"Age of Vice" | Reviewed by Chris Stuckenschneider
Updated: Jan 10
It’s been a while since I’ve sunk my teeth into a book as gripping as “Age of Vice” by Deepit Kapoor. This 531-page novel, set in India and London, from 1991-2008, mesmerizes with its story of power and helplessness, of crooked politicians and policemen, monied mafia leaders with no regard for life and thugs on the take. On the the opposite end of the spectrum are the weak and destitute, separated by a caste system, their shacks destroyed in the name of urban progress.
Readers will be engaged as they follow three main characters whose paths intersect at the beginning of the novel when they're involved in a tragic, unnecessary accident that leaves five “pavement dwellers” dead on the streets of Delhi, their lives snuffed out by a “speeding Mercedes.”
At the wheel is Ajay, who police believe has stolen the car. The young man, though nicely dressed is obviously a servant, not the owner of a luxury vehicle registered to a man who lives where only the “rich and powerful” reside. Ajay is hauled off to prison, but once authorities realize who his employer is, their treatment of him does an immediate about face.
Growing up, Ajay’s life was horrendous, his parents “wracked by poverty.” When Ajay was 8, the family's goat escaped onto property that wasn’t theirs. Wanting justice, the landowner contacted a gang leader whose men victimized the family. Ajay’s father died and Ajay’s older sister was raped.
To pay off the debt, Ajay’s mother gave him away. The boy was loaded onto a truck with others and taken to the mountains where he was sold. Ajay was bought by a man and his wife who used him as their servant, assuring Ajay that his wages were being sent to his mother. That wasn’t the case. When “Daddy” died, and his wife left to live with relatives, Ajay has to figure out how he to survive with no education, money—nothing except his command of English, a strong work ethic, and dedication to serve, a trait that becomes his fatal flaw.
It's this dedication that attracts his new employer, Sunny, the playboy son of Bunty Wadia, a powerful mafia leader, with prestige and sway with police, politicians, Bollywood stars, all attempting to stay on Bunty’s good side to fleece their own pockets or walk the walk of the rich and famous. Sunny is a thorn in his father’s side, Bunty believing Sunny isn’t ruthless enough to follow in his footsteps.
Sunny is movie-star handsome, a partier into women, drugs and booze—his flamboyant lifestyle attracts constant media attention but he’s far from happy. Though he’s unkind and inconsistent with Ajay, the young man is like a whipped dog around his master, progressing from being a servant to a driver and bodyguard, a trained killer who’ll do anything to protect Sunny.
Though Ajay is loyal to his employer, when Sunny meets Neda, a journalist, and becomes enamored with her, Ajay feels sympathetic knowing she’s getting into a relationship that will break her heart—yet Neda means more to Sunny than anyone has before. As their affair intensifies, Ajay continues his guilt-ridden quest to find his mother and sister, who he’s always felt responsible for, believing if he’d been brave enough he could have prevented his family’s demise.
This thrilling novel is brilliantly constructed and completely immersive. The author juggles a large cast of richly drawn characters, varying time frames and locations without confusion, tension in the narrative building, nary a slow spot causing reader disinterest. From first page to last, this novel captivates as empathy for Ajay and Neda grows, two people who started out moral and good trapped in a world they can’t seem to escape. "Age of Vice" is sure to have broad appeal and garner an enthusiastic following for Kapor.