When the Snow Melts by Vinod Joseph

Ritwik is in big trouble. Completely in debt, thanks to gambling and his fondness for Old Monk rum, he is being hounded by loan sharks who are out to get him.

Ritwik Kumar, a veteran spook, had been sent by the Indian Government to the Intelligence Assesment Group (IAG) in London, where intelligence agents from countries all over are fighting the war against terrorism. However, Ritwik is not functioning at his best. His alcoholism has led him into embezzling office funds and taking out loans all over the place. He needs to return the money to his boss, as well as the loan sharks.

The only way Ritwik finds to save himself from both General West(his American boss in the IAG), and the merciless loan sharks is to defect to the Al Qaeda. Of course, things are not as smooth as he would have liked. Not only do his new friends/allies start to doubt him, he also falls in love with one of his new allies Junaid’s wife Nilofer. Nilofer is treated badly by her husband Junaid, a foot soldier of the Al Qaeda who is a complete believer of it’s ideology. Ritwik is affected by Junaid’s treatment of Nilofer. Not that he can do much about it. After all, Ritwik, has other more urgent concerns, like staying alive, chances of which start looking bleaker by the hour.

So what happens next? Does Ritwik come out of all this mess alive? You’ll have to read it to find out.

My verdict. Vinod Joseph’s book is a fast moving thriller which keeps you on your toes. I did have an inkling of what could be the possible outcome, which was indeed true, but despite that, there was one twist at the end which completely took me by surprise. The descriptions of London and Basingstoke had nostalgic value for me, so that was an added bonus. Suspense, torture, international intelligence, fundamentalism, double crossing intelligence agents all made it an interesting read.

Some parts of the book did not sit very well with me, though. There is one particular sequence in the beginning of the book where Ritwik is called ‘the Man’, ‘the Old Monk drinker’ alternatively. It actually got me confused. That might just be me – but I felt that it detracted from the flow of the book, because I had to re-read to figure out what was happening. But then, as I said, that might just be me.

I also found the constant reference to Old Monk, a wee bit annoying. It almost felt like a commercial.

Apart from that, I really enjoyed the book. It was a first time read for me, a thriller by an Indian Author, and I am glad to say that I enjoyed it too. The best part for me, was the fact that it had an Indian angle, of how 9/11 effected Indian intelligence efforts and the power struggle in the subcontinent. As one of the Pakistani diplomats in the book says, all that Pakistan wants is to go back to the pre-9/11 era, when they could use the Taliban to help them in Kashmir. 9/11 brought the Talibans into the US’s focus, and that changed it all. It also gives an insight into lives of intelligence officers and the trials and dangers that they face . Lured by the money(and other considerations), there must be plenty of double agents out there, who have no qualms giving out their nation’s secrets.

I would definitely recommend it to everybody who likes books in this genre.

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