Hotel Arcadia? It’s anything but. Earlier novels by Sunny Singh won praise for their vivid and persuasive characters and locales, but Hotel Arcadia bids fair to be her best work.

Her protagonist here, the forceful Sam, is a war photographer celebrated for her poetic portraits of the dead. Seeking relaxation after a harrowing assignment, she takes a room at an expensive hotel – but her pleasure is soon threatened. The hotel is under siege by violent terrorists, and the hotel manager, the sympathetic Abhi, ties to persuade her to keep a low profile – in vain. Abhi, Singh’s other principal protagonist, has not been a source of pride to his army family (Henry James’ Owen Wingrave comes to mind), and running the hotel for him has been an escape from a life that he has not found fulfilling. But now he is in the middle of afraught situation with his lover Dieter a hostage in the bar, and the photographer Sam displaying ill-advised insouciance by taking photographs.

The excellence of this novel is its canny synthesis of elements: the essential thriller plot (at times reminiscent of the most powerful writing of Graham Greene; no mean feat in itself) and the careful accretion of character detail in which the principals force us to decide that our initial impressions of them may not be the ones we’re finally left with.

The author is an expert on Bollywood and has written a book on the actor Amitabh Bachchan, but the strength of Hotel Arcadia will have readers eager for her to dip her toe into novelistic waters again.

Hotel Arcadia by Sunny Singh is published by Quartet

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