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#BookReview--> The Caretaker by A.X. Ahmad

'At nineteen thousand feet on the Siachen Glacier, there is no longer earth and sky, just an endless mountain of snow.
In this infinity of white are six men, walking in line, moving in the drunken lockstep of the exhausted.'

The debut novel, The Caretaker, by A.X. Ahmad starts on the high altitudes of the Siachen Glacier where Captain Ranjit Singh is leading his team of five on a covert operation into a gray zone with practically no information except a set of coordinates.

"This mission stinks, sir. We've been walking three days to reach a set of coordinates. Why couldn't they tell us what our target is?"
"This is how it's done these days, Sergeant. They dream up up these missions down in New Delhi, and we do the dirty work."

The mission goes horribly wrong when Ranjit finds that the soldiers they have killed are not from Pakistan but are Indian soldiers. Dishonorably discharged and after serving a three year jail sentence, Ranjit comes to America to start a new life and takes up landscaping and other odd jobs to survive. He, eventually becomes the caretaker to the homes of several rich and illustrious people in the island town of Martha's Vineyard.

Life is going uneventfully for him with his daughter settling comfortably in school and his wife, though restless, trying to adapt to living in the small shack they call home. Suddenly everything changes when one winter, after the heating in his meager flat gives out, they are forced to take shelter in the Senator's house which is lying vacant and for which Ranjit is the caretaker. But there idyll at this new shelter is shattered when mysterious men break into the house and it seems they are looking for a particular doll out of the many present at the Senator's house. Unknown to them, this particular doll is innocently taken away by Ranjit's daughter, Shanti when she flees with her family from the house.

As Ranjit is sucked into the Senator's shadowy world of politics, dark secrets and a high profile backdrop of war between India and Pakistan, he can trust no one. In a cat and mouse race with unknown forces its a race against time for Ranjit to save his family.

Who are these mysterious men?
What is so special about the doll?
Why do they want it?
Who is the mastermind behind these men?
Will Ranjit be able to unravel the mystery of the doll and save his family?
Can he confront his past that destroyed his career and subsequently his life?

'The past, long buried, seems to be coming alive, and there is nothing he can do to stop it.'

A flawed hero and a fast paced thriller setup with unexpected twists and turns and some pretty shocking revelations. Its the perfect recipe for a successful novel and A.X. Ahmad does not disappoint. The story is crisp and the writing interesting where the Author shows after only a few lines that he is knows fully what he wants to deliver and has done his research well!!

I loved the insight into the Sikh culture that the author provides and am highly impressed by his flawless technique of switching from the past to the present throughout the book. The past and the present scenes are woven so beautifully that they flow effortlessly and it seems like we are watching an entertaining movie except that this one is in our mind!

Ranjit's relationship with his daughter, Shanti is strong and loving. Their interactions with each other are entertaining and endearing. The life of an immigrant in the United States and the difficulties they face in trying to merge in with others particularly after the 9/11 attack is beautifully and sensitively explained and sketched. The unbiased and third party scrutiny of Indo-Pak relations also provides a fresh perspective and adds depth to the story. Several topics of deep thought are handled with finesse in the book like the arms race and the part that countries like North Korea, India, Pakistan, USA play in it, the freedom of speech and the efforts to curb the rising voice of reforms in third world countries, the plight of old people who are left by their loved ones and thus, forced to lead a lonely life and die with no one to even cremate them etc.

The characters are realistic and not the typical perfect people we encounter in books. Each character has made his/her share of mistakes and its their choices that pave their path in the story! :)

I was hooked from the start and read the book cover-to-cover. The supernatural touch to the story adds more spice to an already splendid plot. The only thing that frustrated me was the ending which though complete in terms of the mystery coming to a closure, still leaves some gaps which show that the author has a sequel in mind. Now I have to wait for the next book to come out and my curiosity to know is killing me. I will be awaiting the next Ranjit Singh adventure. :)

A shining 4.5 stars out of 5 to The Caretakerand a strong recommendation that you read and enjoy this book. A brilliant plot, beautifully sketched characters with many facets to their personality and a depth to their persona and an intelligent piece of writing that is sure to keep you on the edge of your seats. :)

I won this book as part of the "First Reads" competition on Goodreads and am thankful to Harper Collins India for sending me this awesome book.. :)

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