Destination: Martha’s Vineyard, Boston and the India-Pakistan border
Audio Book: The Caretaker by A. X. Ahmad (NEW Published May 2013 by Minataur Books and on CD by MacMillan Audio)
I visited Martha’s Vinyard briefly during a trip to Boston. We found it charming and so I was delighted to receive from MacMillian Audio CDs of The Caretaker for review. The Caretaker takes place mostly in Martha’s Vineyard. As you know if you’ve read much here, I think mystery books generally make good guides for a traveler, since the mystery writer must pay attention to details of locale.
The further attraction of this mystery thriller was the uncommon (in popular thrillers) nationality of the main character and his experience in a war that Americans are not very familiar with. There are plenty of thrillers out there that revolve around the Middle East–Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran–ho, hum. But A.X. Ahmad talks about undocumented immigrants from–no, not Mexico–from India. And Ranjit Singh learned his strategic thinking and martial skills not in the Special Forces or Navy Seals, but in the Indian army as an expert climber dispatched to protect the northern Indian border with Pakistan.
The book takes us into a world many never dreamed existed–the super rich African Americans who have lived for generations in their enclave on Martha’s Vineyard. Among them is a United States Senator who married the fabulously sexy and wealthy Anna. Singh and his wife and daughter live among the other half on the island–the poor who are scraping together a living with menial jobs.
When he signs on to care for homes in the winter for residents who flee the harsh weather, his ramshackle rented house starts falling apart and he and his family “borrow” the home of the Senator. In flashbacks that are part of episodes of what surely is post traumatic stress syndrome, we begin to see another story unfold–that of why Singh left India in the first place and why he feels safer on Martha’s Vineyard than in Boston.
He becomes entangled in some sort of plot involving the Senator and his top aide and tries to understand what is going on. When the danger reaches fever pitch and threatens his wife and daughter, he returns to the island from Boston where he has fled and meets up again with the alluring Anna. After a plot that moved breathlessly from one narrow escape to another, the wheels fall off in the middle of the book.
Too much waiting around and too many steamy love scenes interrupt the adrenaline rush that was promised by the first part of the book. It is almost as though a Harlequin Romance editor grabbed the book out of the author’s hands and morphed it into heaving breasts and muscular arms. By the time the book gets back on track, I had lost patience.
Had I been reading a print book, I could have flipped through the part I felt was irrelevant, but in order to find out the end of the two major stories (and I was still curious about what happened in the past and what would happen now) I had to plod through the middle. Most of the wind-up is predictable, and I did, indeed predict the fate of several of the characters.
This is a first novel by a writing teacher. What does that mean? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the writing, taken sentence by sentence is well done. The Caretaker is packed with delightfully different characters–rarely a stereotype. The plot, as I indicate, could have used some more revision. But the locale? Although I’m not sure who would really want to visit Martha’s Vineyard in the winter (you might wind up driving off a bridge) but it certainly gave a vivid picture of the landscape and areas of the island that you might not be aware of.
Finally, since I was listening to an audio book, I should mention the reader, Sam Dastor. I can’t imagine having a tougher job for an American male reader than to bring to life so many different characters, including three major females (New England Afro-American, Indian adult and Indian nine-year-old) as well as minor women characters like a Brazilian. Among the men, there were several from India, the sonorous Afro-American senator and a wide range of other types and nationalities. Given the fact it was very difficult, I would give the reader a B-.
However, I couldn’t help but think the book would have been improved by using more than the traditional one reader, and even more improved by reading it on the page, where I could hear the voices in my head and not be thinking–what kind of accent is that supposed to be? Long story short–some books should not be made into audio books to start with.
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