It is worth the hype! (No spoilers here)
Ravi Subramanian is one of my favourite writers and I had extremely high expectations from his latest novel “God is a Gamer”.
Both his immediate preceding novels, 'Bankerupt' and 'Bankster' have had parallel story lines which meet in a fantastic climax. God is a Gamer carries this model forward and does a fantastic job with it. We have a story unfolding in the USA where the FBI attempts to connect the dots between the murder of one of the President’s closest associates and an online darkweb drug marketplace, CottonTrail while investigators in Mumbai are baffled by the apparent suicide/murder of a bank CEO and the possibility of scandalous political involvement.
The story in the US starts off with the assassination of Senator Gillian Tan when he is on his way to meet the US president. (It can't be a Ravi Subramanian novel if there isn't a murder within the first ten pages.) This is soon followed by the largest ATM heist in New York carried out using skimmed cards. The FBI faced with intense pressure to solve the case seems to be getting nowhere initially till an attack on the senator’s wife gives them more clues and suggests that the crimes could have an BitCoin and CottonTrail connection.
In India, the story is much more complex. Malvika the backstabbing CEO of NYIB India dies in mysterious circumstances and the investigation threatens to reveal her dark secrets which could implicate even the Finance Minister in a major scandal. At the same time, Aditya Rao, head of his own BPO and gaming company is reunited with his son who takes over the gaming business and turns it around. Soon enough though, Aditya's companies start to face a multitude of problems which could be linked to the events in the US. To all this Subraminum adds a quirky plot element of a mysterious blog - 'Confessions of a Hooker'.
While we are enthralled by the story of how investigators across the globe connect the dots, we are also treated to a side show of how Aditya's son Varun chases love and at the same time surpasses every challenge coming his way to ensure that his company becomes a major player in the gaming sector. At every point through out the 310 pages the story seems very relatable because of the obvious use of several real life incidents which have been in the news for the last couple of years. CottonTrail is an obvious reference to SilkRoute drug network which was in the news not long ago and Ravi Subramanian has also incorporated events in the novel which are inspired from other real life happenings such as the advent of facebook gaming, success of the book 'Confessions of a New York Taxi Driver' and obviously, the controversy surrounding BitCoins.
The story is extremely fast paced and keeps you guessing about how each of these extremely diverse elements are going to come together at the end. However, even though there are several clues which make it easy to guess the killer well in advance of the end of the novel, nothing can really prepare you for the actual climax. The climax is a saga of never ending twists and turns which had me literally at the edge of my seat. It seems like the shocking revelations shall never end but the actual end nicely ties up all the loose ends to finally present a coherent albeit shocking conclusion. However, that the shock ending is going to contain some element of revenge is unfortunately given away by the tagline 'Is revenge a crime?' sitting right there on the cover page.
I found it interesting though that Ravi Subramanian has resisted from having a perfect fairytale ending. He even treats issues of political-commercial nexus and political interference in investigations, with a level of pragmatism and that realism that I had not expected.
However, the pace comes with its downside too. Unlike his previous books, none of the characters in 'God is a Gamer' particularly stay with you. There is barely any scope for character development. I wish there was atleast one memorable character in the book. Another downside I thought was the cover and marketing of the book. It has been heavily promoted as "The World's first BitCoin Thriller" when infact the novel is about a lot more than just BitCoins and even a lot more than just a novel about gaming. I honestly believe that the publishers could have come up with a title better title and cover. This is the third time (after Bankerupt and Bankster) that a Ravi Subramanian cover features a silhouette of a man standing in some overseas setting. That is getting a tad bit repetitive considering that these novels aren't a part of a series.
However, all this slight shortcomings are easily overcome by the strength of the excellent plot which keeps you hooked and eager to turn the pages like a good thriller should.
Rating : 8/10
Once you have read the book, do comment and let me know what you think!