S Hussain Zaidi is a name we have come to pair with real-life crime tales. Black Friday, the film based on his book of the same name, remains one of the best works on the 1993 Mumbai blasts. His duology on the Mumbai underworld remains a compelling read. His research has been widely used in books like Sacred Games, now an acclaimed mini series. Eleventh Hour is Zaidi’s second novel. The first — Mumbai Avengers, spawned a lacklustre big screen adaptation: Phantom, which sank at the box office without trace. Like avengers, Eleventh Hour also focuses on the men and women, both backers and victims of the 26/11 attacks.
As the novel opens, we are introduced to our hero Vikrant, who has been through the attacks and is both physically and mentally scarred from them. He is suspended from duty following a controversial incident.
Then, members of an Indian Mujahideen (IM) terrorist group flee from jail, killing a guard in the process. Vikrant and their paths entwine again, as they proceed to take part in hijacking a Lakshadweep-bound cruise liner. If all of this does not feel ‘ripped from the headlines’ to you, you should probably be reading the newspapers.
While the action is mostly centered around the Lakshadweep islands, the cast is a crazy mix. There is your hero, the scheming villains, a bunch of Somali mercenaries, the brooding ex-military guy etc. The book reads like a part of the movies like Under Siege, especially the first part, where ex-SEAL and now cook Steven Seagal, single-handedly faces off against a bunch of psychopaths. Thankfully, the tale is not so straight cut where you can see all the twists coming. However, when we know the hero will eventually come out victorious in the end, it does dilute the fun factor.
For such a book, a pacy narrative style is needed. Zaidi pulls off that.
However, the story somehow feels too generic. More fun would be linking the various backstories to the real-life sources, thus proving that life is stranger than fiction. If you are looking for some quick thrills, this one is up your alley.