Book review: Where Angels Prey is informative read

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Indian financial thriller

In Ramesh S. Arunachalam’s thriller, Where Angels Prey, Bob, a Western journalist, arrives in India to write an article about Prasad Kamineni, a micro-finance executive.  He teams up with Chandresh, an eager local journalist aware of the darker side of micro-finance in India.  Veena Mehra, district magistrate of Ranga Reddy (in Andhra Pradesh), is also conducting an investigation into Prasad’s business.

Many of the micro-finance debt collectors, including those employed by antagonist Prasad’s SAMMAAN bank, are conducting loan shark style tactics.  They humiliate and threaten borrowers to the point where the debtors, such as a sympathetic widow named Mylaram, commit suicide.  Another case unfolds during the action of the book, where Rammaiyya, who was going to serve as an informant against SAMAAN, is mysteriously killed.  These cases are a continuation of the ruthless tactics used by money lenders that Maoist insurgents fought against in earlier decades.

Micro-finance is a much celebrated concept in the West, and the leaders of the micro-finance movement such as Muhammad Yunus are lionized as heroes ushering in a new era of equity and opportunity in the developing world.  This informative book sheds much needed light on a concept that is not so rosy in reality.

 As narrative fiction, Where Angels Prey could have been improved.  The syntax takes some getting used to for an American reader.  While the author is a skilled writer, there are grammatical oddities and formatting issues that could have been reduced with a more professional editing job.  The present tense verb choice throughout the narrative is awkward.  A constant parade of characters gets confusing, especially since many of them are not substantially developed.  Just as soon as you learn about a new character and start to get a feeling for him or her, they disappear.  It is more of an “ensemble cast” than a book with a single main character. Either Bob or Chandresh is the hero of this financial thriller, but the story probably would have been strengthened by picking one of them to develop further.  Veena’s investigation was duplicative of the journalistic one.  Also, there is a lot of “telling not showing”: abusive tactics are described in general, rather than experiencing them all through eye-witness accounts in real time.

On the plus side, the novel was suspenseful.  One wants to learn how it all turns out for Prasad, who is a compelling villain who is also sympathetic in several ways.

People who are interested in predatory lending, poverty, international development, and socioeconomics should check this novel out.

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