The Caretaker by AX Ahmad (Minotaur,May 2013)-Ranjit Singh has been working odd jobs in Martha’s Vineyard during the summer, after quitting the job at his wife’s uncle’s Indian shop in Boston. He’s sick of feeling beholden to her uncle for the money spent to bring them to the US, and the smugness on his face when he hands Ranjit his paltry pay is only the icing on an already dreadful situation. He’s worried about the oncoming winter and the ramshackle shack that his family is staying in, but salvation seems to come in the form of Anna McNeal, the wife of a prominent Senator. She offers him a caretaker job for the winter, and indeed, her husband gives him leads for even more caretaker jobs for the area’s other wealthy residents. In spite of the good news, he can see that his wife’s mental state is deteriorating every day, and it’s obvious that she misses India. When their living conditions become untenable, Ranjit thinks about the empty McNeal mansion and the keys heavy in his pocket. Surely it wouldn’t be any trouble to move his family into that huge house, just for a few days until he can find something else, but little does he know, he’s about to become the center of a political firestorm, and he’ll need to call on his past in order to survive the present.
Looking for a suspense read that’s a bit different? Look no further than The Caretaker. Ranjit Singh is an honorable and brave man, trying desperately to hold onto his Sikh faith in a country, that, at times, feels very unwelcoming, and he’s determined to do the right thing for his family. However, he finds himself harboring a forbidden attraction to the Senator’s lovely wife and in possession of something that could have international repercussions. In India, he was a decorated Captain, but the tragedy that befell his last mission still haunts him, and he’s plagued with hallucinations. For fear of his life, and the lives of his family, returning to India isn’t an option, but he feels like he’s fast running out of options if he doesn’t find out why he’s hunted by men who are prepared to assassinate him.
Ranjit Singh is a new hero to root for, and although The Caretaker is certainly an effective mystery, it’s also a portrait of a man trying to stay true to himself, and keep his dignity intact, even as he strives to acclimate to a new country, with vastly different rules. The present day narrative is interspersed with scenes from his doomed mission on the Siachen glacier, and serves to round out his fascinating background. Ahmad’s particular strength is in his three dimensional characterizations, especially as he explores racial and cultural divide. This is a superior debut.