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There Is No Moral High Ground In The Spy World!

It has been an unfortunately long while since I read an Indian historical fiction – cum – spy thriller. The portrait of a secret is a book that deserves a second and a third reading, and, I daresay, a #Netflix mini series at some point.

Author Tarun Mehrishi has crafted an excellent work of fiction based loosely on real entities and historic (and some not so historical) events.

The Book follows the perpetual tug of war between the Indian intelligence and law enforcement agencies and Pakistan’s intelligence agency and military regime. But the story is far broader in its base, chronicling events spanning over a century and sprawling over India, Pakistan, America, Russia / Soviet Union, Bangladesh and England.

Though not unheard of, this author’s style of non linear storytelling is refreshingly intriguing. At times following the narrative through decades and continents is difficult, but the story deserves the attention needed to follow along. The characters are well established, so even when the identities of double agents or triple agents is hidden at the beginning, it is all tied up well when all parties converge in a compelling and chilling convergance.

The story follows two famous and insanely expensive paintings by Svetoslav Roerich, the real life, well known Russian painter.

As the paintings pass from hand to hand as a gift, stolen artefacts, items for auction and national treasures, the story surrounding them stretches in the geopolitical landscape across the globe in a display of the war between intelligence community and terrorists. The story’s characters have personalities and stories of their own which lends their arcs motivations a tangible, grounded-in-reality-yet-larger-than-life feel.

There is only one aspect that comes to mind which, I think, is a weak link in the otherwise perfect story: the master plan of the terrorists which incites the events in the story is a plan too easy to foil. So much so that the mastermind executing the plan had registered his doubts about it. As it stands, this aspect makes few of the events in the climax quite predictable. But this does not take away the fact that the story is extremely well crafted and reading it is a treat even with a small element of predictability.

There’s no moral high ground in the spy world – that should be the tag line of this story, and it is one of the themes the novel conforms to throughout its 288 pages.

This is a must read historical thriller fiction.

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