North from Calcutta
by Duane Evans
(Pecos Moon LLC / 0-981-94540-6 / 978-0-981-94540-8 / May 2009 / 360 pages / $24.95 hardcover / $18.21 Amazon)
Reviewed by Jack Dixon for PODBRAM
A time bomb is ticking. It has been so for centuries, but the ticking has suddenly grown louder. Tension in Kashmir is about to explode in yet one more, perhaps final, international episode.
Tarek Durrani has always been driven toward what he considers to be the greater good. He has met unsought challenges with determination, and successfully balanced his humanity with the brutality of his life. From his early days as an anti-Soviet mujahedeen in Afghanistan, to his current position as an officer of Pakistani intelligence, Durrani has sought only to do that which his conscience can reconcile.
Durrani is a loyal man. His intelligence-gathering mission for the Pakistani government seems, at first, inconsequential. But he begins to suspect that it is part of a larger, more sinister plot to upset the fragile balance of two vehemently opposed two nuclear powers, India and Pakistan. He suspects that he may have become involved in an attempt to precipitate war over the long-contested control of Kashmir.
Durrani’s mission takes him on a journey of espionage and subterfuge, discovery and enlightenment, violence and love. While the dedication and allegiance of men like Durrani may be exploited by the opposing forces of volatile governments, Durrani’s integrity could turn out to be the Achilles’ heel of those who would exploit him.
While this novel neatly fits a long-established spy thriller formula, its setting is fresh and unique. It weaves a timely tale of extremist politics and terrorist plots with the insight of one who knows the field, and purely from the cultural perspectives of the characters involved. I was impressed by the author’s ability to tell the story from an authentically cultural perspective, rather than from a western point of view. I was occasionally distracted by editorial oversights, but on the whole the story is well-structured, and it flows nicely. I especially appreciated the cover art, as it accurately captures the essence of the story. North from Calcutta is a strong offering from a new author; I had to look twice to confirm that this was in fact his first novel.