Raised in India, A.X. Ahmad is a versatile writer that has up until now been recognized for his short stories and essays. The Caretaker is the first of a planned trilogy featuring the Sikh ex-Indian military captain, Ranjit Singh. Ranjit was court-martialed for a mission turned massacre. After prison, he flees persecution to America where he worked a short time in a soul-killing job at his uncle-in-law’s convenience store in Boston.
When he could stand it no longer Ranjit decides to make his own way as a laborer in Martha’s Vineyard. He finds some work for an African-American Senator whose wife, Anna, takes a liking to him and manages to convince her husband to employ Ranjit as their caretaker through the winter. Ranjit’s life is looking up until the heat goes out in his shack.
With nowhere to go, Ranjit does what he must to keep his wife and daughter warm and safe. He moves into the Senator’s house, claiming to his wife that the politician said it was okay. With a string of break-ins occurring throughout the island, it seemed only a matter of time before they are discovered.
But when the intruders come, there is something strange about them and what they are after. Ranjit and his family escape but not without leaving evidence. His wife, tired of the lies, takes their daughter back to her uncle’s, while Ranjit slowly discovers just what kind of trouble he has gotten them into.
Haunted by his past, Ranjit uses his military instincts and training to piece together the facets of an international conspiracy to clear him and his family before it’s too late. Ranjit tries to go to the Senator but finds the powerful man deeply involved. Ranjit turns to Anna, and with her help, he finds a passion he hasn’t know in years and struggles to uncover the truth. His journey is one that takes him from the mountains of the India-Pakistan border to the historic streets of Boston.
Ahmad constructed a delightful thriller. The anticipation and questions push the story along through any dull moments or clichés (i.e. the villain gloating about how he pulled it all together and how smart he is) that might give us pause as we listen, or any other time we might struggle to suspend disbelief.
I have heard worse thrillers and I’ve heard better, but what I found unique about Ahmad’s novel were the characters. I have not seen a Sikh (the history and insight into the religion and culture was interesting to me) protagonist before, but I liked Ranjit, as flawed and uncommonly suspicious as he is. And I enjoyed following him around as he fought with every ounce of wit, strength, and strategy to save his family. His military past is revealed slowly and methodically, giving us more insight into the character’s ghosts and troubles, and helps the story unfold.
The narrator, Sam Daster, is unequivocally suited for reading The Caretaker. Being from Mumbai and educated at the University of Cambridge and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, he is mostly noted for his work on British television, but is experienced reading Indian thrillers.
Here, Daster illustrates the story with accents and voices that bring the characters to life, and with his timing and inflection, he lays out the backdrop littered with mystery and thrills. A.X. Ahmad presents us with a different and inspired novel in The Caretaker. I’m looking forward to the next adventure of Ranjit Singh, Last Taxi Ride, due to be released June 2014.