07 February 2011

Hickory Dickory Shock by Sundip Gorai

Superpower supercrime
This book is a murder mystery set in a software company. Since it’s written by a Business Intelligence and Analytics wiz, the plot is complicated and has any number of enjoyable twists and surprises. But Sundip Gorai writes simply and directly, and with frequent spurts of mildly giddy-headed humour which gave me the feeling that he was really enjoying himself. I have to regretfully point out that the idiom here is slightly below par – and for this I would blame the publisher’s editors for not doing a proper job.
As I read, a few things bothered me and I mailed Sundip Gorai with questions and I have reproduced our email conversation below – in tact, so as to give a sense of the idiom in the book – relaxed and easy, but fundamentally faulty.

Why did you use a cliché like Shivan when you have such strong, original characters and plot?

I believed that for a reader, at the point of purchase, the front and the back cover play a crucial role in deciding whether to buy or not to buy a book. This is especially true for a book whose name is not known to the reader – though my book is published by Rupa & Co, till the book was published, I was an unknown entity in the world of writing. I consciously used SHIVAN Computers as the name of the mega enterprise where the story is set so that readers can easily identify it with an IT scam and would be egged to read more. I believed that on reading the story synopsis the reader would peruse the table of contents which would egg them to read the first chapter, which in turn would make them buy the book. With the first print sold out I think the marketing strategy is working well. On a side note, the name was suggested by SHIVAN Mittal, my friend’s nephew.

What do you see in common with your book and Da Vinci Code?
The protagonists in Da Vinci Code are in trail of the Holy Grail, whereas in my book the protagonists are after a cutting edge software invention (called LoRD) that has been stolen. In both the books the lead characters are chasing cryptic clues, albeit of very different kind – my cryptic codes and clues are laced around Indian history and Indian heritage monuments, beyond this, the stories are very different.
I had to do a lot of research to formulate the cryptic codes - the book uses anagrams, substitution ciphers, math puzzles, Vedic math concepts and more. I would like to mention here that Edgar Allan Poe, Dan Brown, Umberto Eco, Dorothy Sayers , and Conan Doyle have had a significant influence in fashioning the cryptic codes in HICKORY DICKORY SHOCK!
Da Vinci Code is set against the backdrop of the one of the most controversial questions of Christianity –Christ’s bloodline, whereas my book is set around one of the most controversial scams in the history of computing – a billion dollar IT scam. My story has other subplots that are of a different kind, namely intriguing vanishing culprits, strange math puzzles inspired by Vedic math, LoRD – the cutting edge invention that has been sabotaged and stolen, LoRD’s accounting books that are used to perpetuate the crime, and LoRD’s software code that hold the fraudulent data related to the accounting fraud.

How much of the background of your book is based in reality – I mean floundering projects, mindless HR and so on?
The book brings out many triumphs and tribulations of the Indian IT Industry .The story draws a lot from my personal experience but characters are given shades of grey with the primary intent of storytelling – the book does not intent to preach that all people doing a certain kind of job in IT company are necessarily corrupt.

And how much is based in research (ciphers, American history and stuff like that) – or is this just stuff that you have always been interested in or came across by chance?
I have been an active participant in quiz programs during my school days and have always been the lookout for interesting trivia on almost anything. Over the last four five years, I had analyzed hundreds of plot devices which could form the core of my story. After a lot of deliberation I settled on eight or nine standard tricks used to craft a detective story. I also had to use anagram solvers, code programs to create some of the clues in the book. (A teaser for those who are yet to read the book - “BIG HAT VANISHED GAVE DATA” is an anagram. Can you crack it?) The research that went in the book, namely, ciphers, codes around Indian historic monuments, interesting trivia around mathematics, and world culture, required a scouting various sources. I have been fortunate to get support from Barry Perlus - art historian at Cornell University, Sam Loyd’s museum, Atlanta Fulton County libraries, and my learning from the seminal Indian historical and spiritual texts.

What are you working on now?
Given a demanding day job I did most of my writing on weekends, late nights, flights, airports, and hotels. I am planning to give writing a break for some time, though there are requests coming in for commissioning screenplays. I have a very interesting story in my head - a conspiracy theory related to a great modern day Indian invention, Invention of an airplane by an Indian (this is a true fact – this happened before the Wright brothers invented the plane), Hitler’s obsession with the Aryan race and the related expedition he sent to India, the myth surrounding modern day religions, UFOs and more – hopefully, someday this story will becomes a reality , either as a novel or a screenplay.

When I started reading this book I was thoroughly charmed by the description of the hero, Tuten, the explanation of why he had a name like Tuten, and the stark fact that even someone graduating from IIT cannot be guaranteed a campus placement – in a world where so many B and C grade institutes blithely assure their applicants of “cent-per-cent placement”.
As it progressed, I found my attention lag. The book is similar to Da Vinci Code – but I must say I felt sorry that Sundip does not have the compelling style of Dan Brown, which you just can’t stop reading even though his language is so cheesy. By the time I reached the end, I couldn’t help admiring all the thought that had gone into the book and the fact that, with all its layers and flourishes, it was a real murder mystery with a proper surprise ending. What I liked most about this book, however, is its setting. Sundip has done a great job of showing us what a software company is really like from the inside. Even though his reply to my pointed question was rather diplomatic, I did find many of his characters and situations familiar, and I’m sure people outside the prestigious industry will be interested to read how its Projects, Sales and HR actually function.

1 comment:

  1. I liked your way of revewing not leaving everything to one's imagination.Good to see that you have sought answers from the author which deciphers the author's view point and helps to get the context.