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Out of Order    by Charles Benoit order for
Out of Order
by Charles Benoit
Order:  USA  Can
Poisoned Pen, 2006 (2006)
* *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

Any time I pick up a book published by Poisoned Pen Press, I know I'm in for a good read. But I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Out of Order, not only presents as a mystery - a cleverly plotted one, by the way - but also incorporates a backpacker's eye view of India.

Sriram and Vidya Sundaram are found dead. The verdict of the police? Murder/Suicide. Jason Talley can't accept that his gentle Indian friend did this. Jason, who lives in Corning, New York, signs on with a scheduled tour of India in order to carry out Sriram's last wish - for his mother to receive a lovely silk sari from her son. Jason decides the last thing he can do for his good friend is to deliver the sari by hand to Sriram's mother.

Sidetracked by Rachel, who is also on the pre-paid tour, Jason leaves the group with her. The tour proves too slow and sedate for Rachel, who wants to ride the trains and experience the real India. During their journey, Jason is accosted, knifed, shot at, and has his backpack stolen by a monkey - but he manages to keep the sari in his possession. Meeting Sriram's Indian friends doesn't clear up anything for Jason. He feels he's a target. Who wouldn't feel that way? The mystery deepens and the climax took me by complete surprise.

The characters are wonderful, ranging from the lowly street sweeper in his dhoti, to taxi drivers wearing tee shirts emblazoned with slogans, and millionaires in their pressed khakis and white shirts and ties. Rachel is a force to be reckoned with. Her relationship with Jason seems a little off hand, but works. They come through for each other when it counts, and the intrigue builds. Woven into the plot is the cloth that is India. Not the tourist side - Jason's India is painted with poverty's brush. The author's descriptions of the countryside, the people, towns and cities must be as the citizens of that huge country see it. And the side I would like to see.

Turning the pages of Out of Order, readers travel with Jason and experience the food and drink, the humor, and everyday living, and are richer for it. By bringing the country's locals into the narrative, Benoit has created a rich and lively tale. I hope he won't stop with India.

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