The Last Sunrise – Robert Ryan

The Last Sunrise by Robert Ryan

Dogfights in P-40s, dalliances with exotic women and wrestling with the controls of a C-47 all make for some riveting reading in Robert Ryan’s thriller, “The Last Sunrise.” The book alternates between the years 1941-1948 and the characters mostly find themselves traversing the terrains that cut across Burma (currently Myanmar), India, China and Singapore. The story begins in the year 1941. The American Voluntary Group, an Air Force unit has been put together by Colonel Claire Lee Chennault. Known as the Flying Tigers, the primary objective of this unit is to aid and abet the Chinese war efforts against the marauding Japanese who after having plundered Nanking, have their sights firmly set on other targets such as Kunming.

A part of the Flying Group set up is the flamboyant Lee Crane. An extraordinary capable fighter pilot, Crane is looking to notch two more kills before he can be designated an ‘ace.’ However, fate and love contrive to put a spanner in the works as Crane develops a dangerous dalliance with a curvy and sultry Anglo-Indian widow named Kitten Mahindra. Falling afoul of Colonel Chennault, when the Flying Tigers are absorbed by the US Air Force, Crane’s flying career almost comes to a careening halt, but for the intervention of Hyram Nelson. A key figure in the Office of Strategic Services, Nelson puts Crane in charge of manning a Cargo plane, to transport men & materiel over the “hump”, – three dangerous ridges forming part of the towering Himalayas. Crane loses touch with Kitten in the process.

On one such trip, Crane is acquainted with a striking young SOE agent, Laura McGill, and her companion a huffing and puffing giant of a man named Walter Gilbert. The trip from Calcutta to Southern China deepens Crane’s friendship with her. This platonic relationship also leads to unintended causal consequences as a chain of tumultuous events are set in motion when Hyram Nelson commands Crane to find out the exact role of Gilbert and Laura in the Asian sphere of operations. And when on a trip his own trusted co-pilot, going by the moniker of Cowboy points a gun at Crane’s temple and asks him to be his perpetrator-in-crime in a daring heist, Crane knows he is living on borrowed time.

Robert Ryan as usual dazzles with his description of various vintage aircraft and their prowess and pitfalls. He is like a fish in water expounding on mid-air combats, cockpit technicalities and payload perils. He manages to maintain his reader’s interest by sticking to a constant pace. Even though the narrative weaves back and forth, just like one of Crane’s aircrafts – between the years 1941, 1942, 1943 and 1948, the plot never gets either overwhelming or confusing.

The encounters between Kitten and Crane are poignant to the point of being tragi-comic. The Indo China geography is described in a marvelous manner that makes a mental visualization of the entire landscape surrounding the three ridges a veritable pleasure.

The Last Sunrise – A soaring read.

I Teach Religiousness Not Religion – Osho

I Teach Religiousness Not Religion by Osho

Warning:

For those of you who are deeply religious and nurse steadfast beliefs, read no further. This book will leave you not merely nonplussed, but downright incensed. Trenchant, provocative, irreverent and radical, “I Teach Religiousness Not Religion” (the book) provides a more than just a sneak peek into the philosophy which made the self-proclaimed Godman Osho, one of the most reviled public figures in the realm of spirituality.

The book is a short collection of discourses where Osho holds forth on various topics in an attempt to clarify doubts raised by his devotees/disciples. The topics dealt with cover a wide gamut of subjects both complex and simple such as God, guilt, belief, meditation, laughter and enlightenment. Writing in a style that is deceivingly simple, Osho intersperses his philosophical musings with ribald humour, risqué anecdotes and arresting Zen stories.

So what is this religiousness that is peculiarly divorced from religion? This according to Osho seems to be a fluid, albeit shifting and vibrant concept. “Religiousness is a flowing river continuously changing its course but ultimately reaching the ocean.” The man might be an avid believer in Heraclitus. While this might offer the reader a few points to ponder what succeeds the definition is pure mayhem unhinged.

Taking a swipe at all religions, Osho terms them all dead rocks leading no one anywhere. But his most vitriolic jibe is reserved for Christianity. Arguing that in o far as harming the humanity is considered, Christianity stands at the very top, he goes on to back this incredulous and incendiary claim with equally outlandish justifications. Consider this: “they have used beautiful words to hide the ugly acts they are doing against you – for example, unselfishness. A man who does not know himself, to tell him to be unselfish is so outrageously idiotic that one cannot believe that for two thousand years Christianity has been doing that.”

One of the most controversial chapters in the book (a very difficult choice to make since almost every chapter seems to written with the intention of muckraking and stirring hornets’ nests), seems to be the one lashing out at Celibacy. Although not surprising from a man whose philosophical corner stone revolved around a concept termed “From Sex to Salvation”, the ire Osho reserves for celibates is putting it mildly – intense. Terming celibacy a ‘deadly virtue’, Osho blames the religious leaders for propagating this ‘unnatural’ phenomenon. Employing a logic that is downright illogical and a figment of rabid imagination, he goes on to argue that a natural outcome of celibacy is AIDS. Yes, you read it right! “Teaching celibacy is against nature. Then putting monks into monasteries and nuns into separate places and not allowing them to meet, you created homosexuality, you created lesbianism. And now homosexuality has brought AIDS. Every Government of the should declare celibacy a crime. And anybody who preaches celibacy should be immediately imprisoned, because he is the cause of a deadly disease, AIDS, which is spreading far and wide. Of nuclear weapons don’t kill you, AIDS will kill you.” Wonder what this man’s notions on Corona virus and Ebola would have been.

Waxing eloquent on David Yallop’s controversial book on Christianity and the Vatican, Osho spews fire on everything religious and its attendants. No wonder this man was threatened with dire consequences by the Greek law enforcement agencies and made to leave the country along with its commune.

Like an author pumped up to his neck in steroids, Osho also offers ridiculous and asinine suggestions to heal a fractured world. Asking the Jews to abandon Israel, he offers his commune in the United States to be occupied by them. This commune may then be termed Israel!

Most of the chapters are nothing more than mere rants and rambles. The pointless ambling is interrupted at points by an adult joke or a lewd parable. Truly the spouting of a man unhinged. Osho attracted controversy like bees attracted by honey. Seeking to flee the wrath of the Indian Government for his controversial views and practices, Osho or Rajneesh fled to the United States with 2,000 of his disciples, preferring to settling on a 100-square-mile ranch in central Oregon, which he named Rancho Rajneesh. There, Rajneesh and his devotees commenced to construct their own buildings and design their own city, which they unimaginatively called Rajneeshpuram.

Soon a flash point was reached between the local Government and the commune as its inhabitants went on a crazy spree of murder, wiretapping, voter fraud, arson and a mass salmonella poisoning in 1984 that affected more than 700 people. Deported by the United States Government and denied entry by many others the defamed and defanged Godman was forced to spend his remaining life in India, until his death due to heart failure in 1990.

I teach religiousness not religion – an obnoxious exercise in indecipherable blasphemy.

The Extinction Event – David Black

The Extinction Event by David Black

A lawyer, a hooker and a drug experiment gone wrong in a seedy motel sets the tone for David Black’s racy thriller “The Extinction Event.” Jack Slidell an irascible lawyer and a former street fighter is roused out of his sleep by a late night call in Mycenae, New York. The cryptic call leads Jack to a shady motel and to the dead bodies of Frank Milhet, his boss, Jean Gaynor, a hooker and traces of crack cocaine. What initially seems to be an innocuous case of sex and drugs gone sour, morphs into a murky maze involving international ecological implications. And into this maze, Jack gets drawn deeper and deeper with an unlikely companion to assist him in his endeavor to get to the bottom of the riddle. Caroline Wonder, a rookie lawyer in Jack’s firm and one who nurses a frosty relationship with Jack becomes a trusted all as the duo attempt to ward off bullets, betrayals, and barbed wires.

In so far as murder mysteries and conspiracy theories go, “The Extinction Event” does no better than its companion next door. Although making for a Pacey read, there is nothing to distinguish this pot-boiler from a million others from the genre. There is also a forced attempt to make Jack Slidell more flamboyant, boorish, charismatic and a punch line spewing Bond, leaving a jarring impact on the reader. This where James Bond-meets-Indiana Jones-meets-John rebus attempt does more harm than good from a narrative and plot perspective.

There come and go in a breezy fashion a phalanx of characters each one more insidious than his or her predecessor in both intent and execution. There is Cowboy, a hit-man and an almost personal stalker of Jack. He stalks Jack with the same determination of a Moriarty stalking Holmes, but with a suaveness that is exasperating and a silence that is frustrating. Other than nodding heads, civilly tracking Jack and of course attempting to murder him, all that the Cowboy seems to be doing is to compete with a perpetual motion machine. There is Mama Lucky, an extraordinarily obese woman who runs a brother and subsists on Jack Daniels. She also turns out to be a very able informant passing vital pieces of information to Jack.

After multiple pages of irrelevant dialogues, inchoate encounters and implacable emotions, we are left with an ending that is more philosophical than fictional. We are left to scratch our heads in both bewilderment and disbelief and left wondering whether it was worth the while trudging through the pages only to be met with what has to be one of the most ambivalent climaxes in the recent fictional literature past.

The Extinction Event – totally uneventful.

No Man’s Land – G.M. Ford

No Man's Land: Amazon.co.uk: G. M. Ford: 9780330441933: Books

I guess the lockdown has really got to me! My most recent choice of books seems to be veering from the intolerable to the indigestible. The most recent example being G.M. Ford’ s “No Man’s Land.” 388 pages of illogical derring-do, irrational heists and infuriating punch lines. Timothy Driver an ex US Navy veteran with advanced degrees in all things aquatic and many things digital is languishing in the high security prison facility of Mesa Azul in Arizona. Conjured by a vicious imagination and fueled by the lure of capitalism, Mesa Azul is the brainchild of Randall Corporation. Unhinged by an existence that necessitates not just solitude but also demands tolerance to lights that are never turned off, Driver – convicted of murdering his wife as well as her paramour, both while having a romp in Driver’s bed – decides he needs some fresh air. Pulling off an incredible heist that involves a multitude of machine gun wielding reprobates and lifers, Driver holds the prison security hostage and threatens to lop off one hostage every six hours until such time a man named Frank Corso is delivered to him.

Making good on his promise, Driver and his lieutenant Cutter Kehoe, a gigantic man with an even more gigantic streak of sadism to boot, go on to facilitate a few good men to meet their maker. There is a scramble to locate the reclusive Corso before Driver succeeds in liberating 163 men from their human bondage. Convincing Corso that eating crabs for lunch, breakfast and dinner and idling away in his own boat is less of a priority than saving lives, law enforcement agencies finally coax Corso away from his personal diversion to the correctional facility at Mesa Azul.

Lest the reader tear his hair away wondering what connects Corso with Driver, Mr. Ford displays his benevolent side by revealing that Corso had written a book chronicling the former escapades of Corso. The author and the protagonist meet, greet, exchange pleasantries, punch lines and prospects before the unpredictable Driver and his crony Cutter whisk Corso away in an oil tanker. Yes, in a giant oil tanker full of diesel. Mode of protection against noxious fumes and flames – hazmat suits. Now that we are living in Dystopian times tormented by a virus, I am used to now accepting the fact that Hazmat suits are off the shelf commodities akin to Heinz Ketchup and Pringles crisps.

Bring into the fray the opportunistic Melanie Harris, the anchor of a bestselling show titled American Manhunt whose only objective is to aid and abet the hunting down of incorrigibles such as Cutter and Driver – the combination of names itself sounds eerily reprehensible – and her producer Marty (I even forgot what this character’s full name is), the reader is left nursing a headache which no amount of Aspirins can alleviate!

What the psychotic Driver and the demented Cutter do with the world in general and Corso in particular and whether their ambitions are put paid to by whoever dares to accost them forms the bulk of the plot. Murders. mayhem and melee are the expected collateral damages.

At the end of the book, I gave myself a pep talk to change my reading habits with utmost urgency, stringency and commitment. Lest I find myself stranded in a metaphorical “No Man’s Land!”

Salmon Fishing in The Yemen – Paul Torday

Image result for Salmon Fishing in The Yemen – Paul Torday

Emotional, humorous and introspective, Paul Torday’s “Salmon Fishing in The Yemen” is a book that leaves the reader feeling hopeful, light and philosophical as the covers come down upon it. Brilliantly humorous in its sweep and measurably satirical in its wake, Mr. Torday’s work represents an achievement of admirable proportions. This is exactly the book which one would need to carry to bed, especially considering the dystopian times we are experiencing, courtesy a rampaging Corona virus.

The book whose unique title symbolizes the synonym of impossibility, also possesses an abundance of unlikely hope within its confines. At the centre of Mr. Torday’s debut novel is a reticent, hen-pecked, humble but brilliant civil servant, Dr. Alfred Jones. When not at the receiving of his high flying banker wife Mary’s razor sharp sardonic tongue, he I busy penning esoteric works on caddis fly larvae and many other things relating to salmon. Employed by the National Centre for Fisheries Excellence (NCFE), he is an eminent scientist and a veritable repository of all things aquatic and pisciculture. His uneventful, prosaic and mundane existence is suddenly given a refreshing spurt of vigour, courtesy Sheikh Muhammud an affluent Yemeni potentate. Sheikh Muhammad’s flamboyant and almost fairy tale dreams of populating Yemen’s Wadi Aley with Salmon sends No.10 Downing Street in a PR tizzy and the Hon Rt Prime Minister Jay Vent, pounces on this opportunity to cement US-Yemen relationship that would nurture trust. Fish over fighter jets!

Dr. Jones is designate as the expert for the venture and he is initially skepticism personified. However, the combination of the Sheikh’s calm, unwavering confidence and measured optimism, coupled with the presence of Ms. Harriet Chetwode-Talbot, the Sheikh’s ‘gofer’ on the project boosts his sagging spirits no end. Visits to Yemen, and Finland for procuring various equipment and sojourns to the Sheikh’s estate at Glen Tulloch in Scotland enthuses Dr. Fred’s life with a new purpose and meaning. The only blotch to the project come in the form of a daring but fortunately ill executed assassination attempt on the life of the Sheikh by a goatherd hired by the Al Qaeda network.

The Sheikh views this project more as a pre-ordained philosophical event than a commercial proposition. An avid fishing enthusiast himself, he ardently believes in the power to fishing to bring serenity and sufficiency to an otherwise frenetic world torn apart by, and riven with religious, political and social differences. As the Sheik in a moment of rumination tells Dr. Jones, “Without faith,” the sheikh tells him, “there is no hope. Without faith, there is no love.”

The resemblance of the cast of characters to some key personalities in the Blairite administration is unmissable. While the book would be lapped up by all inveterate anglers, even those who find the activity to be an exercise in unfathomability would love the book. The author clearly does not hold back on either his own perception of ideals or morals. However, the author reserves the most shocking bit of the book for the ending. The slobber-knocker of a climax will leave the reader utterly stupefied.

Salmon Fishing in The Yemen – A story that rekindles hope and optimism.

Full Black – Brad Thor

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460 pages of high octane, maniacal marauding stuff where someone is either getting killed or killing someone! Only the method of the murder varies. Cutting the carotid, detonating explosives, and at times even detonating themselves (after all its better to burn out than to fade away!), riddling foes with bullets while friends get sloughed away with shotguns, Full Black is where-Chuck Norris-meets-Salman Khan-meets-Phantom. After a point in time the reader is left exhausted and wondering who else is left to be picked away other than himself/herself.

Ok coming to the story itself – yes there is a story – a covert operation in Uppsala Sweden to infiltrate and expose a terrorist network goes sideways with the gruesome death of many US Secret Service Professionals. The master mind behind the Operation Scot Harvath is a former Navy Seals (of course he has to be a navy seal. The rate at which these novels are proliferating the appearance and disappearance of Navy seals would be enough to cause great affront to real seals) who is the very epitome of ruthlessness. His organisation which works from the very bowels of secrecy is unknown to even the FBI and the CIA. In fact, other than the reader and Harvath’s boss Carlton Reed a.k.a “The Old Man”, no one knows the existence of this elite killing machine. Their secrecy is taken to a different level, even surpassing Victoria’s when to avenge their brothers they go “FULL BLACK”.

Thrown in a megalomaniac multi billionaire who calls himself, “The Sheikh of Qatar”, a dwarf who is a technology wizard with two humongous Russian dogs for company, another Navy Seal – there are multiple seals in this vast pool – with a limp, love life gone awry and the latest killing techniques, a Hollywood film producer who other than working on movies, seems to be busy saving his life as he is chased across the United States by a bunch of ugly looking, ugly acting Russians, (yes there are Russian canines as well as Russian cartel), you have a pot boiler which keeps careening, plummeting and racing through paths made fertile by a roving, roaming imagination that puts even Kurt Cobain on steroids to utter shame!

Full Black – makes you go colour blind!

Big Fish: A Novel of Mythical Proportions – Daniel Wallace

Image result for Big Fish: A Novel of Mythical Proportions – Daniel Wallace

An extremely ingenious and engrossing debut novel, “Big Fish” is both an exercise in nostalgia and an attempt to unravel intricate human emotions. Edward Bloom is on his death bed, hooked to an assortment of beeping machines that monitor every breath he takes and keep track of the number of beats his weak heart clocks. His son William Bloom, who all along has been brought up on a mythical diet of his father’s accomplishments, now tries to dust away the cobwebs of fiction to get to the core of what his father was in reality. In order to do this, William needs to recreate a lifetime of fables that have acquired a mythical proportion. Time is not on William’s hands however as Edward might shed his mortal coil sooner than later.

The tales involving Edward Bloom at their frontispiece range from the banal to the bizarre. An inveterate traveler, Bloom traverses the globe in the capacity of the proprietor of an import/export business. During the process, the impossible jokester becomes a party to some spectacular and unbelievable adventures. He is served tea by a twin headed Geisha woman in Japan; whilst driving at a leisurely pace he comes across a quaint town which memerises him so much that he goes on to purchase the whole town complete with every shop, street, and swamp. Basically warts and all. He also tames a a wild and perpetually hungry giant who has taken to gobbling the crops and dogs of an anguished village.

After exhausting all these astounding adventures, and in the process exhausted himself, Edward Bloom arrives home to William and his mother. However, this time he has come to die. Diagnosed with a terminal condition, Edward Bloom is getting prepared to meet his Maker. Before which, William needs some answers. Answers that are frank, brutal and honest. But there is just one slight hitch. Every serious question of William is first met, before being nonchalantly swatted away by Edward with a joke. A repository of ‘bad jokes’, Edward keeps deflecting the questions raised by his son by responding with one pathetic joke after another. These are jokes which have been retold, recycled and repeated by Edward over many a year, until they have become stale. For example, to the question of whether Edward nurses a belief in either divinity or religion, William is regaled with a joke involving Pinocchio in heaven!

How much longer can William bear to put up with the obstinacy of a man who even when on the last legs of his existence puts up a wall of privacy and aloofness? Will his patience wear out thin or would be become successful in fathoming the real persona of his father, a persona which hitherto has been clouded and camouflaged by both myth and mystery?

Daniel Wallace impresses his reader with this compelling work that induces a range of contrasting emotions. The reader laughs, runs and fights alongside Edward in a carefree manner while becoming extremely frustrated at William’s predicament of not being able to penetrate the complex core of his deceptively simple father.

This entertaining book has also been made into a movie starring Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, and Marion Cotillard. Not surprising since the plot makes perfect fodder for a cinematic experience!