BOOK REVIEW: COUNTDOWN by Soumitra Kandpal

Title: Countdown
Author: Soumitra Kandpal
Publisher: Garuda Prakashan
Pages: 240
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Countdown by Soumitra Kandpal is a masterful thriller that intricately weaves together the geopolitical tensions and personal vendettas between India and Pakistan. Set against a backdrop of international intrigue and nationalistic fervor, the novel explores the motivations and emotions driving the key players on both sides, culminating in a tense and potentially catastrophic showdown.

The story begins with a poignant and harrowing introduction to Fathima Khan, a brilliant Pakistani nuclear scientist. Her life is forever changed when her brother is killed in a U.S. drone strike, an event that ignites a burning desire for revenge. This personal tragedy propels Fathima into the orbit of retired Major Ariq UI Rehman of the ISI, who is equally driven by a deep-seated animosity towards India. Major Rehman, a character portrayed with a mix of cunning and patriotism, sees an opportunity in Fathima’s expertise and her thirst for vengeance. Together, they hatch a plan to launch a nuclear attack on New Delhi, a plot that not only aims to devastate India but also to strike at the heart of the visiting U.S. Secretary of State, thus sending shockwaves through the international community.

As the narrative unfolds, Kandpal expertly delves into the psychological and emotional landscapes of his characters. Fathima’s transition from a grieving sister to a determined avenger is depicted with nuance and depth. Her collaboration with Major Rehman, who provides her with the necessary resources and a well-equipped laboratory, showcases the chilling pragmatism that drives them. Rehman’s meticulous planning and the training of his operatives, who are tasked with planting the bomb in Delhi, add layers of complexity to the plot.

On the other side of the border, the story introduces Radha Mehra, a rising star in the Indian Intelligence Bureau. Radha’s backstory is equally compelling; she was inspired to join the police force after losing her mother in a terrorist attack. This personal loss fuels her dedication to safeguarding her nation. When a suspicious case of radiation poisoning is reported in a Srinagar hospital, Radha is the only officer available to take on the investigation. Her specialization in interrogation and her sharp investigative skills come to the forefront as she pieces together the clues that hint at a larger, more sinister plot.

Kandpal’s portrayal of Radha is one of resilience and determination. Her methodical approach to the investigation, coupled with her ability to stay calm under pressure, highlights her as a formidable protagonist. As Radha uncovers evidence pointing to a potential nuclear attack by Pakistan, the narrative tension escalates. The Indian government, upon receiving her updates, swings into action, alerting all possible targets and preparing for the worst.

The plot thickens as the investigation leads to the heart of Delhi. The story captures the frantic efforts of the Indian authorities to trace Wajsal, the operative tasked with planting the bomb. The use of CCTV footage and other intelligence resources paints a vivid picture of the high-stakes cat-and-mouse game. The decision to evacuate a 2km radius around the suspected target area is a logistical nightmare, especially given the bustling morning hour. Ajmal Khan, entrusted with this critical task, demonstrates exceptional leadership and coordination. The collaboration between various departments, the diversion of buses and metro services, and the involvement of the Indian Army are depicted with a sense of urgency and realism.

The narrative reaches a crescendo when Wajsal is located in a metro train heading towards Noida. The swift actions of the Noida police in arresting Wajsal and the subsequent interrogation reveal the bomb’s location in Hyderabad House’s public toilets. However, the twist comes with the revelation that the bomb cannot be deactivated due to its complex mechanism. This development sets the stage for a heart-pounding race against time as the authorities decide to transport the bomb to a safe detonation site in Pokhran.

The journey to Pokhran, facilitated by the Indian Air Force, is described with meticulous attention to detail, emphasizing the tension and stakes involved. The successful detonation just seconds before the bomb’s timer runs out is a moment of intense relief and triumph. However, Kandpal does not allow the story to rest there. The aftermath of the crisis sees the Indian government contemplating a counterattack. The narrative explores the strategic deliberations and the ethical considerations involved in such a decision.

Using intelligence gathered from Wajsal’s phone, Major Rehman’s hideout is pinpointed through satellite imagery. The subsequent airstrike, authorized by the Prime Minister, is depicted with precision and a sense of justified retribution. The press conference that follows, where the Prime Minister addresses the nation and the international community, underscores India’s stance on terrorism and its commitment to self-defense.

Kandpal’s storytelling is both compelling and immersive, drawing readers into the high-octane world of espionage and counter-terrorism. The narrative is enriched by the author’s ability to balance action with emotional depth. The characters, driven by their personal and national loyalties, are rendered with authenticity and complexity. Fathima’s tragic path, Major Rehman’s calculated ruthlessness, and Radha’s unwavering dedication create a tapestry of motivations that propel the story forward.

 Countdown by Soumitra Kandpal is a riveting and thought-provoking thriller that transcends the genre with its intricate plot and well-drawn characters. The novel not only entertains but also offers a nuanced exploration of the themes of revenge, patriotism, and the moral ambiguities of warfare. Kandpal’s clear and engaging prose ensures that the suspense is maintained throughout, making Countdown a must-read for fans of political thrillers and anyone interested in the complex interplay of personal and geopolitical conflicts. The book’s ability to evoke a visceral response, coupled with its insightful commentary on contemporary issues, cements its place as a standout work in modern thriller literature.

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