Ahmad debuts with a fast-paced literary thriller, shifting action from the desolate ice-clad Siachen glacier separating India and Pakistan to the posh environs of Martha’s Vineyard.
Ranjit Singh is a Sikh, once an Indian army captain, a frontier war veteran. Ranjit was involved in a friendly fire incident and imprisoned. Upon release, he knew his life was in danger from a corrupt general. With his wife and daughter, Ranjit sought refuge in America. His wife’s uncle, a Boston grocery store owner, financed their flight, but Ranjit chafed under the uncle’s patronizing attitude and demands for cheap labor. Ranjit moves his family to Martha’s Vineyard and struggles with a landscaping business. As winter arrives and work disappears, Anna Neals, young second wife of a Massachusetts’ senator, the nation’s longest serving African-American legislator, asks Ranjit to work as a caretaker for the Neals’ vacation home. Her request seems innocuous, but Anna is an emotionally damaged woman. The story unfolds in the present, with flashbacks to the mission that cost Ranjit his military career, often in the form of hallucinations in which Ranjit’s loyal sergeant appears. Trapped between lack of money and his wife’s depression and loneliness, Ranjit temporarily shelters his family in the senator’s island house, the first step in an inexorable spiral into personal chaos. Their trespass is discovered when two men break in searching for computer records that could wreck the senator’s political career. The action shifts to Boston and then back to Martha’s Vineyard, with hairbreadth chases and violent confrontations. The operatives arrest Ranjit’s wife and daughter as illegal immigrants and then threaten deportation, attempting to extort the computer records from Ranjit. Ahmad writes with intimate familiarity of Boston, Martha’s Vineyard, and the Sikhs and their culture, but his best work comes in his characterizations of the ambitious senator, caught up in Indian and Pakistani duplicity and North Korean chicanery; Anna, the grieving and lonely wife; and the Singh family’s stumbling through the swamp of cultural discordance.
Top-notch effort in the first of a promising trilogy.