Sudha Ramnath’s first published novel Flight or Fright is an explosive thriller from the word go! It narrates the harrowing account of a diverse group of people who are travelling from Mumbai in the ill-fated airplane that is hijacked mid-flight. The presence of mind and exceptional flying skills of the pilots coupled with a concerted effort put in by some of the passengers, help the plane land in an unfamiliar, remote hill territory, far removed from civilisation. What follows is an intricate web of action, reaction, planning and strategy, murder, jump scares, and a collective last-ditch attempt to beat all odds and survive!
One of the USPs of the novel is its detailed characterisation. The introduction of all the characters right at the onset shows meticulous thinking and planning on part of the author. She has tried to get under the skin of every important character. We are familiarised with the background of the characters, their likes and dislikes, their weaknesses and strengths, so that as readers, we form a fair idea of how each one would probably handle the crisis even before it actually takes place. We are proved right on most occasions. At times, we are pleasantly or unpleasantly surprised. Most of the main characters have layers, which the author peels off gradually and with care, empathy and sensitivity.
The DIY session on how to successfully eat a golgappa provides a delightful comic relief! The hijack scene keeps us on the edge of the seat. The action here is taut and executed well. Later, the tete-e-tete between Nilima and Rahul sitting on the trunk of an uprooted tree, at once warms our heart and also gives us an insightful peek into life and its many facets. The aftermath of the air crash is portrayed with an uncanny sense of realism which is maintained consistently through the ups and downs that follow. Th pitfalls encountered by first time trekkers, the treacherous terrain, the constant apprehension felt by the survivors, the nagging uncertainty at every step, and finally, the sense of relief that washes over them when they spot the first human habitation in days – all come alive through Sudha’s masterful narration and rich vocabulary, and will certainly stay with us for a long time.
The entire segment dealing with life in Tibet – the description of Mangra village with its warm, friendly people, quaint customs and beautiful scenery – introduces us to a charming, old-world slice of civilisation. Sudha’s penchant for travelling has probably been instrumental in recreating these scenes. Sowa Rigpa, the ancient Tibetan Science of Healing is shown to prove its mettle and how!
The novel is a storehouse of discerning life lessons and doable survival skills that are bound to enrich and empower our lives – sharing and caring, hospitality, team spirit, unity in the face of adversity trust and loyalty, being a few of them.
The denouement packs a punch and takes us by complete surprise. All the loose ends are deftly tied up and we are left feeling happy and relieved.
On the flip side, a crisper editing and tighter proofreading would have made the narrative more flamboyant.
On the whole, Sudha Ramnath’s debut novel reads like the work of a seasoned author. The plot appears to be completely within the writer’s control. The premises are not entirely new or unheard of, but it’s the revamped, redefined presentation that shines through. I strongly recommend this book to all those who enjoy reading thrillers with a twist and with a gamut of crisscrossing human emotions and interactions.
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