The man was dead….So begins Prem Rao’s debut novel, It can’t be you. And to the writer’s credit, he weaves a tale of murder, intrigue, deceit, bravery, love, lust and other myriad emotions with a lot of skill. The protagonist is murdered in the first line of the book but by no means is his role in the book over. A series of flashbacks tell us the story of Colonel Belliappa, war hero and psychopath rolled into one. We are introduced to his equally complex family which consists of his second wife, the beautiful and seductive Elena; his hot blooded and promiscuous daughter Shefali; his son Preetam, an apparently affable young man who has darker shades to his character and his long deceased first wife Dinaz, who casts a long shadow on his present. The story moves forward and we discover that every surviving family member had a motive and opportunity to kill Colonel Belliappa. Prem has developed this part skillfully and pointed the finger of suspicion at all members of the family, one by one. And this suspense is well maintained till the end. The end is unexpected, as befits a thriller and leaves the reader satisfied.
Talking of other pluses, the cover is intriguing; the language good, the pace nice and the characters well etched. The portions describing Coorg are vividly done. The description of Belliappa’s life in the army and the action sequences are the highlights of the book. Prem Rao shows flashes of brilliance and a lot of promise as a debutant.
Of the negatives, the portions about sex seem to be added as an afterthought, maybe as a concession to market forces. I would have been happier with crisper editing and a font size at least two points larger. Hopefully, these shortcomings will be taken care of in the next edition.
Overall, a good first book by Prem Rao, who has turned to writing after almost 36 years of professional work as a Talent Management Specialist and an executive coach and I am sure there will be many more from his pen/ laptop/desktop/ whatever.
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