Sunday, April 8, 2012

Book Review: Haunted by Douglas Misquita

Plot Points:
  • Fight staged in darkness in a scrap yard in a thunder shower - check
  • Theft from a top security lab of a nerve agent that could potentially kill millions - check
  • No-holds barred gunfight in a warehouse - check
  • High-speed car chase on a freeway - check
  • Assassins turning up at residential complexes and shooting random people - check
  • Underwater action scenes - check
  • Yachts and ships blown up - check
  • Organized crime - check
  • Drugs - check
  • Terrorism - check
  • Conspiracies - check
  • Double-crossing - check
  • Multiple nations and locations - check
  • Psychologically scarred special agent relentlessly pursuing crime - check
  • Intrepid police detective with plucky rookie partner - check
  • Attractive daughter of a victim trying to find her father's killers - check
  • Multiple friends/colleagues of the above who get killed - check
  • Megalomaniac business tycoon who is actually a criminal mastermind and who feeds his enemies/out-of-favor acolytes to his pet shark - check
  • Smooth, dangerous, cold-blooded terrorist - check
  • Scientist who has been blackmailed into helping the terrorist - check
Take some staple Hollywood action movies. From these take the most typical high-octane action scenes, provide the usual crime + drugs + terrorism background. Populate this with the stereotypical characters and character tics. String them together into some sort of a plot  and now instead of making it into yet another movie script, write it all into a book.

That should summarize Douglas Misquita's Haunted for you.

FBI Special Agent Kirk Ingram's life is shot to smithereens when his wife and daughter are brutally murdered before his eyes (in a scrap yard, in darkness with rain pouring down relentlessly). Psychologically devastated, Ingram seeks redemption from that horror night by relentlessly pursuing and destroying any organized crime. Meanwhile an international business partners itself with organized crime and terror networks - forming a lethal mix that would threaten nations. Ingram, while waging his personal war with the demons of his past, finds himself involved in this global terror war.

That is the bare bones story/plot of Misquita's action thriller. One doesn't pick-up an action-thriller expecting a great or new storyline. Nor does one expect to be moved. The action-thriller aims to take the readers on an exciting ride and uses action and guns, fights and explosions to provide the thrill. We piggy-back on Ingram, and a few other characters, while they fight or become victims of the latest threat to "our way of life." If you look upon Haunted as yet another typical representative of the action-thriller genre, Misquita manages to check against all the right boxes. It is when you realize that the author is an Indian that you realize what Misquita has achieved (or based on your perspective, "derived" from the movies). Haunted is "global" in terms of setting and locales. Most of the action happens in Los Angeles and the characters are all Americans, Europeans, and from the Middle-East. The descriptions and the "ethos" of the book are western. Nothing of India seeps into the book  and I don't view that as necessarily a bad thing. The author has probably stayed true to all his influences (and most of us have grown up consuming American culture and media) and was able to re-imagine them sufficiently to string a novel together.

However when you look at the above, you also realize the limitations of Douglas Misquita's Haunted. Everything in the story feels derived and twice removed from both the author's and thus the readers' experience. When you look at the derivative nature of Haunted, you realize why the book is populated with so many Hollywood/American clichés and stereotypes. Everything   right from the plot to the characters, from the locations to the set pieces, feels as if it is from second-hand experience. All of it born from watching many a Hollywood movie and reading many a Maclean, or a Lee Child, or a Patterson. Remember how at different stages of growing up you thought you could do another Enid Blyton story or write like Wodehouse? Misquita's Haunted, filled with its stock scenes and stock characters and stock plot points, gives you a similar feeling   of an author who tried a genre exercise based on what he consumed second-hand. It is perhaps the reason why you feel no emotional connect or investment in any of the characters. For an action thriller to be successful, it is necessary that the readers care about what happens to the protagonists.

Which is a pity.

Misquita comes across as a capable story-teller (and going by the average stuff you see on shelves these days) with a fairly competent command over the language. I would even say that derivative as Haunted might be, it still showcases a writer who can skillfully mix the ingredients to achieve a story he desires. It will be interesting to speculate and see what Douglas Misquita could achieve if he were to channelize his influences to write a story that is more rooted in his experiences and his reality. I wouldn't mind reading another book from this author if he manages to do that.

Note: Thanks to Douglas Misquita for a review copy of Haunted.

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