Saturday, 27 December 2008

The Paradise Trail by Duncan Campbell

DATE PUBLISHED: 2008 DATE READ: December 2008 NOTES: This debut novel is a blend of murder mystery and a memoir to a lost era. It begins in the Lux Hotel – a backpackers’ insect-ridden hostel in Calcutta in 1971 where the usual odd bunch of hippy characters have ended up after time spent in Goa, Delhi, Nepal, Kabul etc. There is weird Freddie who communicates in Bob Dylan lyrics, Larry, an American who makes a little on the side by drug smuggling and Gordon, an ex-advertising executive who has “dropped out” and two oddball Australians, Karen and Keiran. The hotel is run by young Anand, a kindly and liberal Indian. The Bengali war of independence is just beginning so into this mix come Hugh, a British would-be war correspondent and Britt, a beautiful and ambitious American photographer. Some nasty murders happen and it is believed that there could be a serial killer who is after hippies….. But in the chaos of the end of the Indian-Pakistan fighting no culprit is found. The members of the group go their own ways and over the next thirty years have little contact with each other. But the daughter of one of the victims determines to find out how her father met his death and so the mystery of what actually happened in Calcutta is gradually unravelled. This is a brilliant read. The description of the drug-fuelled hippy trail seems very real and the main characters are three dimensional and believable. There are no real heroes – just a series of flawed characters like in real life. The thirty year gap in the narrative is covered by a series of news reports, letters, postcards, press announcements and emails. There is a great piece of writing when Gordon agrees to take part in a cricket match in Calcutta even though he hasn’t played in years. He uses various strands of eastern philosophy that he has learned on the road to help him to bowl. Very comical (but it works!)
This is a fun book but with some dark undertones of cultural imperialism, racism and egotism. One of the blurbs on the cover says: “A great beach read”. Yes, OK, The Paradise Trail would make a super beach read – but it’s better than that so don’t wait to be on holiday to read it! Highly recommended. (And if you want to know more about the Bengali War of Independence read A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam)

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