PLOT: 3.5/5
WRITING: 3.5/5
CLIMAX: 3.5/5

My Musings

The recent months saw me reading a whole bunch of murder mysteries, psychological thrillers, and crime fiction. To be honest, there came a time when I didn’t want to pick a thriller anymore. I needed to cleanse my palette. But a reader is a reader, and a reader cannot help but stay away from books. And so, I picked up Midnight Freeway, a book that looked like a thriller but turned out to be much more.

About the author

Vivaan Shah is an Indian actor and writer who has worked in many Bollywood films including 7 Khoon Maaf, Happy New Year, Bombay Velvet, and others. He has also worked in the web series A Suitable Boy. Vivaan’s debut work of fiction titled Living Hell was published in 2019. Midnight Freeway is his second book.

First Impressions

The cover creates impact. It’s bold, edgy, and impressive. The blurb tells us to expect an ugly nexus of real estate, crime, and judiciary at the core of the book. From the little that finds its way on the cover, the book looks like an interesting read albeit one that is bound to surprise the reader in many ways.

What to expect?

Expect a ‘zara-hatke’ read. Expect a book that takes you into the deep dark underbelly of the real estate and construction mafias of Mumbai. Expect a book that poignantly narrates the story of a maverick and slightly unhinged lawyer. Expect a book that starts as a noir crime fiction but ends as a tragedy that speaks volumes about the world that we live in.

Who can read?

The book makes use of complex language. It is quite an arduous task to read and decipher the satirical undertones, cynicism, and subtle nuances that the author makes use of in abundance. It’s a book that is meant for the eyes of a voracious reader only. Beginners would find it difficult to comprehend the linguistic depth that the book offers.

The story as it goes

Yogesh Moolchandani, a notorious builder is killed on the spot when his flashy new imported car, a Volkswagen Jetta, crashes head-on into a toll booth on the Bandra-Worli sea link at the speed of 180km per hour. Some suspect it to be a suicide. But nothing in Yogesh’s life indicates so. As far as his present and future were concerned, everything looked promising and positively rosy.

The only questionable thing was him calling his car dealer incessantly just five minutes before the crash.

On the other hand, in another part of Mumbai, Pranav Paleja, a criminal lawyer who works at the law chamber Mangesh & Mangharam, spends his entire night saving his inebriated client from the police. His client has a tendency to get drunk, drive rashly, and then pick up fights just for the kicks.

Because Pranav was involved in saving a man who had picked up a fight with Yogesh the same night that he was killed, the police land on Pranav’s doorsteps.

As evidence emerges, so do new questions and new leads, embroiling everyone in the investigation. But the big question that seems to baffle everyone – remains unchanged.

Who or what killed Yogesh?

The characters

Though there are many characters to look forward to, there is one who manages to steal the deal, who manages to outshine them all. Pranav Paleja is a maverick, a maniac, a hysterical. He is always precariously treading the fine line that separates sanity from insanity. To most of us, this may seem like an overdone description, but for Pranav, it is a daily struggle.

Technically he is an upholder of the law, and yet he is someone most incapable of following it in his day-to-day personal life. The emotional wreck that he is, Pranav also turns out to be an unreliable narrator. One whose narration and storytelling are meant to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Then there are other characters. Almost all of them, crafted with careful thought and precision. Whether it is Moolchandani, or Hiranandani, Mateen Lakdawala or Bharat Morwani, or even Nalini for that matter. All of them attest to the writer’s skills as a meticulous crafter of characters. These characters who come in all shades of grey, but tend to lean more on the darker side, are all meant to create puzzlement, meant to incite that feeling of bafflement in the reader.

The mystery 

The book technically isn’t a mystery. For there is hardly any mystery here. It’s more of a crime drama. That’s because drama is what you get in loads and bunches. Because of the rich language, and the unreliable narration, the pace takes a hit and the book gets too slow sometimes. I like my mysteries racy and layered, but to categorize Midnight Freeway as a mystery would be unfair to both the reader and the book.

The writing

If there is one word that can be used to describe the book – that word would be mind-boggling. This isn’t a read that comes easy to you. The reader requires both patience and expertise to maneuver her way through the complex web of lies and deceit. And that becomes its major flaw too. Midnight Freeway asks too much of the reader. Both in terms of time and patience.

On the plus side though, the characters are great. The setting is larger than life and reminds one of the mafia movies of Bollywood. The attention to detail is impeccable, the descriptions are vivid, and the language rich. There are many undertones of sarcasm, dark humor, and cynicism.

What could have been better?

The book is an open-ended mystery (if you can call it one). There is a visible lack of clarity in the way events unfold and that leaves many a question unanswered. The mystery lacks a certain appeal, and combined with a rich language – it fails to hook the reader. I also found a certain disconnect between the first and second halves of the book. After a certain point, random things are incorporated into the story (for example the asylum for difficult youth) and that didn’t make a lot of sense to me.

In the end

In the end, Midnight Freeway is a tantalizing tale of the ugly nexus of judiciary and mafia in Mumbai. It is a highly nuanced noir crime fiction that exposes the dark realities of today’s corrupt world.

Pick the book if

  • You like noir crime dramas.
  • You enjoy books about the mafias and their criminal nexus.
  • You like books with rich language.
  • You enjoy maniacal and unreliable protagonists.
  • You are a voracious reader.

Skip the book if

Can’t wait to read it? Buy your copy of Midnight Freeway using the link below.

Also, check out some other thrillers that you may enjoy.

Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth

The Suspect by Michael Robotham

31 by Upendra Namburi