing in the room. He leaned against the wall, staring at the dead body, going over the whole incident repeatedly. There has to be a loop hole, he thought, now focusing on the possible events that could have happened. His thoughts were interrupted by sharp clacking of heels.

“You called for me, Detective?”  asked Jillian Torres, still steps away from Ellery Gilbert’s compartment.

Detective Taylor waited for her reach before he replied, “Jillian, I want you to make the list of all crude potassium selling industries and the dealers in the town, and their transactions in the last 15 days. It would be helpful if this is done before the investigation starts tomorrow morning.”

“Consider it done, Detective,” she said absent-mindedly. She softly walked up to the body, as if her steps would wake Ellery from her state. She tilted and stared at the body, her face showing clear signs of perturbation.

Detective Taylor was quick to read them. “Do you have any theories?”, he asked.

“No. The story seems straight out of a crime fiction novel,” Jillian replied, after a while.

“You do have something in your mind,” the Detective prodded. Jillian was the best in his team. Her assumptions were usually right.

“It is a hypothesis. Until I confirm it to be a theory founded on a strong reason, it would be safe in my mind,” she stated and changed the topic, “I think you should call it a night, Detective.”

The first signs of weariness showed in his stance. “You’re right, Jillian. I don’t know about time, but this case will demand a lot of energy. I will rest while I can.”

Jillian nodded, and left, still perturbed. Detective Taylor lingered a little while longer, making his presumptions. Ellery’s was the only compartment still lighted, and his watch now displayed eight-thirty. He reluctantly departed, taking a last glance at the body as the steel doors closed. The nurse now stood near his victim, still noting something.

The lights went off as soon as the steel doors closed. A shadow crept to where the body lay.

The nurse was nowhere to be seen.

 

Crimson Vengeance: Chapter 2- Remembered

Leaning carelessly on the door ledge stood Deborah Gander; her presence materializing Jonathan’s wish. His lips made way for an unconscious smile, and for the first time in the night he felt a strange relief taking over him. Was it really five years ago?, he questioned himself. The very next moment, the e-mail, Peter Murphy, the murder-all came rushing in his mind. He could not afford to risk everyone’s life the second time. Best to keep everyone at bay from the very beginning, he thought to himself, as he regained his cold composure again. The smile disappeared as instantaneously as it had come and he inquired, “How did you?”

“Find you?” said Deborah, her casual voice a sharp contrast to his, as she sauntered towards the chair, “I kept a track. A very close track.” She positioned herself cozily, legs on the table, and said, “Don’t pretend to be so disappointed. I know you are pleased to see me.” She flashed her unique sarcastic smile. Jonathan turned to examine the main entrance. It was locked, exactly the way he did it. He returned his gaze to Deborah, his blue eyes narrowed in suspicion.

“Come on!” she shrugged, “the door is not the only way you can enter into someone’s house. Perhaps, you ought to be more careful.”Her open hand gesture cleverly pointed to the study window which Jonathan was quick to notice. His features relaxed slightly, and he silently stared at the documents.

Deborah observed him for a while, and then took out a packet of cigarettes from her leather jacket. She lazily flicked the lighter on. Jonathan shot a cold glance in her direction, and said brusquely, “How many times have I told you not to smoke inside the room?”

“I remember,” Deborah nodded, drawing deeply from the cigarette. She stood up and walked towards the window. Puffing out the smoke, she added, “I just wanted to hear it again.”

Jonathan paced about the study, browsing through the documents; Deborah sat comfortably on the window ledge, her eyes duly following his movements. An anticipated silence prevailed for few minutes. After a few minutes, Deborah softly spoke, “They’ve taken Murphy.”

The words awakened Jonathan’s fear. So they were serious, he thought, but Andrew said it was fine.  The pieces didn’t fit together. Baffled, he asked, “Are you sure?”

“I know Andrew told you that Murphy went on a vacation. Andrew will never look beyond the routine,” she replied, tossing her half-finished cigarette out of the window.

“You have been following me as well?”Jonathan asked, disgusted. And you never noticed, a voice in his head added.

“Don’t you think it is quite co-incidental that you receive an email the same day?” she hinted, jumping off the window ledge. She leaned against the study table and watched Jonathan’s features transform. He was livid.

A sudden anger engulfed Jonathan. Why does she never let go? Why does she need to get to heart of everything? Why doesn’t she ever realize the gravity? Angry voices pounded in his head. She had to get out of this. He moved towards her and said, in a ferocious low tone, “Deborah Gander, I know you prize yourself for solving the most difficult of cases, but I would like to remind you that this one is more than just a game. This case was solely mine, and I do not want a single casualty. So let me handle this and leave me alone. Beginning from NOW!” He was shouting by the end.

Deborah pushed Jonathan against the shelf. “This war that you call your own, what do you even know about it, Detective Scott? They took Murphy today, and you know that just because you received that email. Last month, my sister was taken, and she was almost electrocuted. She is safe only because they realized that we did not know your whereabouts. It was rather lucky I think, because I don’t think they are going to show mercy this time. The case may have started as yours, but from the day we started to work on it, it turned its vengeance on us as well. All our loved ones are in danger. That is why I am here. Like it or not, I am going to stick till the very end!” she said, and abruptly turned to leave.

Jonathan hung his head guiltily. They should have told him in the very beginning. How could they?, questioned the voice, you never let them know. He cursed himself for running away.  “Deborah, please,” was all he managed to say.

Deborah turned back and walked towards him. There was an injured look on her face, and from the way she approached him, he was sure she was going to slap him. You deserve it! said that voice, you have been acting like an idiot recently. Instead she just smiled. Then, rather impulsively, she hugged him and said, “We missed you, Jon”. Jonathan was taken aback. After all these years, these people still cared about him. He shed off his usual closed demeanor and put his arms around her. His hands found their way into her soft, raven-black hair that cascaded down to her waist, and he caressed it gently. Jonathan whispered, full of reproach, “Deb, I am very sorry…”

“It is alright,” she spoke before he could complete, “I promise we will finish it this time.” She let go, and said, “But you have to bear with me.” Jonathan let the smile rule this time.

“What do we do now?” he asked, still holding her hands.

“We should go to the headquarters. We are going to need a lot of support,” said Deborah, her brows furrowed in thought.

“But I resigned,” he said. This was clearly not feasible.

“And I burned that letter. DCI Wilson is still under the impression that you are on that Russian case. He believes you died in Siberia, and mourns deeply. He would be very pleased to see you.” she stated plainly.

Jonathan didn’t know how to react. “Deborah, you are–”

“I know. Thank you,” she interrupted, “Now you would better hurry. We don’t have time to lose.”

He rushed to the living room, loaded his Glock, and took some extra bullets. He was putting on his overcoat when he heard Deborah call. He strode to the study. Deborah had switched off the lights.  “We cannot leave right now,” she spoke, her voice filled with anxiety.

“What happened?” Jonathan asked. Something was definitely not right.

“They are waiting for us. Downstairs.”

Crimson Vengeance: Chapter 1-RESURFACED

His hands were set on the keyboard, ready to type out the thoughts buzzing in his head. He sat staring at the computer screen, his fingers rooted to the respective keys, wondering where to begin. It was late in the night; the office was almost empty–only one or two employees, sitting in obscure corners, perhaps waiting to attend the late night calls. His presence was unknown to them; he had not bothered to turn on the lights of his cubicle. For almost ten minutes, he remained in the same pose, still as a statue. Then suddenly, he quaffed the coffee kept on his desk and the choice was made–he would rather not answer the email. Yes, that would be a good option. He would keep quiet. This way, he would remain safe. And so would the others.

He closed the browser, crossed his fingers and rested his chin on them. The screen now displayed the details of some hi-tech, incomprehensible technology. His eyes vaguely followed the article, stopping at the words that were common to the vicious email. As reaction, images wildly flashed in front of his eyes. The graveyard that he visited every month, decaying like the buried bodies it held. His childhood home, the floors of which were anointed with blood. The grey revolver in his closet, the sheen dulled by the murders it committed. The face of the man that he hated the most, hated so much that he would never refrain to murder the scoundrel…

Why should these haunt his mind? Suddenly, after so long? The event seemed to have happened in some unknown era of his past. Today, everything came alive as if he was warped in time. Why?

He got up, moved out of his office silently. The air outside was ice cold, to his great relief-the bitterness released the torturous memories. He decided that he would walk today—it would give him time to think. Meanwhile, he had to start his course of action, confirm his suspicions before it was too late. He turned left to go to Peter’s, his home was the nearest.

As he walked down the empty streets, he hoped that Peter had not changed his address. It had been five long years that he had contacted anyone or even read the emails. He remembered receiving something from Peter but he had thrown it away, as he had pledged. To lose himself into a new world where he was invisible. No one had really understood why. Even he didn’t.
The house seemed lived in. It was well kept, the burgeoning cherry blossom tree was an evidence. He walked up to the gate post and squinted to read the name on the etched marble. #45, Murphys, it read. He heaved a sigh and hoped everything following would be good.

He opened the gate silently and walked towards the door. There were some clanking sounds that came from inside the house but the lights had been turned off. He glanced at his watch. At the same time the Big Ben struck. It was midnight. Too late to knock at someone’s door. Nonetheless, he had to do it.

He rapped on the door in his usual style. He wondered whether Peter would recognize it. He wondered if he would want to see him again. But was it really there enough time to think all of this? No, no time if he was to meet a mess. Yes, the most important thing was…Peter should be present-in a single piece, as it was said. They were ruthless. They could have done anything. Five minutes had passed, without any reply. He was beginning to get impatient.

He rapped again, louder this time. Nothing seemed to be stirring inside. It was late, definitely, but Peter never slept so heavily. Anxious, he punched the door savagely, with a force good enough to break it. Still, silence prevailed. There was something wrong.

“Peter? Peter?” he called out, his voice in rhythm with his knocks.

“Peter? PETER! Can you hear me?” he called out again. No results.

He turned the knob to break in. The door easily gave away. The house was not locked. He turned on the lights of the living room. The scene took him aback. It was a complete mess. Things thrown here and there, furnitures out of their usual places, as though someone was struggling. The TV was off the table. Nothing seemed…normal. His blood had already begun to boil. How could they?

He moved inside the house, effortlessly, in search of some clues of Peter’s whereabouts. There would definitely be something. All rooms were in the same state. He checked every nook and cranny, to get something that would give him a direction. He was in the master bedroom when he heard the clanking again. Following his sharp senses, he reached the bedroom at the end of the house. He took wary steps, in a ready position to attack. Then, he switched on the light. No one in the room, except a cat, who seemed to be playing around. Damn! They did it so cleanly. Not one clue. Once he found out he swore he wouldn’t leave them. He tried calling Peter’s cellphone, it was unreachable. As expected, he thought,now I must act. But before he did anything, he had to visit Andrew. He might know stuff.
Without hesitating a moment, he took a taxi and rushed off to see Andrew. He could not act without seeing what Andrew had in store. Of one thing he was sure of-the death game had begun long before they had sent the mail. The plan was structured like pieces on chess board. One wrong move…

He was so lost in thoughts that he hardly realized when the taxi stopped. He jumped off the taxi and ran to Andrew’s door and wildly knocked on the door. Within few seconds, Andrew opened the door, and spoke groggily, eyes half closed, “Hey Man! Do you even realize-?” Andrew just opened his eyes to see the man.

He rubbed his eyes and shook his head vigorously. “Can I believe it is Jonathan Scott? Showing up at this inopportune hour of the night, after years of hiding?” Andrew’s voice reflected the delight clearly

“Hi, Andrew. Thought I’d just drop by,” replied Jonathan, in his usual dry tone.

“You didn’t think that, did you? There is something else on your mind,” replied Andrew, in a matter-of- fact voice. A smile lightened up his face.

His icy blue eyes shot a look of astonishment towards Andrew. He gazed on the ground for a while, before he spoke up, “You are right.” Words didn’t seem to have an easy passage today. Not that they always had, but today was much more difficult.
Andrew studied him, trying to figure out the underlying situation. “Come inside. You must be cold.”

Jonathan moved inside the house. He was indeed very cold. Only that he didn’t realize this all the time he was outside, wandering to confirm his suspicion. The décor hit him with a fierce nostalgia. It used to be his favorite hangout place, back in the old days. Old days? Did he really want to remember them? Have a taste of them, again? Yes, he did miss them terribly.Right now is not the time, he said to himself. There was more than one life in danger.

“Where were you all these years?” asked Andrew, as he shut out the chilling winds.

“London.” Jonathan replied. He didn’t understand why he even asked that. It was of no importance right now.
Andrew was astonished. “Why didn’t I ever see you?” he asked.

“Because I didn’t want to be seen.” Jonathan replied, impatience showing up in his tone.

Andrew sensed it. He knew his friend just too well. He began to ask for a drink,“Should I—”

Jonathan cut him short. He didn’t want the usual frivolities. He drove straight to the point “Where is Peter?”

“He has gone on a vacation to Madagascar with his wife,” said Andrew, coolly.

Jonathan had a puzzled look on his face. Really? He had gone on a vacation?

“Oh yes, you wouldn’t know. Peter married Melanie last year.”
Damn! He would never understand. Of course Peter would have married by now. That was not the source of botheration. “I went to Peter’s home before coming here and–”

“You knocked at the door for long and no one replied. You opened the door and found the house in a state as if Peter had been taken. Messed up, things astray on the floor, cellphone unreachable–giving you an idea that something might have happened to him, didn’t it? Well, it’s normal. Most of his plans are last minutes. He really does a lot to keep Melanie happy. Six months ago, the same happened with me. I called up the department, filed a report and after two days, they found Peter holidaying in Italy. After that he makes sure he informs me before he is up for such a plan. And duly, I received his call today at 6p.m. saying that Melanie and he were leaving for Madagascar.” Andrew explained.

“It is perfectly normal then?” asked Jonathan. He was not convinced. There was a nagging feeling inside that told him something had happened to Peter. And whoever had done it was really very smart.

“As usual as it can be. You know Peter,” he shrugged. Andrew seemed contended with the scenario.

Should he mention about the e-mail? No, not now. After all, it could just be a prank (which seemed highly unlikely to him). And even if he told Andrew, he wasn’t sure that Andrew would believe it. There was only one person who could help him at this point. He desperately needed to talk to Gander. The problem was, he had lived cut out from this world for so long that he didn’t know anything about anyone.

There was nothing much Jonathan could extract from Andrew. He stood up briskly and moved towards the door.

Andrew was surprised. He studied Jonathan’s reaction. He could understand that Jonathan was keeping away something. He didn’t dare to ask. There was a rule with Jonathan-you never asked many questions. He satisfied himself by inquiring-“When will I see you next?”

Jonathan wanted to say “Never”, but instead answered “Soon.” And
headed towards his apartment.

Getting back to his apartment was a feeling he wanted to experience for long. It was like a refuge, where he could clearly give way to his thoughts, to his ideas and questions, without being questioned or disturbed. He removed his coat and sat on the couch, thinking deeply. Peter was taken, he could assure that. Should he call the yard and let them handle it? But it was his case through and through, he had opened it and it was his duty to close it, without involving the others. Except Gander, of course, who had urged him to follow it. He really missed… I should concentrate on them he coaxed himself. To begin with, he rolled over the last case in his mind…perhaps, amidst the situations, he would find something valuable. Something to work upon. But everything was blurred in his mind. The day had been long indeed. He decided to take over the matter after getting a refreshing sleep. He got up from the couch, walked towards his study and started to see the old case files that he had not discarded. It brought back the urge to get back into action again. That was the life he was had loved. Back then, how easily had everyone thought that nothing would ever follow! One’s deeds were never left behind. The truth stood unquestioned.

“I told you they would come back. They have,” said a cool voice from behind, as if to validate Jonathan’s thought process. He turned back in astonishment.

Crimson Vengeance: Prologue

Image

 

Image Courtesy: http://www.donaldgruener.com/photography/wine/red_wine_splash.jpg

Image Copyright: Donald Gruener

I could not have been happier any other day in my life. Although my face was streaked with dry tears (of sorrow), I was really mad with joy. The sun was much more than just a shiny yellow blotch in the sky, I could feel warmth in every radiation it emitted. The scorching rocks were not tormenting any longer, instead, the heat enlivened my bare feet. Something inside made me admire everything around. Every passing second made me aware of nature’s beauty. I almost seemed fey. Yes, I was fully aware of approaching death. My life was presently resting on a broken fulcrum; recent happenings had generously tilted it towards the infernal side. The very next second could be the most devastating blow, but I could not bring myself to care a bit about the future. I didn’t want to lose this sensation of pure bliss. After a long period of emotional numbness, feelings- good feelings– were no less than miracle in my world. The reason behind this was a small typewritten chit that stated two simple words: 
He’s alive.
That’s all I wanted to hear at the moment. Even if it was a lie.