The “Private” has touched down Indian shore in Mumbai. Creator and popular whodunit writer James Patterson, of the iconic Alex Cross and the Private investigation series, is readying to unveil “Private India” together with co-writer Ashwin Sanghi to the delight of the millions of private fans in India. It is the eighth book in the Private series that features a cross-cultural cast of writers and characters with Patterson in the country the writer takes it to. The book has been published by Random House-India and Cornerstone.
Sanghi, one of the leading contemporary historical thriller writers in the country, worked around the plot for more than four months to create an Indian “Private” Santosh Wagh, an ex-Raw agent to lead Jack Morgan’s crew in India team.
“The only common figure across all the Private novels is Jack Morgan. All the characters have been developed from scratch for Private India. The central character is Santosh Wagh, a battle weary ex-RAW agent who is the lead investigator. Dark and brooding, Santosh has many secrets hidden inside of him. Fleshing out the character was the most interesting part and the most challenging…,” Patterson’s co-writer Ashwin Sanghi told this writer in an interview.
Private, comment readers and critic, is Patterson’s answer to Agatha Christie’s Hercules Poirot. The thriller mastermind, who had made it to the New York Times best-seller list with his titles like “The Thomas Berryman Number”, “Kiss the Girls” and “Along Came a Spider (of the Alex Cross series portrayed by Mogan Freeman onscreen)” created the “Private” series for international readers in the decade of the 2000 (around 2010) to bring a slice of adult spy games to young adult readers. The books spin their tales around the central character Jack Morgan, who runs the private detective agency with branches all over the globe. Patterson entrusts his Private team with the secrets of the most influential men and women on earth – who came to him regularly to use the “world’s most advanced forensic tools of trade to crack their cases”. Jack, an intelligent tracker, however, has a knack for courting romantic troubles. But he manages to stay above board with his instincts of survival and quick thinking.
Private cruises around the world with a cross-over crew of co-writers and different lead investigators in a quaint “international cultural kinship over forensics”. In “Private LA”, Morgan investigates the disappearance of the biggest superstar couple in Hollywood while in the “Private # 1 Suspect”, Morgan withdraws all his resources which he was using to probe NFL gambling scandal and the mysterious murder of 18 school girls to investigate the “murder of his former lover, his best friend’s wife, who is found murdered on his bed”.
Morgan becomes the prime police suspect. Patterson connects the three conflicting stories for a final denouement as Morgan goes after the killer of the former lover. They are bound by a thread. In Private Berlin and Private London, Morgan’s crew traces a missing Private agent in Berlin and an unknown terror stalking a American student in London respectively. Private Games takes a look at the safety of the 2012 London Olympics hosting participants from more than 200 countries where Morgan’s team is assigned to security services.
“This series is about a global detective agency which is called to solve cases that baffle the police,” Sanghi said. One of the striking characteristics of the series is the local-global collaboration – Patterson tries to requisition one local writer from the country he is writing about to give his readers an experience of international thrillers. He rarely takes geography into account o create solidarity between writers and readers of the thriller genre that is often denounced as “inferior” compared to literary and mass fiction.
“Patterson has co-authored all the books in the Private series so far – like Private London with Mark Pearson, Private # 1 Suspect with Maxine Paetro, Private Berlin with Mark Sullivan and Private Oz with Michael White. All the books have deadly criminals being tracked down by Jack Morgan’s team in different parts of the world,” Sanghi said. Private India is an extension of that extension of that franchise in India. The story is set in Mumbai – and “attempts to convey the full impact of the maximum city through Bollywood, the mafia, godman, politics and business tycoons”.
The collaboration between award winning writer Sanghi and a internationally-feted Patterson happened early last year when one of Sanghi’s friend, who works in Random House India, recommended “his name to a colleague who was handling Patterson’s account after reading all three of his books, “Rozabal Line”, “Chanakya’s Chant” and the “Krishna Key”. The books are thrillers in the historical and political genres in what has been described by critics as a cross between Dan Brown, Sherlock Holmes and several western masters of the genre in an Indian framework.
“The fact that all my previous three titles were thrillers with short chapters, compelling pace and unexpected hooks every few pages – traits that are amply visible in James Patterson’s writing – the fit was a natural one,” Sanghi said.
The two discussed the issues involved for about a couple of weeks and topped it off with a signed agreement rather quickly. “The process of collaborating was a new one for me. James provided a guideline as well as an existing set of international characters that need to be woven into my story. Using his guideline, I developed the plot outline. We discussed the outline in detail and froze it after amendments. I then proceed to write the first draft while James wrote the final draft. All this happened with periodic interactions over email. Once both James and I were done with the story, the editors at Random House took over. Working with James has been a refreshing experience. My focus has always been on research and plot while the Patterson formula is pace and character. This book has given us a chance to combine our respective strengths,” Sanghi pointed out.
Writing thrillers is not only about inspiration and imagination but also about craft, Private India’s co-author said. “There are a few simple rules that make a good thriller: amplify character traits—make them larger than life; eliminate fluff; build twists and suspense ever so often; never compromise pace; build conflict until the very end. Achieve these few objectives and you should have a delicious thriller. There are some chapters in this book that are just about a paragraph long. It stems from the Patterson style of saying absolutely nothing that does not advance the plot. That is the key take away from this collaboration: less is more,” Sanghi said.
With his previous titles (which were thrillers in the mythological or historical genre) the suspense, mystery and thrill emerged from a piece of research, a historical nugget or a hitherto unexplained theological connection. “Private India on the other hand is a purely contemporary crime thriller and hence the need to stay true to the craft,” the writer explained.
Indians have had a long tradition of storytelling but for many thousands of years this tradition was oral rather than written. Wandering bards would weave stories while sitting under trees in the villages and these stories would be passed down from one generation to the next, Sanghi said. “Narrating a story necessitates the use of extra words and sentences to prolong the suspense. That particular sensibility still prevails in our writing. Look at Indian architecture… usually it's a delightful riot of arches, pillars, colors and materials. Contrast that with western architecture that is increasingly about straight lines and minimalism. The comparison between Indian commercial fiction writing and western genre fiction is similar. I always joke… to become a good paperback writer, start by penning Haikus!”
Sanghi was familiar with Patterson's work having been a big fan of his Alex Cross novels. However, he read some of his Private novels before getting to work on Private India as his homework. “The ones that I read included Private Berlin, Private Games, Private London and Private No.1 Suspect. I wanted to get a sense of Jack Morgan's character as well as the workings of the fictional 'Private' detective agency. I then spent around four months writing the plot outline (it was one of the most detailed outlines that I have ever written). The time spent on the plot outline included research into Mumbai and the police department. I also had several long interactions with a private investigator, who operates in Mumbai,” the writer said, throwing light on the preparation and the process of building the characters and the narrative of the thriller.
“I had to get an authentic feel of Mumbai as the city on the edge like any other western megapolis,” Sanghi said.
Defending the need for the collaboration and underscoring its importance in the growing Indian publishing, Sanghi said commercial writing in general did not take off primarily because of “our snobbish attitude towards commercial writing”.
“Most Indian authors were busy churning out literary fiction and publishers continued actively searching for the next Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Amitav Ghosh, or Jhumpa Lahiri. They could hardly be bothered with finding the Indian equivalent of Robert Ludlum, Frederick Forsyth, Jack Higgins, or Tom Clancy! Satyajit Ray would not have given us Felu da if an Indian market for mysteries, suspense, adventure and thrillers did not exist. It’s sad that we allowed ourselves to cede space to foreign authors in these genres. I’m happy to see that this is changing rapidly now. We should have our own versions of Miss Marple, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Sherlock Holmes, and Hercule Poirot!,” Sanghi said.
The order of mergers and collaborations in the intellectual markets has just taken another new stride with Sanghi and Patterson marrying their quills. The Hollywood-Bollywood days have arrived in mass publishing.