The Trail of Four: Smoke and mirrors game in a historical thriller
Indian writers are fast following on the trail of Dan Brown. We’ve had Ashwin Sanghi and Manreet Sodhi Sosmeswar’s Taj Conspiracy and now comes Manjiri Prabhu’s The Trail of Four with her carefully plotted addition to the genre and a title that cleverly takes off from Arthur Conan Doyle. Her hero is Re Parkar, half French, half India, investigative journalist with a line in visions. To fill in the historical details comes the beautiful Isabel who has a missing husband.
In keeping with the genre, Prabhu chooses a historic location, in this case Salzburg, with a mysterious Schloss as a backdrop. The owner of the Schloss, impresario Max Reinhardt disappeared before the Nazis hit Salzburg on the eve of starting an intriguing game for his friends. His game is picked up decades later by someone determined to destroy the four pillars of Salzburg who opens his account by stealing the heart of the Archbishop enshrined in the Schloss.
Re’s visions bring him to Salzburg and together he and Isabel start out to solve the riddle as the clock keeps ticking. Prabhu throws in enough reasons to put on the pressure, like the fact that there is a meeting of global heads scheduled at the Schloss and that every time the clock strikes 12, one of the pillars will be destroyed. A clue in Reinhardt’s own handwriting is left to start them off and the solution lies in correctly decoding the clues. Occasionally one must admit that some of the clues in Prabhu’s smoke and mirrors game need to be more puzzling because decoding is possible. She throws in once trendy phrases like ‘the bee’s knees’ and the ‘big cheese’ to add historical layering.
What the clues do is take the reader on a trip through the monuments of Salzburg and provide glimpses into the city’s rich history. Not to mention throwing in references to The Sound of Music which is why younger generations know the city. Prabhu is quite detailed in her descriptions and there is a welcome Lonely Planet aspect to the story. The undercurrent of terrorism evokes today’s way of life in big cities where every step is fraught with uncertainty, which is why books like Da Vinci Code caught on in a post 9/11 world.
The Trail of Four is a comfortable read, the kind of book one can curl up with on a rainy weekend. Of course in thrillers like this, nothing is what one expects. Love betrayed can sound reasonable in its quest for vengeance and revenge is a dish, as the French say, best served cold. Re would agree with that!