Book Review: When the Snow Melts

Spy thrillers seem to be the flavour of the season. And this time, refreshingly enough, it’s not a James Bond film or a Jason Bourne espionage mission, but it’s here and now. Yes, I’m talking about a true blue desi spy story. The story of our very own, little known, Research and Analysis Wing of the Indian Government. Sound similar? Perhaps like the plot of Ek Tha Tiger? Well, no! With Agent Vinod and Ek Tha Tiger igniting fresh interest in Indian spies, When the Snow Melts is sure to impress you. I have never before read an Indian author delve so deep into the intricacies of the workings of International spy agencies such as RAW, Pakistan’s ISI and the antagonist Taliban. Written by Kerela born Vinod Joseph, When the Snow Melts is a story of ‘a man caught between love, duty and a gruesome death at the hands of his captors.’ Vinod Joseph is a Mumbai based lawyer and part time long distance runner. With this book, he explores an array that very few people have done yet and no matter what verdict it is in the markets, hats off to him for the effort.

The Plot:
When the Snow Melts is the story of an Indian RAW Agent, Ritwik Kumar, who works for the IAG (Intelligence Assessment Group) in London. After having lost large sums of his office money in his compulsive drinking and gambling habits, he defects to the pro-Taliban ISI group in order to avert the loan sharks and his boss, General West, both of whom, have given him a two week deadline to pay back his debts. The story begins with Ritwik leaving his house to meet his contact in the Talibani-ISI. He is led to a safe house, somewhere near the Mile End tube station and soon finds himself to be at the mercy of his handler, Ayub Afridi and Junaid, the al Quaida one-man-army and owner of the safe house. Soon Ritwik finds himself in muck as the ISI operatives don’t find his information valuable enough and suspect him of being a double-agent. As Ritwik is put through endless sessions of torture, he meets and falls in love with Junaid’s burkha clad, beautiful wife, Nilofar. Ritwik is forced to give some vital information that the Taliban is looking for, in order to bring down the righteous wing of the ISI working for the Pakistani Govt. Is Ritwik really a double-agent planted in the Taliban or is he just a defector looking to escape the people he owes money too and what happens when Ayub Afridi finds out that Nilofar had been cheating on Junaid with Ritwik, that I’d rather let the reader find out.

The Verdict:
When the Snow Melts is a refreshing change from the usual stuff we get to read from Indian authors. A spy story is something not many expect to read and the insights into the working of Intelligence agencies works really well with the reader. What strikes me most as odd is the fact that after a brilliantly written prologue, the author suddenly switches to give us a first person account of Ritwik’s experience. With the secretive life that a spy leads and the classified missions that he goes onto, it is peculiar to see a spy give details of his mission with no concrete explanation as to why he should tell this particular story. Also, the story begins to a flying start and expectations are raised very high, but unfortunately little activity happens once Ritwik is living in Junaid’s house. Unlike other spy thrillers, the action is mostly one sided, and indoor, and the adrenaline rush you get in the beginning suddenly dies an inside.

What I liked best about the book was that each character fitted perfectly in the role assigned to them and Joseph describes every person and situation very vividly. Having watched many FBI and crime related TV series, I never felt out of place reading the book. Another plus is that the book does not succumb to the clichés and the situations described are very believable. It’s quite natural that a layman cannot relate to a spy’s life but Joseph does a good job at not letting the reader lose his interest anywhere.

All in all a good read. Recommended mainly because of the freshness it brings to the Indian syle of writing. I would love to read the next one from Joseph too.

My Rating: 2.75/5

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