In Sabharwal’s debut romantic thriller, a 30-something South African journalist travels to Delhi, falls for a mysterious charmer and inadvertently becomes a pawn in a secret mission to uncover a sinister underworld of human trafficking and international crime.
Seeking to surprise her estranged, war-reporter husband, Carla arrives at Andrew’s hotel room in Peshawar only to find him in a compromised position with a female co-worker. Reeling, she takes refuge in the Delhi home of her best friend, Elouise, an expatriate who’s settled in India with her wealthy husband, Harry, and their two children. As a distraction from her heartache, Carla, known for her exotic beauty, easily immerses herself in Elouise’s daily life of leisure, elite parties and full-time servants. While out on a tourist jaunt, Carla’s fate, as well as the novel, takes a dark turn when she’s kidnapped, drugged and nearly sold into sexual slavery. Just in time, George, an acquaintance with a shadowy reputation and no shortage of sex appeal, comes to the rescue. He reveals his true mission to her as part of an operation to catch those at the helm of this seedy venture. For her part, Carla agrees to spy on Harry, whom George believes to be involved somehow. Soon after Carla gives in to her desire for George, her husband appears and begs for forgiveness. She’s left in utter confusion, which is only magnified when Andrew and his aforementioned co-worker put George’s motives and true identity into question. The narrator’s breezy tone and the characters’ indulgence in frivolity contrast appealingly, if oddly, with the novel’s darker depictions, as of the place where young women are subdued with forced drug use and then preened like living dolls and sold to the highest bidder. The detailed accounts of criminal activity, apparently researched by the author, seem to belong to a story not wholly unearthed here, though admittedly, it would be difficult to fully serve these nonfictional elements without overpowering the interpersonal dynamics, which ultimately drive the narrative.
A swift pace will keep readers hooked as the timely, intriguing plot unravels.