A SECRET FORGED IN THE HEART OF WAR
A TEAM OF DISGRACED SPIES
A CODE THAT SHOULDN’T EXIST …
It’s been three decades since Black Team disbanded in the wake of a disastrous war in Sri Lanka. Three decades since they set eyes on each other. Three decades since they decided to lock away their secret forever.
The four men, now in their fifties and sixties, have moved on with their lives, and have no intention of returning to the place where it all went wrong. However, when each of them receives a mysterious message, written in a once-familiar code, they realize that their secret has followed them home.
From the author of Cold Truth, comes a terrifying story of secrets that come home to roost.
Indian forces were part of the peacekeeping operations in Sri Lanka in the 1980s. There’s a whole history of how that started and went down. It didn’t end well for the Indian government, and Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated because of it. Nikhil Pradhan’s mystery thriller Yesterday’s Ghosts uses this bit of real-life history as the foundation.
The book starts with a cryptic prologue. The main story is divided into three chapters, all of which have references to Chess. That’s where I’d say the book’s soul lies. Like all mysteries, we are provided a bit-by-bit unveiling of the underlying truth. But all of that is wrapped up in a game of chess, between our main characters and their interrogator, and between them and whatever-it-is-that’s-sent-that-code. Everyone’s yearning for control in this book. Castellan, the interrogator, has Jadon, Zed and Roy at his command. He wants to control the three of them. Jadon was the leader of the team and is a control freak. Roy wants to control the behaviour people he trolls online. Zed wants to control how the world sees him. But the latter three also want to keep the memories of a forgotten past under control, lest it destroy everything they’ve made for themselves since. This leads to the proverbial cat-and-mouse game between them and Castellan, although it’s fair to say that the mice don’t have much wriggling space.
The book’s high point is the narrative style. There’s little space devoted to the descriptions of places. In the interrogation passages, there’s no attempt to explore the moods or expressions or actions of the people concerned for the sake of it. The interrogation passages are in a chat format, where dialogues are employed to convey everything. Then there’s the shuttling back-and-forth between the past and the present. Flashbacks can feel gimmicky and can slow down the pace of the book if not used well. Here though, they’re employed to drive the narrative forward, while also providing us insights into the minds and motivations of the characters. These factors combine to make the book a genuine page-turner.
If you’ve read or watched thrillers where the characters have to deal with a bungled-up past, you can sense what’s happened, and also have an idea of where such a story will be going. In that regard, this book largely follows the formula. I’m not suggesting that it is clichéd or predictable. The story is narrated competently enough for one to believe that it is in good hands. This realisation keeps the excitement factor high. Truth be told, there are certain passages in the book that genuinely raise the heartbeat with their thrill quotient.
Despite the pros I’ve mentioned above, I was left underwhelmed by the end of the book. There’s a supernatural/paranormal element to the book that’s hinted at throughout. At the same time, it’s countered by storytelling devices like nightmares. This led me to assume that the unravelling of the secret will have a natural explanation, without delving into the preternatural. Unfortunately for me, I was wrong. To prospective readers, this would be my advice going in – add supernatural to the genre.
The lives of the three main characters in the 30 years since the debacle feature in the story. But apart from one, the rest don’t impact the story as well as they should. This is particularly the case with Roy. His proclivities initially seem like a good place to delve into a commentary on contemporary socio-political realities, but the book never explores those depth.
Verdict: Yesterday’s Ghosts is a decent attempt at a furiously-paced military thriller. A better climax would’ve elevated it to the “genuinely satisfying” territory.
Genre: Crime, Thriller, Mystery, Supernatural, Fiction.
Reviewed as part of the Blogchatter Book Review Program. Click here to know all about it.
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