Book Review: Salim Must Die

Completing his education from La Martiniere College, Lucknow, the National Defence Academy, Pune, and the Indian Military Academy, Dehra Dun, Mukul was commissioned in the SIKH LIGHT INFANTRY of the Indian Army in 1981. An eventful Army tenure, which included a decade of operational service in India and overseas, ended in an equally remarkable transition when Mukul turned his attention to the corporate battlefield. The result was MSD SECURITY PVT LTD which, in the ensuing decade, grew into a dynamic, professionally managed company.  Another twist in the tale followed when Mukul turned to his first love - writing. The result was a series of books spanning genres as multi-faceted as his personality.

Salim Must Die - Mukul Deva

This is book 2 in the four-book series...

The Characters

Iqbal: Once a confused man - he is now clear headed - and out for blood. Revenge...
Colonel Anbu: Tough. but humane - as always. And a man who can take tough calls...
Brigadier Salim: Complete Swine...
Mai Hu: Chinese, Bioweapons Expert, and an idiot in love...
Captain Ankita Bhatnagar: Commando Geek!
Captain Mohommed Sami: Only a commando - and a commander...
Captain Manoj Khare: Counterfoil to Ankita; also a commando geek!
Captain Vikram Tiwathia: Commando, and a well-wisher of Iqbal
Tanaaz: Pakistani, but a RAW agent; patiotic to Pakistan - but helps India...


The Plot
Salim Must Die is the story of stunning and brilliant ISI-engineered plot to destabilise America while simultaneously settling the score with India. Told in the backdrop of US meddling in Middle Easter affairs, it foretells the finding of Osama in Pakistan in an ISI safehouse. Stunned by this development, the ISI plans to hit back at the USA, by attacking its worldwide interests and allies. And, as the icing on the cake, the plot also envisages the humbling of India. Caught in the middle, India is the first to react, as its intelligence sources - now under a unitary command of the NIC (again, prescient statement; Mukul Deva foresaw this development) - provide indications of something big being planned. Enter Force-22, in dual role of intel gathering through high-tech spying and as a strike force. While one part of the force tracks the events, a second part is sent deep into Pakistan to take out the principal planner: Brigadier Salim...

The Analysis
This book is both a work of fiction as well as a geo-political lesson. It places the USA in no uncertain terms as the evil mastermind and creator of the scourge of terrorism that is assailing the planet today. The USA has been stripped naked - stark naked. And this is not done through jingoistic or hyperbolic statements; it is achieved through statements of facts, figures and cold reasoning and logic. You find it hard to refute any of the statements made in the book. This series is the first to openly lay the blame where it actually lies: in the great game for Oil that has been played since the 1970s and American meddling. There is no rancour in the narrative: it is all logic throughout the tome. This fact alone elevates this particular book - as well as the series - into the realm of all-time great books and series. And the best part is, it is intended for an Indian audience; I for one cant see the western world liking this unflattering narrative of the USA. 

The story is awesome in its scope and vast in its breadth. It convincingly puts together a tale of intrigue and international politics that destroy nations; the connection between the unfolding events in the Middle East as well as the intersection of US interests with Middle Eastern sensibilities has been very skilfully woven into a chilling tale of terror and counter-strike. The building pressure on Iran, US-Israeli cooperation etc all go towards further deepening the distrust in the Muslim Middle East, setting the stage for massive discontent. 

Furthermore, the story is also very, very plausible. It is almost scary, so real is the planning. The attention to detail in the planning part is the stuff of legend - you can actually visualise each and every part and sub-part of the plot clicking into place. Paradoxically, this slow, laborious buildup does not compromise on the pace; indeed it builds up the tension as you keep wanting to turn the pages to see what happens, but are too engrossed to do so. And, being an Army Major with hands-on experience in precisely this stuff, the action scenes are naturally out of this world. You can practically smell the gunpowder, so intense is the re-creation. The experience shows up in the writing, with statements like "But in battle, that is the way it is. Just as it is true that in no battle do things remain static for very long. Dynamics change, People move. people attack and people defend. In both cases, people die". Best of all is the way the element of chance and good, simple hard word and constant toil are highlighted - all of this makes the story scary, and real!

The second part of the series takes the characterisation of Colonel Anbu forward as he has been fleshed out and is slowly emerging as the hero of the series. The touch of real class is that, unlike other authors (especially western authors) Anbu has not been created as a one-man Army, he has been shown to be part of a system. A vital cog, but a part of the whole nonetheless. He is not a one-man-solves-all; he is the planner, the leader and the facilitator. The others - the PM, other officials, NIC Director, Ankita, Manoj, Sami, Tiwathia are equally important in the overall story - which makes the entire scenario seem life-like and real. It is this reality which takes this series ahead of each and every thriller I have ever read till date - East or West. Most other thrillers feature one superhero; not so in this book. It is a system at work, not a person. An excellent book and an excellent series: in my opinion, for the reasons identified above, the best in class. No doubts about that. 

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