After College or University many people will choose to travel for a year before embarking on the drudge of 9 to 5. During this period they will enrich their experiences of new cultures and broaden their outlook on life. Or they will end up broke and ill in some grim country with only boiled rice and a sense of quiet indignation to feast upon. Travelling is not for me. In fact, getting me out of the country is no easy task as I'm just too lazy to go somewhere that I can not understand the language. This 'Little Britain' attitude is not what put the Great in Great Britain, but it went someway to helping. Novels like 'Paperback Raita' are fun for me to read once in a while, as they support my view of what would happen if I ever travelled.
Josh is a drop out of the most heinous kind. He is an intelligent young man who was brought up in a privileged household, rather than using his good start in life for good, he decides to travel around India and take copious amounts of drugs. Several years later and Josh is still in India, living in an awful hostel and living day by day. Desperate times call for desperate measures and when Josh stumbles across some gossip he puts two and two together, to make a crime caper. Supposedly a top Bollywood actor is also a leading drug dealer. With the help of his own Bollywood pal, and a new woman in his life, Josh plans to rip off the dealer for his drugs, money and diamonds!
A lot of books sell themselves on being a particular genre; 'Paperback' is not one of these books. This is a story that is on the surface a crime novel, but also has liberal amounts of humour and more than its fair share of travelogue elements. It appears that the book is a reflection of author Will Rhode's own life experience, with some added crime caper escapades. In terms of the comedy the book holds up. I found the way that Josh stumbled from situation to situation was great fun to read and his crass personality suited a comedy style book. Arguably, it is the travelogue elements of the book that come out the strongest. Rhode has a clear image of India in his mind and through the vehicle of fiction he is able to explore the twin worlds or the rich and poor. His dark humour comes through on every page when our protagonists hunt for money in dirt poor areas.
With the travel sections and the humour holding up, it is only the crime story that lets the book down. For the first three quarters of the book the crime is merely a plan that is forming in Josh's mind. As much as anything Rhode uses the planning of the heist as a way of getting Josh into situations that are either amusing or reflect on India. When the book does finally turn into a full on crime thriller, it falls apart quickly. The intelligent subtleties and wry observations are thrown out of the window in favour of quick action and brainless thrills. The reveal is too obvious as the cast is not big enough for you not to work out what is going on.
Where Rhode does succeed is in making an unsympathetic character likable. Josh spends the entire book being selfish; either trying to make himself money, or to get into bed with a girl. However, by using a series of intelligent flashbacks that highlight important moments in Josh's life, you get a better understanding of what his motives are. You become aware that although he appears shallow and vain, there are actually hidden depths. Making someone like Josh readable is no easy skill so Rhodes should be commended, however, he does not manage to flesh out any other character to the same standard.
'Paperback Raita' reads like Rhode is a journalist or travelogue writer who has created a book that he is comfortable with and then tried to squeeze in a crime storyline. With this in mind the sections about India itself shine, but the core story element falters. It appears at times that the central premise of the story is the least important aspect, and although this does not stop the book from being amusing, it does stop it from flowing as well as it should.
Author: Will Rhodes
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