Title : THE TOWER OF SILENCE
Language : English
Author : Phiroshaw Jamsetjee Chevalier
Editor : Gyan Prakash
Genre : Fiction/Mystery
Publisher : HarperCollins ( 2013 )
ISBN-13 : 9789350296370
ISBN-10 : 9350296373
Binding : Binding Paperback
Price : Rs. 299 ( Buy from Flipkart.com for Rs. 275/- ( 8% Off )
Pages : 240
The Book Summary : A long-lost Sexton Blake mystery, 1920s detective fiction at its best
Historian Gyan Prakash of Princeton University stumbled upon part of the unpublished manuscript of Tower of Silence by Phiroshaw Jamsetjee Chevalier (or Chaiwala, as he called himself) in the British Library. After scouring several Mumbai libraries, he found the missing pages. It is a thrilling tale that begins on a blistering April afternoon in Poona with the click of a camera shutter. An aerial photograph is taken from a small aircraft flying directly over the Tower of Silence. The Zorastrian community is thrown into turmoil and horrified grief at this heinous act.
Beram, a suave wealthy man who drives around in a Rolls Royce but is a devout Parsi, decides to exact revenge. Thus begins a sensational cat-and-mouse game between Beram and Sexton Blake, Englands most famous detective.
My Point of View ( P.O.V ) : The cover of the book will remind you of some old classic, as it is designed in that manner, instead of the regular books that we get to see these days. It has an image of an old vintage jeep which is very prominent in the background. The book is set in the colonial times, hence, the cover is just aptly suited.
The start of the book is quite unusual for a detective novel ( or maybe perfect too ), because in this book the original author ( i.e Phiroshaw Jamsetjee Chevalier 'Chaiwala' ) himself, had gone missing, leaving behind an incomplete manuscript written by him way back in 1927. Gyan Prakash the editor, had chanced upon it by accident, but the book ended abruptly on page 169, which left him frustrated and motivated as well to hunt and find the rest of it. It led him on a trail which he followed zealously, to various searches across many libraries ( both British as well as Indian ), and in due course, came across interesting facets and the real identity of the author. The first part of the book is a mini detective story in itself, of searching for the missing author.
His hunt led him to the Secretariat Library, which is part of the Asiatic building. There were two entries of a certain 'Chaiwala', but though the book, ( along with another book of verse by same author ) was listed, it could not be located anywhere on the library shelves. The peon of the library, then asked him to write the name of the book on a piece of paper, and within a few minutes he came back with the complete manuscript.
After he gets the full manuscript the story moves fast, fluctuating between the detective and the criminal. The narration of the book is from a third party p.o.v. It is good in one way, that we get to know view points from different characters/angles, but in some ways, it also somewhat loses its intensity/flow.
One important feature of the book is that, it shows the interesting aspects of the Parsi way of life. Their culture, their religion ( i.e worship of Fire ), their beliefs ( of purity ), their practices of the same ( some of them being quite weird and fanatic too ), what they do with their dead - which is really a unique practice in itself. They have the holy-tower ( i.e tower of silence ), where they leave their dead for the vultures to eat. Some Englishmen snoops around the closely guarded prohibited place, and clicks pictures of the well ( from above, in a helicopter that moves dangerously close to the tower-well, situated in Poona ) and also publishes those pictures ( of dead bodies/bones ) in a newspaper, thus severely violating the Parsi sensibilities. This in turn, infuriates the entire Parsi community. For the parsis, it is the most gravest of crimes i.e to desecrate their dead or their final resting place.
The rich and pious parsi protagonist ( Beram ) of the book, then seeks revenge for this heinous act. But, there is also the famous detective Saxon, from England, who just might spoil his plans. Thus starts, a nice cat and mouse chase between the two of them, outdoing each other, with the story halting at many places from England to Burma. I loved the climax too, because many times throughout the story you wonder, how the chase would ultimately end. Beram is a cool, well sketched character to watch out for, and it is very interesting to read about his master-plan a.k.a 'modus operandi' - his disguises, deceptions etc ( what all he does to achieve his mission ), including his deadly tools ( i.e poison ) for the final act, that he intends to use. And the detective is no less either. From his side, he does everything he can to stop Beram, and save his country-men ( the photographer and helicopter pilot ). He uses his own network of intelligence very diligently, for this purpose. You can't help but like them both, and maybe, cheer them both too. I thoroughly enjoyed the book.
Positives : A very unusual plot, it is fast paced, easy, well written and a very absorbing book. Not like the usual detective stories that we come across in the market. It definitely makes for a unique piece of reading. The books uses old terms like 'Bombay' instead of 'Mumbai', so that does make you feel a bit nostalgic. Once you start reading, you won't be able to put it down, unless you've finished it. It is a story that will be interesting to watch as a movie as well. Highly recommended.
Negatives : None much, except perhaps at some places ( esp towards the end ) it is a bit jumpy and could do with a little re-edit.
Who will enjoy this? - Everyone!
Buy or Don’t Buy? – A Must Buy!
About the Author : Gyan Prakash is the Dayton-Stockton professor of history at Princeton University. He is the author of several books, including the acclaimed Mumbai Fables ( HarperCollins, 2010 ).
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