The Puppeteer – Review

Book: The Puppeteer
Author: Arindam Mukherjee
Year: 2012


I picked this up randomly from New Delhi railway station on my recent visit. It’s a decent 250 page thriller written by Arindam Mukherjee based in India and Pakistan. The author has previously written two other non-fiction books and this was his first foray into the world of fiction writing.

The puppeteer is based on Industrial Espionage and Cross Border Terrorism and includes heavy doses of state sponsored terrorism which, more often than not, at least when dealing with Pakistan, is the same thing which today is considered as Islamic Terrorism. With the two nations having a go at each other, and not even clandestinely at that, the author was never out of tangible material for his book. Although, I should be honest, that his book is not merely a copy paste exercise from leading newspapers. He has written an acceptable story.

Ben Khalish is the most powerful man in Pakistan and he is not happy with the President. His interest lies in the deep rooted ingrained conflict that Kashmir is always under. He likes it the way it is. The news that Ben Khalish receives one morning is that in an undeniably surprising move the President of Pakistan has made the first move to resolve the Kashmir issue once and for all. With this one move, the President strives to correct all the wrong that has been done with Kashmir. Or, at least whatever wrong has been done in the name of Kashmir.

Ben realises that this move will extinguish the potential of Real Estate windfalls he could make. Ben is said to hate India, Israel, USA and the entire Western world. Although, he keeps telling himself that it’s just Business and nothing personal, he knows where his sentiments rise from. His hatred towards the West, the Israelis and the Americans is pure business. They are his competitors, nothing more than that. But what very few people knew was his religious orientation. His Islamic upbringing made sure that there was a deep rooted hatred for these people and that they are nothing but collateral damage.

Upon hearing the news of the President’s plan, Ben starts making phone calls. His first call is to his deputy and right hand man Zuair Khan, an impeccably dressed man with an unending IQ and the military precision fit for, well, the military. He gives Zuair his list of wishes and Zuair does the rest.

The story goes in an overdrive from here. Omar Raza Khalish, the son of Ben Khalish, is just learning the trade of his father. He isn’t blessed with the sophistication that Zuair possesses and neither is he used to a lot of thinking. His hands work faster that his head. He is, bluntly put, a street thug. But the pedigree that he belongs to prevents him from doing odd jobs and, instead, he is in the inner most circles.

The story from here is only about planning and execution. Zuair is the mastermind who lays the plot out in the open and it is pretty overwhelming how the group collects material and men for the job.

The Job? The assassination of the President.

Zuair and his gang of workers go through minute details regarding the President’s schedule and his stay-overs and his entire plan with a fine toothed comb. They decide how to kill him; where to kill him and who should be the fall guy. The planning stage keeps the reader glued, because it is a well thought of strategy. The book has a good pace and the language is nothing that I would complain about.

What can be a source of minor complaint are a few technical glitches. The working of the bomb, the killing of a few henchmen, the assumption of people-would-look-in-the-other-direction-while-we-work-under-shadows, apparent cock-sureness of the assassins etc. It’s not much but there is a need to iron out these to make a water-tight story.

Another thing is about the entire “Assassinate the President” thing. Yes, it is a cliche. Especially if one notices the presence of the “President” instead of “Prime Minister”. In Pakistan, like in India, the Head of the State is the Prime Minister and NOT the President. So, it is pretty unlikely that it would be the President who would be making such a decision. And even if he did make it it would be, without a single doubt, the Prime Minister who would do the honours. So, maybe it is a technical glitch, but it has become a Western norm to attach the words “Assassination” with “President”

Now, with the basic ideology of the authors idea about the whole Islamic Terrorism aspect. It is very obvious that he doesn’t like Muslims. The author never forgets to mention Ben Khalish’s and Omar’s Islamic upbringing and then immediately talks about their hatred for the West and Israel. In the author’s own words:

Reasons or no reasons, a volcanic hatred towards dhimmis and kafers ran in his blood. Nobody actively taught him to hate these countries or their people. Still, it was always there. very few people knew about it. The militants always had anonymous donations from a well-wisher. They knew where to make contact and were smart enough not to get smarter.

And this is within the first 5 pages of the book. His muslim characters sleep with harlots, cheat on their wives, drink alcohol and, hell, even fantasise marrying their own mothers. Yes, the author has even managed to make incest acceptable to a normal muslim. He talks about this and immediately tells us that he went for his daily prayer. The insinuations are clear. The ideas are apparent and it stinks. Also, it really stands out this, there is not a single positive Muslim character in his world. Not ONE. All of them are psychopaths and murderers because that’s what they are, after all. The author would be in a better (read respected) position if he took a more open view and doesn’t resort to such naive compartmentalisations.

To sign out, I’d say that his writing is good. It keeps you interested. Even the plot is really well thought of. The end hits you. Not in the gut, but hits you still. There is a scene early in the book which strongly reminded of Forsyth’s Dogs of War but there was no built up regarding the scene. I wouldn’t mind reading him again.

I’d give him an overall 5/10



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