WRITING STYLE: 5/5
ENTERTAINMENT QUOTIENT: 4.5/5
Of all the books that I have reviewed, two will always remain on my recommended reading list – Narcopolis, in which Jeet Thayil brings out the dark side of Bombay, and ‘The Black Coat’ in which Neamat Imam writes about the chaos in Dhaka soon after Bangladeshi independence. The books have nothing in similar apart from the fact that the description of respective cities in both these books is astounding. The charm and glitz attached with the cities are stripped off layer by layer, and the naked truth is bared. Omar Shahid Hamid has done something remarkably similar with Karachi, the commercial capital of Pakistan, in his book ‘The Prisoner’.
“It is always better to be the SHO of a poor neighbourhood rather than a rich one. In a poor mohalla, even if a hundred people get killed on your watch, no one will be too bothered. In a rich mohalla, if someone’s cat goes missing, they’ll hang you by your balls.”
An American journalist Jon Friedland is kidnapped from Zamzama, a posh Karachi locality. The timing of the incident couldn’t have been worse. With the American president scheduled to visit in a few weeks, the pressure on Pakistani law enforcement to rescue Friedland is mounting. When all their resources burn-out and they are left with no time and no other reliable leads, they turn to DSP Akbar Khan for help. But, Akbar is languishing in the Karachi Central Jail for crimes he didn’t commit, and he will help the authorities only if he gets his freedom in return. With an eye on the pie, all the parties involved – the police, the agencies, the home ministry each try to woo Akbar to help only them, and in the midst of all this chaos is the jailer of the prison, Constantine D’Souza, Akbar’s confidante and friend. Will Akbar forget his past mistreatment and help the authorities? Can he use his long-forgotten investigative skills to find the American? What is Constantine’s role in all of this?
Hamid has brilliantly described the city of Karachi, in all its beauty and ugliness; not only the by-lanes, crowded markets, road-side kebabs, but also the corruption, politics, mafia, kidnappings and prostitution. I am not very familiar with the history of Karachi, but if Hamid’s descriptions are even remotely true, I wouldn’t like to find myself in that place. Two events in the book, though, are conspicuously similar to real life events – the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl and the assassination of Murtaza Bhutto, Benazir’s brother.
I am void of superlatives to describe the depiction of super cop, Akbar Khan, and Omar Shahid Hamid’s writing style. The delicate use of Urdu in the dialogues makes the narration all the more realistic. With vivid portrayals of the corrupt law & order systems, barbarism of the ward bosses, doings of the madrasas, and the crumbling political structure, this book is sure to take you on a thrilling and gutsy jaunt.
I’ve added ‘The Prisoner’ to my recommended reading list, and so should you.