To be truthful I hadn’t ever heard of this book or the author. A couple of weeks back I got an email from him asking me to review his labour of love. I immediately checked out the synopsis and was hooked on. A novel on marine terrorism and that too by an Indian author is as rare as it can get.
The book goes with the tagline: Terror on the High Seas. Going through the cover with the image showing a very rough sea and a ship – INS Indraprastha in the background, you start thinking that this is going to be a real thrill ride.
With over two hundred thousand metric tonnes of highly volatile crude oil, she is a massive Indian flag merchant vessel sailing in the Arabian Sea towards Cochin in India. But in between the ship is hijacked by 9 highly equipped terrorists who with their Kalashnikov’s and grenade launchers look ready for a grueling mission. They plant underwater mines around the hull in front of the captain’s eyes. What is their aim? Will their mission succeed? Why does one of the terrorists change sides midway? The book tackles all these questions and more.
Truth be told this is the first book on marine / ocean terrorism I have heard or read from an Indian author. Interestingly before reading Mukul Deva’s military terrorism series, I hadn’t ever heard of any book on terrorism by an Indian author either. So in that sense Jims Andrews is in a pretty unique situation.
The book is pacy throughout and the narrative is so gripping that you always want to know what happens next. Terrorism, Piracy, Jihadists, references to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) – the book has all the contemporary ingredients to make it a fantastic experience. The author keeps the flow and the structure of the story intact throughout by bringing the hijacking drama into the focus after around 30 pages itself. The descriptions of each and every part of the ship, the way the terrorists come up the ship using the dhow, the counter offensive by Indian defence forces are so perfect that you wonder only a person whose spent his career in the navy could do justice to such minute details.
There are a number of characters in the story. But a couple of them stand out. Maya, the only women officer on board is a braveheart who plays one of the most important parts in the story. Shamir aka Anwar Siddique is one of the terrorists who has a past he wants to forget but Maya’s eyes dont allow him to do that. Jamal is the leader of the group of terrorists and he does keep everyone terrorised. Then there’s Captain Arjun Menon, the master of the ship, Zubeida – the only female among the rank of terrorists who has a special disliking for Maya, Shahul – the engineer in the ship who gives Anwar’s life a new meaning among others.
On the flip side, descriptions and terms like The International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) lights, starboard, Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCC) etc. which are specific to this field may not appeal to everyone. Though their usage is less and more to drive home the point, it may be a bit irritating for some people. The flashback to Anwar’s story at school in Chapter 16 seems pretty long and could have done with better editing. Without much buildup, the final sentence of that chapter between Maya and Anwar looks a little forced.
If you love thrillers, then go for this one! Books in this genre in India are rare. And good ones – rarest of the rare!!
Rating – 4/5