A vivid description of Karachi’s underbelly
Reviewed by Amarinder Gill

The Prisoner
by Omar Shahid Hamid Pan books Pages 344 Price not mentioned

The PrisonerThe narrative is set in Karachi, the commercial capital of Pakistan. Prior to Christmas, an American journalist is kidnapped from the posh locality of Zamzama. The kidnapping happens to have taken place just a few days ahead of the American President's visit. The kidnappers plan to post a video of the journalist's execution on Christmas day.

The book is racy and potrays the dark belly of Karachi.The writer, an ex-policeman, uses his wide experience to churn out a great debut novel. The book is very well written and is action packed. Constantine D'souza, a cop whose name is always mispronounced as Consendine holds the position of Superintendent of Prisons, Karachi. The Central Prison is a hub of activity with its varied inmates of Jihadis, terrorists, political activitists, murderers and petty thieves.

A call fron Colonel Tarkeen of the intelligence agencies sends Constantine into a tizzy. Akbar Khan, a daring police officer who has been imprisoned has a high-profile visitor. Khan has been languishing in prison where he leads a spartan life, meets no one but the tableeghis. He also happens to be an officer with the best resources. Akbar Khan tried to get rid of the social scum but somehow an operation backfired and he found himself in prison.

The book provides a rather vivid description of the volatile atmosphere of the country run by an invisible don who remains hidden in America. The don is a shadowy figure who pulls the strings in Pakistan. The story revolves around shady deals, kidnappings and the underworld mafia. It is a narrative about a city ruled by the United Front with its ward bosses who have no scruples. The reader meets a myriad characters who seem near to everyday life. Maqsood Mahr is the epitome of corruption and has "always been honest about his dishonesty", the impeccable Major Rommel, Colonel Tarkeen who knows how to play his cards right.

The book has its funny moments and the quirky sense of humour of the writer is evident when the reader comes across the nick names of characters like Home Minister Pakora, senior cop Dr Death and ward boss Ateeq Tension. One can feel the strain between the two agencies — the Kaaley Gate wallahas and the Bleak House wallahs — and woe betide on anyone who crosses them. The Prisoner highlights the culture of the police and their everyday language which seems to be laced with the choicest of abuses. The game of wits played between the politicians and cops throughout the book is very enjoyable.

The novel picks up tempo as one proceeds and Akbar Khan comes across as an intelligent officer with excellent bargaining skills. The book which began so well has a lukewarm ending and does not live up to the expectations of the reader. Rather, it loses steam towards the end. This interesting read seems like a treatise on police culture and paid postings.

The incidents seem authentic and the reader would not like to put the book down. The plot thickens as a chief minister's brother is shot at. The Americans send in their team and believe that technology will help rescue the journalist. Political tactics, overbearing bosses, money that talks, bootlicking staff — this book has it all. Whether the American journalist is freed or meets a sad end is for the reader to discover. It is an action-packed book enjoyed from beginning to end. A highly recommended read.