“There is nothing more provocative than minding your own business.” - William S. Burroughs
Author M C Raj’s novel ‘The Crossbow Code’ is a fictional story set in the past but is one that has it bearings in the present of today and perhaps of the conceivable future. Set across three different continents and as many countries, we follow a man, a stranger amidst a sea of humanity, a man named Kris. He is a provocateur, a philosopher, a man of ideas and higher ideals. In his adventures he interacts with various men, some ordinary while others some of the most notable figures from the history of mankind. Through his provocations we get to see and understand the other side of the heroes and institutions that we adore so much.
First up I have to let you know that this isn’t your regular thriller novel, and although theme wise it resembles other popular books, this one is more of an ideological thriller-fiction. While strong characterizations along with solid plotting are a prerequisite for any novel; where such books differ is in the integration of the author’s ideas - ideas that try to invigorate and channel our preconditioned minds into accepting newer facts and also be made aware of situations that we are ignorant about. But such ideological fiction often faces a familiar risk, of such ideas getting buried under bad writing, but that isn’t the case here as the execution is wonderful as well. It succeeds in using its plot situations and allegories to open up arguments and discourses about a variety of topics.
The Crossbow Code works also as a good exposition into information about important people and movements from around the world. And you will be impressed not only by the content but also by the mode of delivery the author has chosen here. The reader gets a crash course in the Indian independence struggle, its leaders, the prevailing caste system, its ills, and also on the unreported side of Christianity. And once you get used to the narrative, the flow of events that will remind you of an expose documentary gels well together and never feels forced.
There isn’t a lot that I found wrong with the book, but at times I felt the author went overboard in trying to make his point. Kris for most part appears as a grounded and a courageous fellow, the hero amongst us asking questions we have all wanted to ask. But sometimes his larger-than-life persona tends to put him in the same ranks as the idols he questions. Also, within the plot work I felt a lot of areas could’ve been handled more subtly, instead of going for an all out, crude and in-your-face treatment.
MC Raj’s writing on humankind, women, love, religion and sexuality through his character Kris puts a greater emphasis on scientific and rational arguments than on tradition based or culture closed arguments. The book succeeds in reminding us what it means to be a human.
In the end, this is a book that I think a lot of people will enjoy. There’s a bit of history lesson in it, there’s a bit of paranoiac dystopian future reality in it, and it also suggests ways by which we can overhaul our social order for the better. There’s plenty here to suggest that a brilliant mind was at work here, and it is an important read, especially for the times we live in.