Needs some vroom
ROZLAN Noor’s latest crime thriller, unlike his last three books (of the much-acclaimed Inspector Mislanseries), is told from the point of view of the criminal. The premise of the story is grand, and the author seems to have a solid vision of the entire caper, which has Danny Ocean levels of planning involved.
Bayu, which means “wind” in Malay, is a master criminal, known throughout the international underworld as “The Planner” for his uncanny ability to plan and carry out major heists without being caught.
For his last caper before retirement, the master criminal decides to kidnap a foreign national in the hopes of pitting his wits against the best law-enforcement personnel in the world. What he doesn’t realise is that the target is the grandson of the US Secretary of State. What should have been a simple kidnap and ransom operation is suddenly turned into a terrorist hunt with the CIA, US Special Operations, and Islamic terrorist groups getting involved. Bayu has taken on a lot more than he bargained for.
Unfortunately, most of the book is spent trying to convince us that the protagonist, the self-styled “Bayu”, is a master planner without actually revealing any of the planning. This takes away greatly from the reader’s enjoyment of the story as we are told over and over again how complex this plan is and how famed the main character is as a criminal mastermind.
Another negative aspect of this book is what seems to be bad editing. Not having read the author’s previous works, I am unfamiliar with his style of writing. However, there are parts of the text that read almost as though they were written by two different writers. Assuming that the voice of the author is written in mature prose, there are several places in the text where it seems that a much younger writer is filling in the blanks.
There are also some spelling mistakes, and the feel of the book seems cheapened to me by the overall quality of the editing. This is unfortunate, as it appears that between mind, pen and editor, the flow of the story and the build-up to the second half is compromised.
It is difficult to deduce if the intended audience for this book is meant to be mostly local or foreign. There is dialogue within the story that seems painfully contrived, such as the initial conversation between Inspector Mala and Bayu. However, within the same chapter, the conversation between Rosni, a reporter, and Bayu seems effortless and natural. These contrasts occur in several places throughout the book – they began to jump out at me before I got halfway through the book.
In addition to this, the interactions between foreigners and locals are very stiff, not only between law enforcement officials, which is expected, but also between most characters, whether criminals or lovers. These details, though small, tend to pile up quickly and adds further to the already choppy flow of the book.
I found the first 180 pages of Bayu slow-paced and a little boring. It starts off with an adventure at sea by two professional divers, a short story that doesn’t seem to have any connection with the main plot.
The second chapter picks up a little, with the actual kidnapping happening. One feels slightly let down when the third through umpteenth chapters are full of Bayu playing what feels like a childish game of cat and mouse with the authorities. The antagonist, Assistant Superintendent Ong, plays a losing game of wits against the simple tactics used by Bayu throughout the whole book and by the end, sounds as though he may be in love with his own romanticised idea of the master criminal. Put plainly, the last time I saw police this bumbling was in The Blues Brothers.
The last 70 pages of the book, however, become very engaging, and it is a pity that this fast-paced flow is not evident throughout the book. I found it hard to put it down once events began moving.
Rozlan Noor has an evident talent for descriptive and detailed stories and this is put to good use in these last chapters. Everything that happens at the beginning of the book is tied together and it all begins to make sense. The only nagging thought I had at the end was that it was wrapped up a little too neatly, but that could just be my own cynicism at work.
Overall, the character of Bayu never really becomes an engaging, real person. I think that it would be interesting to watch this master planner at work again; hopefully, the author will write prequels or sequels that will bring this character to life.