I decided to go on a hunt for new thrillers. By chance when looking them up, I found Line of Control by Mainak Dhar, where after coups in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, they ally to reheat the conflict with India. This was an Indian technothriller. I was intrigued.
Dhar has read his classics, and it shows. After a few chapters, the structure is very clear to anyone who’s read Clancy, Bond, or the like. I was reminded more of Larry Bond than anyone else. I think it was because Dhar, unlike more specialized authors, went all the way from infantry to air and naval crews to spies to leaders.
Although I will say this- in one very crucial way, Dhar manages better than Bond. Much better.
Of course, with the classic inspiration comes the classic drawback. Sometimes, especially in air-to-air combat, the listing of exact numbers and ranges gets a little too high. It isn’t the absolute worst, and it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the novel as a whole, but it’s there and it grated a little.
One silver lining is how the setting of the book allows for considerable novelty in terms of equipment without being contrived in the least. The protagonists are using largely Soviet/Russian systems, while the antagonists are using mainly American ones, with F-15s as their secret techno-weapons.
I didn’t really feel that much “zombie sorceress” contrivance in the book. It existed, but never truly beyond the norm for the technothriller genre as a whole. When one of the biggest issues apart from the belligerency of the antagonists (which is part and parcel of the whole genre) is “they found enough irregulars to launch a corps-sized conventional attack”, it’s pretty good.
A lot of it I think has to do with the setting. When you have two real-world enemies that are much closer in power as-is, I don’t think you need nearly the amount of contrivances or “equalizers” that occur in a post-1991 technothriller with the US as the protagonist country.
And then there’s dealing with the nuclear weapons. But that’s done in a literary way that made me excuse anything.
On one hand, this has the usual thriller tropes. It has lots of viewpoint characters, perhaps a few too many. It has lots of subplots, bouncing around a little too much. The characters are stock thriller ones.
And yet, it never felt like Dhar put a character in without a purpose he intended for them. There may have been a few too many subplots, but there’s just enough characters to fill those plots without being excessive. Furthermore, Dhar handled a very, very difficult issue for technothrillers in an effective way.
Dhar takes the “stop the nukes” plot and makes it the final climax of the book. He doesn’t brush past them with a handwave. And he doesn’t do what Larry Bond did in Cauldron and just remove them with a super-counterforce strike early in the book. There’s the conventional battle and then the fear of escalation. While I could nitpick the plausiblity of how it played out, it worked in literary terms.
The Only Score That Really Matters
I liked this book. It has infodumps, conference room infodumps, a buildup to something you know is going to happen, and other faults of the genre. But it also has the strengths of it, handles some elements very well, and has a setting that’s novel to a filthy Yankee like me.
I recommend it.