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Meet Amit Pratap Rathore, a barely
5 foot something child of privilege who is known for not sitting for his Board exams, abandoning his quest of Mount Everest, giving up his startup company - in short, famous for starting something and not seeing it through.
Also meet the inscrutable super achiever who is part French and part Indian - Jonah Michel who joins school in the graduating year and poses the greatest threat to Amit Pratap Rathore's unchallenged supremacy in chess, swimming and debating, thereby sowing the seeds of lifelong rivalry.
Also meet Mansi Agarwal , friend to both
who grows up to become a journalist and meet
Kang, a 19 year old social engineer or hacker operating out of Seoul, Korea.
To this add some more random characters like Bubujika Makinda from East Africa and Dame Loretta Quin among others; some detailed descriptions of exotic locales like Leh, Seoul, the City of London; stir in some good old schoolboy rivalry; a smattering of deep knowledge of terrorism, drug dealing, money laundering, hacking ; garnish with some romance and violence and you have a potboiler that is supposed to keep you spell bound to the last page.
Sadly though, this book fails at some level to keep you enthralled. Despite the good language, and thorough background research the characters don't ring true and the story seems terribly contrived. This first book by Soumitra Singh ends up looking more like a Hardy Boys clone rather than a sophisticated thriller in the manner of Ludlum
and Forsyth. The story starts with Amar landing up in Leh supposedly to track down Mansi and takes us back in the past to their life in Bombay after the gruesome decapitation of a Buddhist monk, the theft of the Prophet’s Hair an unsuccessful suicide bomb attack and the destruction of an Al Qaeda camp near the Siachin glacier. These seemingly unrelated incidents are part of an international conspiracy of drug dealing and money laundering all eventually tying in with a larger terrorist plan.Somehow Jonah gets wind of this and lures Amar, the bleeding heart idealist, to help him bring the culprits to book.
While all of this doesn't seem improbable, what is hard to believe is the proficiency of these young detectives: at age 16, Jonah is an accomplished chess player and a proficient killer who cold bloodedly gets rid of his enemies. It is no surprise then that by the age of 21 he is fluent in Kashmiri and Czech, an expert in martial arts and weaponry, a computer whiz and a financial consultant! Amar too, seems to be another whizz kid with a razor sharp mind that allows him to understand the entire Kashmir problem in a mere 7 hour session at an Internet café and figure out the exits in a building that he has just entered a few seconds earlier!
This is a brave first attempt but unfortunately "The Child of Misfortune" is an exercise in futility. Perhaps this book will appeal more to young adults rather than old timers like me and I'd rather wait till Soumitra Singh grows up and finds his place in the sun.