What happens when you cross criminal attitude, real temptations, the anonymity of the virtual world, and greed with creative imagination? A thriller is born! One such thriller is ‘God is a Gamer’ written by Ravi Subramanian where the concept of bitcoins, the Misznay Schardin effect, and TOR come together to take a reader off on a roller-coaster ride through intrigue that hops, steps, and jumps in and out of the virtual world and into the real world at a pace that keeps you awake unless you’ve read the next page.
Yes, page after page you come across concepts that exist in the real world but are flung at you in the guise of a story in a way that you murmur, ‘Is this fiction or real fiction?’ So yes, Satoshi Nakamoto does exist, and so do deep web black markets, cybercriminals, stigmatised currency… yes, there are online wallets, private keys, and even sheep market places and silk roads… and these are the concepts that pop up to weave a story where ‘money means nothing, martyrs are villains, predators are prey, assassination is taught by the ancient Greeks’ and the reader is taken on an imaginative ride that stops by Delhi’s finance ministry, Washington’s Congress, the corporate heights, and even the beaches of Goa.
This is one book that brings together outsourcing concepts, data sharing, data leakage, and unscrupulous vendors to make them all jump out of the pages in simplified versions. Yes, the complex anatomy of financial crimes is literally taken apart and served one at a time in a recognizable format. This is precisely what a lay reader like me prefers… I mean, why would I want to read all the obfuscating theories of the financial world to give me a feeling that I understand a bit of this world too if I have the option of reading a work of fiction and getting introduced to it all? But this isn’t all. There are insights into phishing and phishing victims and there are the concepts of how the plurality of politics and the lucrative face of fiscal crime come together in holy as well as unholy alliances.
But you’re mistaken if you think the book is going to be one long treatise on financial theories of crime and the criminal alliances of finance…because this cannot be done well unless you have a plausible story to put it all in and brew. And Ravi Subramanian has brewed his concoction well!
Look at the way he holds your hand and takes on a walk down a short path on the way corporate world has changed… it is insights like this that have the power to transform a simple intrigue into one that is loaded with meaning.
‘Because those days were different. When I was head of retail banking fifteen years ago, I could have got away with murder. A lot has changed since. In those days, I could have spun the “India as an investment destination” story. A country of one billion people made global bankers salivate and put in money year after year in the hope that profits would come some day. People these days don’t have the appetite for that. There is no room for dissent. Indian teams of multinationals these days are just expected to execute not think.’
Swami shook his head in disgust. He didn’t want to agree with Aditya.
The reader gradually discovers that crime is born when employees start thinking that ‘career longevity is more important than career enhancement. Jobs are few and there are many people chasing them. Your first priority should be to save your job. If you live, you get to fight your battle another day.’ Well, the book does start with a discussion that uncannily resembles the desperation of a couple of corporate bigwigs huddled together to in yet another act of deception… and we are led speedily to seemingly unconnected murders in seemingly unconnected places. So the book gets moving speedily to bringing the entire geography of the world together… after all the virtual networks have indeed made the world so much smaller and so much approachable! Thrown together with all things fiscal are love, lies, lust, and hush-hush deals! Strangely, the novel also brings together a father and his son only to make us realise how deceptive ‘coming together’ can be… the novel successfully manages to hide relationships from the reader until the precise moment and then when such a secret is revealed to the reader, one finds even the characters in the novel exclaiming with surprise! It is fun to find characters in the novel shifting uneasily with such surprise revelations just like the reader is doing… well, not many writers manage to do this as they do have characters who always seem to know more than the reader, always.
I do get a vicarious pleasure in reading fictitious details of corrupt deals where senior bureaucrats and politicians get involved… and this book doesn’t disappoint in this. So we have Aditya saying, ‘She laundered the money by transferring it overseas for the finance minister. It was all to be in exchange for cash and the position of RBI governor. She moved roughly 500 crore rupees of his money overseas. In return, she received 50 crore rupees. She kept all of it in bitcoins and was paranoid that she would lose them…’ For a few moments I did toy with the idea of our politicians and bureaucrats in real life reading this book and searching for black money in the virtual vaults as well. But then, this is a tale… and a rather engrossing one. The tale, however, does have some great insights for our investigators too… like the time when Matt tells Peter: ‘They couldn’t have done much with the scam but they could have been more responsive. Not only have we lost money in the fraud, but our brand value is at risk of much more erosion.’ It is such pithy dives into the philosophy of an effective life that makes a novel so much more endearing to a reader who is forever on the lookout for a guide to lead him out of his confusion. Let’s not forget that a lot of readers read fiction to get lessons to follow and become better… and this is far better a way than reading any of those terribly boring and insipid ‘how-to’ books. And so comes the part where Matt spouts another of his homilies when he is discussing the action that Malvika has opted for: ‘A leader who puts down her own people in front of her superiors can never be an inspiring leader. Malvika did just that to Swami.’
But then a novel isn’t really a guide-book like guide-books are… but must be adept at leading a reader to believe that he has learned a few vital lessons. And I must admit that this is one thriller that does the job of a text-book without being one. It lets you hop on to concepts and even explains them for you without the necessary technical jargon. For instance, while explaining the weak links in the relationship between a TOR network, bitcoins, and anonymity, the book goes on to explain: ‘There was a lurking fear that in the eventuality of any of the suppliers getting caught, the buyers would be exposed. But this risk was nothing compared to the overall experience of encountering a drug dealer in the dark and dangerous alleys of the city. Cotton Trail was far safer and easier albeit a bit more expensive compared to other alternatives.’ These are important bits and a reader loves getting into the groove, so to say, of the mind of a criminal. Readers love to feel that they are the ones who are actually unravelling a mystery and the book graciously throws bits of clues and encourages them to connect them all with all these bits of theory that they meet in the pages.
Before I wind up this review let me also admit that what the book actually proves is that crime is always in the real world… and the virtual world remains a mute vehicle that gets used, rehashed and then re-used… yes, the virtual world has entered the vicious circle and we have to live with this fact!
Details of the book:
Title: God is a Gamer
Author: Ravi Subramanian
Publisher: Penguin Books India
Price: Rs 299/- (in 2014)
God is a Gamer from Amazon.co.in
10 November 2014