Regional geopolitics, idealism and a gripping storyline define Omar Shahid Hamid’s fifth novel. It is also quite a love story…
Omar Shahid Hamid’s fifth novel is a gripping narrative that will keep you engrossed from the minute you pick it up till you’ve read the last page. This is quite a feat nowadays when we are constantly inundated with content from electronic devices that distracts us from the joy of reading. If the story meanders often, so does one’s attention. Hamid’s book is well paced to the point of reminding one of playing connect the dots.
With this fifth book, there is no doubt that Hamid has become the master of the Pakistani crime thriller. His characters and politics are homegrown and while his locations often go beyond borders, they connect seamlessly with the local story. Unlike some contemporary Pakistani novelists who take pains to explain Pakistan to the other, mostly the West, Hamid sets his fiction in a Pakistan we know, drawing largely on his experiences as a police officer. His settings are authentic and real – especially his gritty Pakistani locales. His local characters don’t need additional commentary to be understood.
Idealism is a singularly consistent quality in Hamid’s books, especially in Betrayal. In this book his main protagonist, Sameer Ali Khan, a highly reputable police officer and the nation’s national security advisor (NSA), is a power figure. His values are old-fashioned, like those of Pakistan’s founding fathers and public servants of the time who were by and large upstanding and impeccably honest. His juxtaposition of right and wrong is consistent throughout the book. Sameer Ali Khan takes high moral ground, maintaining his refined world view, as many people and situations fall apart around him.
Set in modern-day Pakistan, Betrayal is a well-executed espionage novel. It is also a fascinating tale of love between Sameer Ali Khan and an international businesswoman Aleena Farooq. The story begins when the convoy of a high-value target, a Taliban commander, is blown up at Jor, near the Iran-Pakistan border. The masterminds behind the attack are in Langley, Virginia. The operation is carried out with help from a local operative. An Indian spy is arrested and discloses the presence of a mole in the Pakistani establishment. The risk of exposure to this Indian mole in Pakistan becomes of paramount importance to Indian intelligence. At the same time, a young man of North African descent, suspected of being a jihadi, who claims that his mother is an Indian princess, is caught in a Paris suburb.
All this connects to Sameer Ali Khan, Pakistan’s NSA, who is also a tragic figure, having lost his wife and daughter in a bomb attack on his home when he was inspector general of police in Balochistan. Following the Jor attack, the Indians are keeping an eye on him. For his part, the NSA is worried about the Indian spy and the mole, known only as the Deaf Leopard. Enter Constantine D’Souza – a character Hamid has used in his earlier novels, the honest Christian Karachi police officer who is set to lead the hunt for the mole in the Pakistani establishment. The hallmark of the D’Souza character is his ability to see the rot in the system yet remain above the corruption. As the chain of events unfold, Hamid delineates each character with superb detail.
For its emotional impact, the book depends largely on Sameer Ali Khan. His love-interest Aleena is characterised in charming Mills & Boon fashion. A definite suspension of disbelief is required. She stands as the hyperbole of a rich, good-looking Pakistani woman. You have to remind yourself that this is fiction and such things work in imagined spaces. Sameer and Aleena’s romance begins when they bond as teenagers over Omar Khayyam and their common social milieu. It is rekindled 25 years later – for Sameer, she is his lifelong passion, the one he truly loves. When they meet decades later, Sameer is shattered by the loss of his wife and children and Aleena is dispirited. Their reunion is epic and as the story unfolds, the complex ramifications of their relationship keep you riveted.
As the reader connects the dots, the juxtaposition of idealism and cynicism, betrayal and loyalty plays out. The mighty fall and the truthful suffer.
Author: Omar Shahid Hamid
Price: Rs 1,095
The writer is an arts and culture journalist and editor. You can reach her at amnarali.com and @amnarali_official