Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Annapara

by Piyali C.

In a sprawling basti (slum) in an Indian city where smog seems to smother the inhabitants along with trash, diseases, and terrible living conditions, children start disappearing. Nine-year-old Jai lives in the basti with his mother, who works for a lady in a ‘hi fi’ building, his sister, Runu didi, who is the fastest runner in her school, and his father, who works hard to provide for the family. Jai loves watching cop shows and wishes to become a detective like Byomkesh Bakshi or Feluda (both fictional detectives in Bengali literature) or Sherlock Holmes when he grows up.

The mystery of disappearing children gives him the perfect opportunity to hone his crime solving skills. Every detective needs assistants, and he employs the services of his best friends and classmates, Pari and Faiz, to be his sidekicks as he embarks into “detectiving.” The trouble is, Pari has excellent brains and always asks the right questions before Jai can even think of them.

As children in Jai’s basti continue to disappear, finger pointing begins targeting the Muslim community of the basti. Although frantic parents of missing children inform the police about these disappearances, drawing the ire of their neighbors, the police take no notice of these kidnappings. They come to take bribes from the poor, bereft parents instead. The other residents are infuriated at the involvement of the authorities as they worry the government can raze their basti with bulldozers since they live there illegally. Fanatic religious groups swoop in to assert their dominance and sow seeds of hatred and divisiveness between Hindu and Muslim communities.

While the story and the characters are fictional, the events are, unfortunately, real. According to the author, “as many as 180 children are said to go missing in India everyday.” The police investigation into these disappearances is negligible. The marginalized population remains invisible to the opulent class and their losses remain ignored. Deepa Anappara, during her career as a journalist, interviewed many impoverished children living on streets and in such slums.

The author chose nine-year-old protagonists to tell this story of loss because, during her interviews, she discovered that the street children have a great sense of humor despite horrific living conditions. Given their cheekiness and astute observation skills tinged with innocence, Jai, Pari and Faiz try to make sense of the sadness and chaos that envelop them. The narrative of the children makes the setting and environment even more poignant for the readers. The sense of place that the author creates transports the readers to Jai’s basti, and Anappara engages all our senses to experience the story. Lastly, the dialogue in the book is very typical of how many Indians speak English as they do literal translation of their mother tongue to the other language. I found the dialogues to be exact and authentic. Having Jai, Pari, Faiz, and others speak impeccable English would have marred the essence of the setting and authenticity. I am curious if the dialogue would be a deterrent for Western readers. The backdrop of the story reminded me of the incredible book about India’s biggest slum in Mumbai, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo.

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara is available at HCLS both in print and as an ebook in OverDrive.

Piyali is an instructor and research specialist at the Miller Branch of HCLS, where she co-facilitates both Global Reads and Strictly Historical Fiction.

Red Bones by Ann Cleeves

The book cover is blue, with a dark sky and the full moon over the shoreline in Shetland.  An isolated white building is in the distance and the moonlight stretches over the water from the foreground to the horizon.

Review by Julie F.

Red Bones, the third book in the Shetland series of mysteries by Ann Cleeves, delves into the family of Sandy Wilson, the young policeman who works for main series character Jimmy Perez. Sandy’s family lives on one of the outlying Shetland islands, Whalsay, in a small community where an archaeologist has recently unearthed bones that may or may not be “ancient history.” When tragedy ensues, Detective Inspector Perez investigates how Sandy’s extended family, as well as the students and professor involved with the dig, might be culpable. Not just a family drama, the story also recounts how an isolated community of individuals gossips, lies, and hides secrets, even from those they love the most.

The novel is also an interesting exploration of Sandy’s character. Early in the book, Perez is, “surprised that Sandy had shown so much initiative, wondered if he should congratulate him or if that would just be patronizing. In the office Sandy was always considered a bit of a joke. Perez had shared the low opinion at times” (35). Based on that description and his actions in the first two books in the series, Sandy could easily develop into a stock plodding detective, uninspired and demonstrating little intelligence or motivation. Instead, we see Perez give him challenges and progressively more difficult assignments throughout the case. He struggles with hard questions, matures, and takes on more responsibility, which is a testimony to Ann Cleeves’ ability to keep her characters multi-dimensional.

One of the things I love most about these books is how the characters and their relationships to one another grow throughout the series. Although the book furthers Perez’s personal story, including his budding relationship with artist Fran Hunter and her daughter Cassie, it is equally Sandy’s story, and that of the generations on the island who share a collective past both desperate and painful.

I listened to the audiobook on CloudLibrary as I read along, and narrator Gordon Griffin, an actor and dialogue coach, conveyed Cleeves’ beautiful, remote setting with dramatic (but never overblown) narration in an authentic accent.

I highly recommend the first two Shetland books, Raven Black and White Nights. If you enjoy the work of Ann Cleeves, look for her DI Vera Stanhope series (the first one is The Crow Trap, available as an ebook) as well as her newest series, Two Rivers, set in Devon, England and featuring detective Matthew Venn. The first book, The Long Call, is also available in ebook and eaudiobook from Libby/OverDrive. And if you enjoy the novels, both Shetland and Vera are available in DVD format at HCLS in television series produced by the BBC and ITV, respectively.

Ann Cleeves is a 2017 winner of the Diamond Dagger of the Crime Writers’ Association, the highest honor in British crime writing. She also won the Agatha Award in the Best Contemporary Novel category for The Long Call. Visit her website to learn more about this remarkable author.

Julie is an instructor and research specialist at HCLS Miller Branch, where she facilitates two book discussion groups – Spies, Lies, and Alibis and Bas Bleu.

Big Sky by Kate Atkinson

The book cover shows a turquoise sky and ocean, with a long pier extending into the water with a lighthouse and bridge at the end, and several people walking on the pier.  A seagull with wings extended is aloft in the foreground.

Review by Alan S.

Big‌ ‌Sky‌ ‌is‌ ‌the‌ ‌fifth‌ novel ‌featuring‌ ‌Jackson‌ ‌Brodie‌. ‌Brodie‌ ‌retires‌ ‌to‌ ‌a‌ ‌small‌ ‌coastal‌ ‌town,‌ ‌and‌ ‌sometimes‌ ‌cares‌ ‌for‌ ‌his‌ ‌teenage‌ ‌son,‌ ‌while‌ ‌working‌ ‌as‌ ‌a‌ ‌private‌ ‌investigator.‌ ‌Brodie‌ ‌will‌ ‌soon‌ ‌discover‌ ‌that‌ ‌small‌ ‌towns‌ ‌can‌ ‌hold‌ ‌big‌ ‌secrets‌ ‌after‌ ‌a‌ ‌chance‌ ‌meeting‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌beach‌ ‌draws‌ ‌him‌ ‌into‌ ‌a‌ ‌criminal‌ ‌conspiracy.‌ ‌ 

‌Big‌ ‌Sky‌ ‌starts‌ ‌with‌ ‌two‌ ‌sisters‌ ‌interviewing‌ ‌via‌ ‌Skype‌ ‌for‌ ‌jobs‌ ‌in‌ ‌London.‌ ‌It‌ ‌is‌ ‌clear‌ ‌that‌ ‌there‌ ‌is‌ ‌something‌ ‌sinister‌ ‌afoot‌ ‌even‌ ‌before‌ ‌it‌ ‌is‌ ‌revealed‌ ‌after‌ ‌the‌ ‌call‌ ‌that‌ ‌the‌ ‌agency‌ ‌is‌ ‌not‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌up‌ ‌and‌ ‌up.‌ ‌The‌ ‌story‌ ‌then‌ ‌careens‌ ‌from‌ ‌character‌ ‌to‌ ‌character,‌ ‌generally‌ ‌among‌ ‌the‌ ‌country‌ ‌club‌ ‌set‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌town.‌ ‌Brodie,‌ ‌it‌ ‌seems,‌ ‌is‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌outskirts‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌action‌ ‌and‌ ‌you‌ ‌are‌ ‌left‌ ‌wondering‌ ‌when‌ ‌and‌ ‌how‌ ‌he‌ ‌intertwines‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌main‌ ‌story.‌ ‌An unexpected encounter ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌beach‌ ‌with‌ ‌one‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌characters‌ ‌and‌ ‌his‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌by‌ ‌another‌ ‌eventually‌ ‌brings‌ ‌him‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌circle.‌ ‌Even‌ ‌then,‌ ‌the‌ ‌action‌ ‌is‌ ‌not‌ ‌‌propelled‌ ‌by‌ ‌Brodie‌ ‌and‌ ‌he‌ ‌doesn’t‌ ‌really‌ ‌do‌ ‌much‌ ‌detecting.‌ ‌Even‌ ‌when‌ ‌the‌ ‌police‌ ‌become‌ ‌involved‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌form‌ ‌of‌ ‌Brodie’s‌ ‌protégé (introduced‌ ‌in‌ ‌an‌ ‌earlier‌ ‌book‌ ‌I‌ ‌did‌ ‌not‌ ‌read),‌ ‌the‌ ‌story‌ ‌and‌ ‌its‌ ‌conclusion‌ ‌tend‌ ‌to‌ ‌stem‌ ‌from‌ ‌coincidence‌ ‌more‌ ‌than‌ ‌detective‌ ‌and‌ ‌police‌ ‌work.‌ ‌

Big Sky‌ ‌is‌ ‌an‌ ‌interesting‌ ‌story‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌evil‌ ‌that‌ ‌lurks‌ ‌in‌ ‌unlikely‌ ‌places.‌ ‌Go‌ ‌into‌ ‌it‌ ‌knowing‌ ‌that‌ ‌you‌ ‌are‌ ‌entering‌ ‌a‌ ‌detective‌ ‌story‌ ‌without‌ ‌much‌ ‌detecting‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌main‌ ‌character‌ ‌who,‌ ‌while‌ ‌appealing,‌ ‌is‌ ‌generally‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌outer‌ ‌edges‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌main‌ ‌story.‌ ‌I‌ ‌didn’t,‌ ‌and‌ ‌it‌ ‌took‌ ‌me‌ ‌a‌ ‌while‌ ‌to‌ ‌get‌ ‌past‌ ‌that‌ ‌and‌ ‌enjoy‌ ‌the‌ ‌compelling‌ ‌characters‌ ‌and‌ ‌storyline.‌ ‌ ‌

Big Sky is available in ebook and eaudio format through Libby.

Alan has worked for HCLS for just under 25 years, currently at the Savage Branch. He enjoys reading, television and most sports.

Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

A beige background with blood red off-kilter font that reads Midnight Riot with the author's name in black sans serif above it. A red splatter colors the top portion of a black line drawing of a map of London, and turns the Thames River red too.

Reviewed by Kristen B.

This fast paced police procedural, set in modern London, comes with a twist. Peter Grant’s only goal in life is to be promoted from probationary constable to detective in London’s Metropolitan Police. His plans seem to be thwarted at every turn, and he is sure he will be marking time in a records unit when he gets his first big break: an eyewitness to a murder. The big problem occurs when Peter realizes that said witness is a ghost. Grant then learns about an entire other kind of investigating as he becomes the apprentice to DCI Thomas Nightingale, who investigates uncanny and potentially magical crimes.

Midnight Riot takes you on a fantastic wild ride through London’s neighborhoods and immediate countryside, with Peter Grant as your point of view both to familiar London and to unfamiliar magic. I love Peter to pieces, with his modern take on life, an old-fashioned wish to serve, and perhaps even a mild case of ADD. I learned a bit of modern British slang (some of which I had to look up) and some ancient history about the geography of the River Thames.

If you love to watch Supernatural or enjoy any sort of magical realism, this is the first installment in an established series of books. If you happen to see it listed as Rivers of London, that’s how it was originally published in England. No matter how you find it, it’s a terrific, fun read. You can find it as an eAudiobook via RB Digital.

Books on Tap will be discussing Midnight Riot on Wednesday, June 3 at 6 pm via an online meeting. If you’d like to join us, please register and a WebEx invitation will be sent to you. Many other book discussion groups are also offering online discussions, please join one that suits your reading tastes and schedule!

Kristen B. has worked for HCLS for more than 15 years, and currently hosts Books on Tap discussion group at Hysteria Brewing Company. She loves reading, Orioles baseball, and baking.