A former major in the Indian Army finds himself on a terrorist’s kill list in Dhar’s (03:02, 2016, etc.) thriller, the first in a planned series.
Facilities manager Aaditya “Aadi” Ghosh’s first date in Mumbai with co-worker Zoya Khan takes a shocking turn when the two see a man shot dead by a sniper. Aadi recognizes the shot as high-caliber and tracks its likely origin but only manages to take out the man that he believes was a lookout—the sniper gets away. This makes Aadi a hero in the press but also dredges up his past as a member of the Para, an Indian Army special-forces unit. The Paras have been under investigation for the deaths of children at a cross-border raid, and Aadi has been lying low for the last three years. It turns out that the murdered man was on a terrorist kill list, which someone brazenly posted online. Aadi’s name is a later inclusion, and he fears that this fact will put his loved ones—including Zoya, who wastes little time in confessing her love—in harm’s way. Aadi is soon face to face with his would-be killers, but a surprising double cross may force him to trust a very dangerous person. Dhar masterfully captures the political tensions between India and Pakistan; for example, some Indians want to blame the initial assassination on Pakistan despite the fact that Aadi heard the lookout speak Pashto, which would likely make him Afghani. The capable Aadi is a fairly traditional literary hero—a hardened former officer who’s numb to killing. But Dhar refines his protagonist by adding a sense of vulnerability: “my heart was beating much faster than usual as I swung the door open, painfully conscious of how conspicuous a target I’d be to anyone hiding inside.” Although there are a number of action sequences, the story is more invested in plot twists, such as the reason why Aadi wound up on the list.
A taut thriller that refreshingly departs from genre norms with its multilayered protagonist and South Asian setting.