Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Review: The Rataban Betrayal by Stephen Alter

Book: The Rataban Betrayal

Author: Stephen Alter

Pages: 397

Read On: Paperback

How Long it Took Me To Read: 5 days ( with very long breaks)

Plot Summary: The sleepy Himalayan hill station of Mussoorie, near India's border with Tibet, is home to an eclectic mix of residents including Tibetan refugees and former guerrilla fighters, foreign missionaries, Indian military, tourists, and spies. Here, in a top-secret facility facing the snow-clad Himalayas, India’s legendary spymaster, Colonel Imtiaz Afridi, keeps a watchful eye on sensitive high-altitude borders. Having been a mountaineer in his youth, Afridi once climbed many of these peaks, including Rataban, a mountain with a treacherous history. When an American agent is shot dead in Mussoorie, both the CIA and India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), dispatch undercover agents to investigate. The American's death is quickly linked to the slayings of two Indo-Tibetan Border Police guards, suggesting possible Chinese infiltration. Working with Afridi is the brilliant junior analyst, Annapurna “Anna” Tagore, who helps him unravel these clues and other disturbing signs that something dangerous is brewing.

When more violent acts shatter Mussoorie's calm, the CIA and RAW have no choice but to team up. Soon Afridi and the young Indian and American agents are piecing together a bloody conspiracy of revenge and murder that could shake the very foundations of world peace.

General Thoughts: This was one of the books we picked up on our recent holiday in Landour. We wanted to sample some local writers and Stephen Alter was definitely on our list. He has so many books out and several of them non-fiction titles. This one sounded very interesting and different from books we've read before.

I started reading this on our last day in Landour and read it on the plane and once I was back in Bombay. I really enjoyed my time with this book and I will defiantly read more from the author.

Things I Liked: 

1. I enjoy crime fiction but I don't think I have read too many books about espionage or spies or some such. So, the premise of this book was a refreshing change from the typical books that I read. That plus the fact that this book is almost entirely based in Mussoorie and Landour. So, being able to visualise most of the places mentioned in this book was also super fun! 

2. The events in the book move back and forth between present day and at some point in the 70s and then the 80s. There are also flashbacks to the Tibetan Crisis in the late 1950s and the lives of Tibetan refugees in their early days in India. So, there is a lot of variety. The book never gets boring.. there is always something happening or a part of the past mystery opening up. I love books where there is lots of things happening- never a dull moment! 

3. The characters in the book are varied in terms of their backgrounds and life experiences, which always makes things interesting. We have an American-born CIA of Indian descent, who is on a mission to find out who killed an almost-retired, dormant CIA agent in Mussoorie, then there is Anna Tagore, an Indian RAW agent and there is Renzin- a Tibetan living in India- who is not officially an Intelligence Officer but he works closely with Afridi. Colonel Afridi, a seemingly retired Intelligence Officer, with a super-secret portfolio, is also a calm-minded strategist, who is quite well-crafted as a character. 

4. I liked that this book was based around the Tibetan Crisis and told the story of the Tibetan people and everything that was taken away from them. Imagine losing your home because some big, powerful, better armed people took it away from you and left you to escape with whatever little you had on hand.. The book had glimpses of their struggle and, of course, some fictionalised counter-strikes as well, which were quite interesting to read about. 

5. The espionage bits were also nicely done and interesting. Not as crazy as some of the James Bond movies but sufficiently action-packed. 

Things I Didn't Like: There was a seemingly big twist or surprise in the book, which I guessed a long time before any hints were dropped... so, that was a bit disappointing, but not very..

Rating: 4/5
This may not be the best spy book ever written but it is competently written and is quite engaging. 

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