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3.4 out of 5 stars
Bunker 13
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 11 November 2004
MM is, amongst many other things, a failed Indian Army officer, a thrillseeker, an investigative journalist, a major league drug smuggler, a member of India's high-tech elite... and... well, lots more.
He is the protagonist of an extraordinarily dark comic thriller set against the background of the conflict in Kashmir between India and Pakistan. But this is just the starting point - the novel starts to describe the rivalry (military and criminal) between two elite Indian regiments - both sides of the rivalry being things MM is fascinated by.
What at first seems like petty graft by a few officers soon escalates into a vast and ornate criminal and political conspiracy, described in incandescent prose - this has more sex, gadgets, weaponry, double-crosses and hairsbreadth escapes than any ten run-of-the-mill crime/spy stories, and is told at breakneck speed with dazzling wit. In MM and Major Rodriguez we have two truly immortal (and immoral!) characters, the complex relationship between them at the heart of the complex goings-on.
There are some absolute bravura pieces of writing in here - the whole sequence about parachuting on drugs is mindblowing...
In the same way that a good curry consists of many spices well-blended, Bunker 13 mixes Ian Fleming, Hunter S Thompson, Joseph Heller, Iain Banks, and a good few mystery ingredients you won't have tasted to achieve a particularly splendid piquancy.
Absolutely excellent - high-octane read-in-one-sitting stuff. It positively cries out to be filmed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 August 2003
Indian investigative journalist Bahal's fictional debut stars MM, an anti-hero investigative journalist who covers military affairs for a fledgling weekly magazine. The roller-coaster of a thriller starts off with MM on an undercover assignment with Indian army paratroopers in Kashmir. Before the reader knows it, the story is knee-deep in corruption, as he discovers an elite unit siphoning off captured weapons and drugs to sell on the international market. With this as the background for gripping set pieces of jungle patrol against the "Mossies" (Kashmiri guerillas), shooting heroin while parachuting, plus loads of recreational drug use and three exceedingly explicit sex scenes, the book rockets along at a furious pace.
However, that's just the tip of the iceberg, as it is quickly revealed that the crusading journalist also works for Indian intelligence. Bahal works hard to keep the reader guessing as to MM's true motivation: is he really a righteous journalist who hates corruption, or is he an Indian James Bond looking to take down India's enemies, or is he a recklessly brilliant hedonist who's playing both sides against the middle, or is he all of these, or maybe none? The second-person perspective writing helps to blur matters, but careful readers will pick up on one clue early on that may provide the answer.
The overall tone is very hard to describe. Loaded with military jargon, acronyms, weapon specifications, and machinations, the book reads at times like a subcontinental Tom Clancy. Yet the corruption angle and black humor is very reminiscent of Robert O'Connor's excellent novel Buffalo Soldiers, whose plotline also features military drug smuggling, or even the classic military satire Catch-22. However, there's also a wacky Elmore Leonardish feel to it as well, with loads of kooky memorable characters, scathing humor, and wild heist schemes. At the same time, each set piece is vivid and believable, from Mm's visit to the Russian mafia, to the office politics of his magazine, to a giant rave, to the spooky final battle scene in Kashmir.
As the book rockets along and the stakes grow higher and higher with each fresh twist, it somehow gets rather exhausting. The second person voice grows old fast, and under Bahal's breakneck pace some of the satire is left behind and the book becomes more of a straightforward thriller. Crammed with action, the pace is relentless enough, however, to largely divert one's attention from the outlandishness of it all. It's a fun read, and a refreshing break from the tidal wave of measured highbrow fiction coming from India over the last decade. American readers may want to do a tiny bit of background reading on the Kashmiri conflict beforehand, as Bahal assumes readership familiarity with the main gist of it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 26 July 2004
Reporter Aniruddha Bahal delivers a rush of sex, drugs and violence wrapped around the extra-legal activities of his hyperactive anti-hero. The action is sparked by the double-dealing arms and drugs trade fuelled by the Kashmir border war, and you have no pause to deal with one slice of insider information before the next scenario has grabbed you by the throat. And more - it's written with a keen intelligence, a sly humour and a vibrant style that pummels you into submission.
The review quoted on the cover likens this to "Catch 22 rewritten by Hunter S Thompson". Neither suffers by the comparison - this is both a stand-out thriller and a staggering fictional debut.
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It's rare that a book leaves me with a nasty taste in my mouth, but Bunker 13 is a thoroughly unpleasant piece of work.

Minty Mehta - or MM as he's referred to through the book - is a disgraced army-cadet turned investigative journalist who has managed to get himself embedded with the Indian military. The novel starts with him at the parachute training centre and then follows him off on missions with the Indian Special Forces engaged in conflict in Kashmir on the disputed border with Pakistan. He takes a lot of drugs, gets involved in smuggling operations, sets different regiments off against one another, brokers deals with foreign 'organisations' for guns, drugs and secrets, and isn't averse to killing people who are in the wrong place at the wrong time. His apparent mission is to kill plenty of 'mossies' (Muslims to you and me) and to take as many hard drugs as possible. In between he has strangely unfulfilling sexual encounters with various women. I know what you're thinking - "What a lovely fellow! What's not to like about our Minty?"

I hated this book from the moment I opened it. I was taken in by the cover quotation likening it to "Catch 22 rewritten by Hunter S Thompson". What the reviewer who said that seemed to have missed was that Catch 22 was a work of great black humour and compassion - two elements very sadly lacking in Bunker 13. Whilst the trader wheeler-dealer of Catch 22 did admittedly sell off all the drugs from the medical kits, it was generally to get eggs or other goodies for his comrades. When MM steals and finagles drugs and guns, he's seemingly doing it purely for his own benefit.

The book opens with MM writing to the Indian army chief, asking to make a documentary about how paratroopers are trained. He claims it will be a 'great image-building' exercise that will help the army to recruit new elite troops. But behind the scenes, MM describes this as one of "the many ways that a homo sapiens with an IQ of 130 can f*** himself in the flagging end of the twentieth century". MM is off to parachute school, learning how to fall and creating ever more extreme ways to take ever more dangerous drugs whilst free-falling through the air with his buddy Major Rodriguez. The creativity required to main-line heroin and the sense of control required to still pull your chord at the right time, defies belief. I hate to think how many impressionable people might read this book and think this sort of stuff is 'big and clever'. People get killed, nobody cares, as Rodriguez and MM try to out-shock each other. It's just plain nasty.

After wading through over 300 pages of poorly written yukky prose, the 'twist' at the end is utterly ridiculous and beggars belief. A good twist should make you think "Aha, so that's what it was all about. It all slots into place now". This one leaves you thinking "I will never get back the hours of my life which I have squandered on this unmitigated pap". Two further aspects - aside from the ridiculous plot - that drove me crazy were Bahal's love of writing page after page of descriptions of different types of guns or other armaments, and most of all the ludicrous stylistic device of writing the entire book as if you, the reader, are the central character and it's all happening in the present tense. For example: "Speed is essential. You want to swoop before the Mossies get any advanced warning". It's like that the whole way through. If Bahal has the idea that writing 'at' us in this way will somehow make us feel more involvement with and sympathy for MM. Simply put, it just doesn't work.

Aniruddha Bahal is apparently a bit of a big-cheese in the Indian investigative journalism world, or at least that's what his website claims. I'm guessing he's a sort of Donal Macintyre of the sub-continent. In 1997 he uncovered fraud and match-fixing in Indian cricket, and then went on to lift the lid on fraud in politics (who'd have imagined!) which led to the resignation of two very senior BJP politicians. Thankfully he admits that Bunker 13 is entirely fictional. Let's be grateful for small mercies.

Allegedly the media frenzy surrounding Bunker 13 was intense and likened to the attention that The God of Small Things got when Arundhati Roy won the Booker Prize. I can only say that the frenzy must have been absolutely the only thing that these two books could possibly have had in common.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Indian writers. See, I know the type. They write about their protagonist moving to England/America/Canada/Italy/Spain and from there, they fill pages and pages with the discovery of the culture clash concept. I mean, NEWFLASH, DIFFERENT COUNTRIES HAVE DIFFERENT WAYS OF LIFE! Damn, call the cops, hold the press. Not interested. BUNKER 13. I've been wating all life for a book by an Indian author that's not about the boredom of the high rise flat dwellers of Bombay. Imagine Catch 22, make it snort a line of M*A*S*H, freebase some Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, drop in a truckload of drugs, booze, women, corrupt army officials with egos the size of Bournemouth, the Kashmir conflict, high tech weapons, injecting H while in freefall and then seeing who chickens out by releasing their parachute first and a sex survey. Done that? Well, you've just about got it. It's breathless, urgent, relevant, topical, important and laugh out loud funny and the pace moves like a steam train. It's utterly mental. Nothing else this year will come close. Order it man, what the hell you waiting for?
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on 31 March 2005
All in all, I can truly say that this book is worth reading. It's fast, hard-edged and wonderfully sardonic in places. The content has a plethora of innuendos and the turning, twisting story is a great exmaple of the author's ability to keep his reader firmly in check. However, after the reviews of this book I have to admit that I felt slightly let down. The authors perspective is original, but rather tiresome to follow at times. But this musn't put anyone off the scent! The book is a rip-roaring caper eminating from the journalistic, road-mapped eyed journey's of the Hunter S Thompson camp. Any book that even suggests wooing a lady with a mixture of olive oil and poppers or sky diving on Heroin is in my book, interesting... to say the least.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 30 August 2004
The hype of the jacket was just that - hype, and I guess I should have known better than to believe it. Incoherent, stunningly complex, quite unnecessarily I feel, and unsatisfying. The author clearly has his tongue firmly in his cheek, but even knowing this, it doesn't really work. To me, it felt like an Indian 007 written for readers in their early teens - however, I think it would fail to capture their interest. But, I bought it and had to finish it - what a joyless experience.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 4 February 2009
Bunker 13
Fast pace contemporary english, unlike most Indian writers. Revealing for once how the Indian elite and military are a world apart. Differs from the general impression of lifestyle and mindset Indians portrayed in literature and movies.
A must have read if you want a feel of contemporary India.
Wish he would pen another novel.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 21 December 2009
there is a reason why prose written in second person present tense is not recommended and Bunker 13 is that reason. what a load of nonsense. i could only read the 1st 3 chapters before i discarded it in disgust. every second sentence you read begins with, "you are...."

dont waste you money on this
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