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Book Review: Jacob Hills by Ismita Tandon Dhankher

Title: Jacob Hills
Author: Ismita Tandon Dhankher
Paperback: 259 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins (May 2013)
Genre: Murder Mystery
Read: Paperback
Stars: ***/5
Buy On: FlipKart
Summary: (Goodreads)

It’s just another evening at the Tiller’s Club.

Near the bar, Capt. Rana, the Young Officer undergoing training at the War College stands among his course mates, consciously avoiding his pregnant, Muslim wife, Heena. Rumour has it she had forced him to marry her because of the baby.
Saryu, village belle turned modern babe, drink in hand, chats up a YO. Her husband, Maj. Vikram Singh, shoots angry glances at her. She isn’t bothered; the question is, who will she go home with tonight?
Pam and Gary, the flamboyant Sikh couple, chat merrily with the senior officers, charming as ever. Who’d ever guess that they lead the infamous Key Club, an underground swinger couples’ club.
And in one corner stands the Anglo-Indian wife of Maj. George Chandy, Eva, who finds herself at the heart of a murder mystery when a woman’s bleeding body is discovered at the old church under the black cross. The murdered woman’s body is covered with cigarette burns. A six-year-old girl’s wrist is similarly marked. Another little girl shows signs of severe abuse.

Jacob Hills: an army station that houses the War College where young officers receive training. A world of army officers and genteel conversation, of smart men and graceful women. Set in the 1980s – in an India that was at the cusp of tradition and Westernized modernity – this is the story of the ugliness that lies beneath the garb ofJacob Hills’s beauty and sophistication. An ugliness the Chandys find themselves confronted with. Will they uncover the truth behind the woman’s murder? Will their love survive Jacob Hills?

My Review:

Thanks Ismita for offering me your book to read and review :)

Cover: Bright, eye-catchy and a bit gaudy!

Paper and font: Smell-worthy!

Readability, language: : Easy on the eyes!

Why did I choose this book: Army life has always fascinated me but I’ve never read a book about it.

A woman is found murdered with cigarette burns on her body in Jacob Hills. Eva, who has moved here with her husband Maj. George Chandy, finds that Jacob Hills is not what it seems, the army station has a lot of undercurrents with much happening under the surface.
As Eva tries to solve the murder of the woman she found bleeding in the church, she uncovers some dark secrets of the residents – abnormalities in the ordered life of an army station.

Filled with the colours of sunset in the hills the cover is bright, eye catchy and a bit gaudy, but the name made me stop and relook at the book. The blurb is a good snapshot of what to expect and supports the title with a clear pointer to the army station at Jacob Hills.

People and the TV had created this image in my mind of an army station. A place filled with class, finesse and style. Jacob Hills was an insight into what happens behind the glossy veneer of army life. The infallible men are just as human and crass as everyone else.
The story is about a lot of things – a young couple, an abusive man, wife swapping, sexual favours and more. Eva who is a new army wife finds her way around in the army life of Jacob Hills discovering well hidden secrets. Ismita has woven a good plot that kept me reading right to the end.

The book is set in 1980’s India, a time when things were changing and there was a lot of tussle between the old and new schools of thought. Ismita explores the conflicts and emotions of people during that time.
Though there isn’t much place description in Jacob Hills except where needed. It gets balanced by the in-depth descriptions of people and society in the 80’s.

Jacob Hills has quite a few characters telling the story and it took me a while to figure out and remember who was talking and who was who. Though seeing the story through a characters eyes was insightful, I would have preferred fewer characters narrating. It did confuse me.

The story starts out with murder that is followed by instances of abuse, scandal and suicide. There were a lot incidents that I felt would tie up to the main crime but they worked out into different sub-plots in the last part of the book. Though there were no loose ends and each thread was neatly tied up, I was a bit disappointed. The murderer did not make an appearance until the end and Ishmita took me on a wild goose chase though the book. There should have been more of the main murder I think, and less distraction and dilution with irrelevant seperate incidents.

The story is interesting and written well. It seems clear from the story that Ismita has an army background and knows the life well, else she has done her research :)

Jacob Hills is an easy read, though I felt it was more of an insight into army station life than a murder mystery. That said, it is still a book worth reading, and you should check it out.

About the Author:
There isn’t much known about Ismita, but here’s what I found out. Ismita had studied in Sophia College, Ajmer before doing her MBA and working with the foreigh exchange division of Thomas Cook for a short time. She now writes books and poetry full-time. Other than Jacob Hills, Ismita has also written a romatic thriller ‘Love on the Rocks’ in 2011. She blogs her poetry at www.lesserknownpoet.com.

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