256pp, Rs 299; HarperCollins
Writers of bestselling fiction have often based their novels on terrorism. Frequently in the contemporary spotlight, the theme attracts many readers of edge-of-the-seat fiction. Even former American president Bill Clinton appeared to acknowledge the popularity of such novels in The President is Missing, his collaborative effort with storyteller James Patterson. The President is Missing focussed on cyber-terrorism and the efforts of a heroic president who disappears from the White House to thwart the danger. The novel found many readers worldwide, which surprised nobody.
S Hussain Zaidi’s protagonist in Eleventh Hour is not a larger-than-life head of a nation. He is a Superintendent of Police named Vikrant Singh who survived the 26/11 attack on Mumbai nine years before the action in this novel. The cop, who harbours deep rage, slaps the High Commissioner of Pakistan when he meets him at an event. The act results in suspension, but he is unofficially asked to assist a team tracking terrorists.
After this dramatic beginning, the author takes his time in unveiling plot points. In a significant episode, five members of the Indian Mujahideen escape from the Central Jail in Bhopal. In another subplot, a cruise liner from Mumbai to Lakshadweep gets hijacked. Beleaguered passengers wonder if they will survive. The Somali hijackers seem too well-built and well-fed to be pirates. Who are they, and what is going on?
The cruise liner is a puzzle. Nobody seems to have a clue about the hijackers’ background and motivation, while the author’s focus on a few passengers suggests that they have an identity beyond the obvious. Among them is Vaishali, a charming young lady, who enjoys the company of an old man named Hakimi before falling for Daniel Fernando. A mysterious man is the team leader of the hijackers who have sophisticated weapons, thus revealing their preparedness.
Zaidi does not walk down the predictable path of tracking the movements of his protagonist throughout the novel. Vikrant disappears for several pages at a time, and other characters who dominate in their respective subplots take over. A mystery-enhancing ploy, it keeps the reader interested.
Terrorism takes centre stage in Eleventh Hour but the plot isn’t crammed with mindless killings and blasts. A shootout leads to the death of two policemen. Later, some more lives are lost. What makes the novel gripping is, however, the expectation of the unexpected. The plot twists and turns as the climax comes closer. Diehard fans of the genre are likely to be surprised by the final revelation.
S Hussain Zaidi
(Courtesy Harper Collins)
Most thrillers have set pieces and tropes. This one does too: escaped terrorists armed with assault rifles and grenades; a hijacked cruise liner with passengers, who have interesting back stories; a cop protagonist who participates in a manhunt. Then, there is a stash of RDX known as Cache ’93, which had apparently remained unused during 26.11 and has been concealed somewhere. While one can understand the presence of an RDX angle, what is missing is an in-depth explanation of the importance of Lakshadweep. Had the author included a few detailed paragraphs on it, reading the book would have been a lot more satisfying.
“Success will always come, even if it is at the eleventh hour,” one of the characters says. The obviousness of good’s triumph over evil notwithstanding, the plot reveals the understanding of the author who has been at the forefront of crime and terror reporting for a long time.
A few of S Hussain Zaidi’s books have been adapted for the big screen. Black Friday, a fine work of non-fiction, was made into a film by Anurag Kashyap. Sanjay Gupta’s Shootout at Wadala was based on Dongri to Dubai, and Kabir Khan’s Phantom was based on Mumbai Avengers.
Eleventh Hour is tailor-made for Bollywood. The story has all the elements that make filmgoers gravitate to the theatres. Reading it isn’t a waste of time either. A good option for thriller fans, Eleventh Hour starts dramatically and ends quickly.
First Published: Sep 28, 2018 20:10 IST