Thursday, November 7, 2013

#BookReview: Jacob Hills by Ismita Tandon Dhankher

On the jacket: 

An unloved woman is a soft target, anyone can hit her, have her.

It’s just another evening at the Tiller’s Club.

Near the bar, Capt. Rana, the Young Officer undergoing training at the War College stands among his course mates, consciously avoiding his pregnant, Muslim wife, Heena. Rumour has it she had forced him to marry her because of the baby.

Saryu, village belle turned modern babe, drink in hand, chats up a YO. Her husband, Maj. Vikram Singh, shoots angry glances at her. She isn’t bothered; the question is, who will she go home with tonight?

Pam and Gary, the flamboyant Sikh couple, chat merrily with the senior officers, charming as ever. Who’d ever guess that they lead the infamous Key Club, an underground swinger couples’ club.

And in one corner stands the Anglo-Indian wife of Maj. George Chandy, Eva, who finds herself at the heart of a murder mystery when a woman’s bleeding body is discovered at the old church under the black cross. The murdered woman’s body is covered with cigarette burns. A six-year-old girl’s wrist is similarly marked. Another little girl shows signs of severe abuse.

Jacob Hills: an army station that houses the War College where young officers receive training. A world of army officers and genteel conversation, of smart men and graceful women. Set in the 1980s – in an India that was at the cusp of tradition and Westernized modernity – this is the story of the ugliness that lies beneath the garb of Jacob Hills’s beauty and sophistication. An ugliness the Chandys find themselves confronted with. Will they uncover the truth behind the woman’s murder? Will their love survive Jacob Hills?


Over the last 10 days, I read two books revolving around Army wives. While one was fun and bubbly, Jacob Hills is a thriller which make me numb for a few minutes, just imagining the situation. I had heard only good reviews about the book, so when I was buying my stash of books in September, this one invariably found it's place in the list. However, I got around to reading it, just last weekend. The reason I mention when I read it is, because, last weekend was the Diwali weekend and I was interrupted many times while reading this book. But, I was so engrossed and desperately wanted to know the who-dunnit, I even cooked with the book in another hand.

Eva, an anglo-Indian girl from Calcutta, marries George Chandy and then come to live in Jacob Hills where George was to be one of the instructors in the training institute. A whole lot of other characters are introduced Capt. Rana and his wife Heena, who is pregnant and he is forced to marry; Pam and Gary, George's Sikh friends, Maj. Vikram Singh and his village belle wife Saryu, and a whole lot of other people, even children who all play an important role in the story. 

One day, while on a walk around Jacob Hills, Eva finds a bleeding body of a woman, on the roof of a church. With her is another Army officer, Alex. The two of them rush the woman to the hospital as soon as possible and this begins the mystery. The woman dies, and upon check-up doctors find burnt cigarette marks in the insides of her thighs. She was so battered and weak, she couldn't pull through. Also comes to news, a shocking news of a six year old in whose mouth an officer she had never seen, had tried pushing his own tongue inside. Another six year old was brought to the nurse after falling in the playground and investigation revealed, she was bleeding from her privates and not from the fall. She was six, and she had been violated. All this was happening inside the prestigious campus of Jacob Hills which housed the Army college. 

Wife-swapping, something, the Army is infamous for, is also touched. Domestic violence and incest form the backbones of the plot. Every chapter in a narrative by a different character, even the children. Eva and George play sleuth in the book, with help from the top Army officers, in charge of the investigation, of course. Only thing that didn't work for my in the story, and this is my personal handicap, is that I simply cannot fathom the designations in the Army - who is senior and who is a junior!

Jacob Hills  was a brilliant read and the author had visibly matured in her writing from her first book to this. As an reader, I would expect some more gripping thrillers from Dhanker, and also some more publicity for her books. When I was praising the book, I realised, not many people have heard of the title.

Rating: ****.5/5

[This was a personal read.]

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