Peace between Israel and Palestine hinges on a secret conference to be held in India in just ten short days. Ravinder Gill, a hyper-competent security agent who hates the political games you have to play to rise higher in government, has been put in charge of securing the event. He has no lead time, a meddling superior, an incompetent but politically connected lackey constantly trying to go over his head, and a long-lost daughter from his first marriage who has only recently reappeared in his life. Who appears to have some ties to MI6. Whose mother and uncles were all Palestinian extremists. Who just might be the woman spearheading the expected terror attack on the Peace Summit.
Weapon of Vengeance author Mukul Deva, an Indian counterterrorism professional, has imbued this book with a lot of specificity that helps sell some of its more outlandish elements. There has been a lot of press surrounding the book highlighting its technical specificity – the tactics, the weapons, the bureaucracy – and that will definitely help it stand out. But I also appreciated its cultural specificity. Weapon of Vengeance tackles terrorism and the Middle East from an Indian perspective, and whether Deva is talking about the way marriage works among Indians of royal descent or the dangers of working security in an environment like this, the book manages to feel considerably different from similarly-themed British and American thrillers.
But Deva is not a writer by trade, and it shows. The plot is incredibly thin, which hampers a bit of the ‘thrill’ you’d expect from a thriller – everything plays pretty much straight, with every lead taking Ravinder in the right direction and every decision further damning would-be terrorist Ruby. The female characters are pretty roundly awful – Ruby is a nervous extremist constantly pining for daddy to hold her, her mother is shrill and deceitful, and the American CIA agent is almost staggeringly incompetent, too busy preening for the attention of her hunky British counterpart to notice when she literally stumbles into the middle of an active terror plot. And Ravinder is idealized to an absurd degree; no character is more competent, more morally pure, smarter, or quicker, all of which takes a little bit of the wind out of the sails here.
Authenticity is nice, but it has to be paired with solid, basic storytelling in order to be effective (see: The Battle of Algiers), and that’s where Weapon of Vengeance falls perilously flat. There is a lot of neat cultural specificity that lends the book a considerable charm, and the detailed nature of the thriller plot (when the thriller plot is actually doing anything) will likely win over strategy-nuts, but there are far, far better terrorism thrillers available. A far-too-thin plot and a gaggle of spectacularly insipid female characters mar an otherwise interesting (and incredibly timely!) thriller with a decent hook and enough emotional realism to help offset the expected genre conventions.
Cal Cleary is a librarian, critic and writer in rural Ohio. You can find more of his work at read/RANT and Comics Crux.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Macmillan. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.