The Last Taxi Ride: A Ranjit Singh Novel
When you come across a new author who creates fascinating characters you care about, weaves a plot that has you yearning to get back to the book as it twists and turns, and keeps you guessing until the last page --- all in his debut novel -- you know you’ve found a keeper. We first met Ranjit Singh, a turbaned Sikh former Indian army officer, in THE CARETAKER. He was on the run from assassins, smuggling his wife and daughter to America to stay with family in New York City. Falsely accused of killing members of his own outfit in the Himalayas, Singh found a job taking care of the Long Island summer cottage of a US Senator. There he found himself entangled anew in an espionage plot against the Senator, gaining him support in high places.
It is two years later when we catch up with Ranjit in New York City, where he drives a cab for a wealthy Indian entrepreneur. He is divorced from his unhappy wife, who is feeling lost in America and has returned to India with their daughter, while he is determined to make a go of it in his adopted country.
"THE LAST TAXI RIDE is steeped in atmosphere, wonderfully developed characters, action and suspense."
Ranjit is flagged down on Broadway by a beautiful woman who asks to be dropped off at the famed Dakota Hotel. He recognizes her as Shabana Shah, a famous Bollywood star whom he had long admired. She leaves a shopping bag with an expensive new dress in the backseat, and Ranjit goes back to the hotel to return it. He encounters Mohan, an old army acquaintance from India, now a doorman at the Dakota, who accompanies him to Shabana’s suite. She is away, but Mohan shows him around, they snack on leftovers from a party, admire her collection of statues, and leave.
The next morning, Shabana’s brutally murdered body is found in her living room, and Mohan has vanished. Ranjit was spotted on the hotel security camera, leaving at the approximate time of the murder and is taken into custody. His fingerprints are found on the statue that killed Shabana. Ranjit’s daughter is returning to live with him in three weeks, and a grand jury has been called to interrogate him in 10 days. His boss posts bail and instructs him to hunt down the missing Mohan for him. So begins a page-turning sequel that lives up to all expectations. Skeptical NYPD detectives and Indian mafia thugs from Mumbai dog Ranjit’s steps as he searches among the immigrant neighborhoods for Mohan.
A.X. Ahmad is a master at the intricate art of plotting. He grasps that hangman’s noose of mystery writing --- the flashback --- with masterful ease as he fills in Shabana’s tragic story from 20 years past during her rise and fall as a Bollywood star. THE LAST TAXI RIDE is steeped in atmosphere, wonderfully developed characters, action and suspense. Perhaps it is Ahmad’s many years as an architect that provides him with the intricate structure and planning for which the best writers strive. How easy it is for a potboiler to go astray as an inexperienced writer tries to juggle the characters in a fully rounded story. But not so with Ahmad. Even with the foreign names and large cast, at no point is the reader lost or confused. Never do you have to look back to see who’s who or muddle through a convoluted storyline.
We can look forward to at least a third novel as the satisfying ending leaves room for more. What is next for Ranjit Singh as a new American? I cannot wait to find out.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on July 25, 2014