There are crime books, and then there are serious books about crime – major crime; global, world-changing crime, the kind that we know goes on behind the scenes and is responsible for the ills in the world. This book is about that, and offers an insight that very few books have the confidence, work ethic and subject expertise required to assume. From a destitute African boy, Kalenga becomes an international arch-criminal – a genius supervillain who would catch even James Bond’s eye. This tale tells of how a refugee and failed 7/7 bomber becomes a clear and present danger in the digital age, making his fortune from cybercrime, fraud, blackmail, extortion and information, the new criminal currency; he is clever, astute and determined enough to carve his place as a key player, with financing jihad his overall aim.
Simply put, Ram’s book is superb. It shouts high quality in every respect. The author knows his numerous subjects, for sure, and has undoubtedly carried out tremendous research to make his book as realistic, credible and current as possible. Whether it be the blood-diamond trade, the plight of refugees, economic jihadism or cyber-supercrime, Ram knows every relevant subject like an authority, and has connected, constructed and crafted them to present an everyday bio of the Mr. X who provides the link between political foreign policy, corporate greed, trafficking, digital crime and terrorism. It is a vast project by scale, and one I think we all feel to be important to know yet too out of our reach to grasp. Ram has made it understandable, engaging and utterly compelling; in doing so, he has answered a lot of questions the average person might have about international crime in the 21st century. Additionally, he provides a holistic and comprehensive approach – if concisely packaged – including in-depth fictionalization of the “good” side: the intelligence services, in their constant mission to stay one step ahead of these ingenious and highly sophisticated criminals/fraudsters/terrorists.
Ram is a fine author, whose biggest strength by far is in the characters he creates. Kalenga is interesting, profoundly layered and utterly ambiguous. Despite his obvious evils, he has an ambivalent moral compass, and even uses his wealth at times to do genuine justice. He is something of an enigma – in my opinion the best kind of genre villain – complex, principled and simultaneously philanthropic and murderously cold-blooded. His mystery is the real star of the book, and testament to Ram’s ability to mould a scene-stealing human antagonist. Additionally, that the book doesn’t judge or lay blame is both commendable and to its benefit artistically. The murderous jihadists are not portrayed as pure monsters, while at the same time it would be easy to lay the blame for Kalenga at the door of the West. To its credit, A Basket Full of Hands does neither; it simply reports the way these paths cross in a fictionalized manner. It is a fine book, and a genuine showcase for a very talented author. The ability to concisely construct such a broad narrative is hard to do well, yet Ram has done so flawlessly. This was a grand project, and the work which has gone into it spares no effort or style. Hugely impressive.
In : Book Reviews
Tags: ram-daryanani terrorism fiction thriller action intelligence crime cybercrime