Review: The Caretaker, A. X. Ahmad

Mm, at last, a thriller set in Martha’s Vineyard that takes into account the bloody conflict between India and Pakistan (and sometimes China) over who rightly owns Kashmir. I read about author A. X. Ahmad in NPR’s 2015 Book Concierge, and yes, I am embarrassed that it took me over a year to finally read The Caretaker. But such is the life of a reader.

The Caretaker

I was kind of joking before — I have not been specifically yearning for a mystery novel set in Martha’s Vineyard that also incorporates the Kashmir conflict. But it’s kind of great that one exists. A. X. Ahmad has written two books about ex-Indian army captain Ranjit Singh and the mysteries in which he finds himself enmeshed, and this is the first. When Ranjit takes a job as a caretaker for the rising star politician Senator Neals, who recently negotiated the return of a hostage from North Korea, he anticipates a quiet winter for himself and his family as the Martha’s Vineyard vacationers clear out for the season. Instead he ends up embroiled in international intrigue and deception, his family slated for deportation as he scrambles to figure out what is happening in time to restore their life of normalcy.

I don’t read many mysteries and am therefore not particularly qualified to speak to whether one is good, but The Caretaker was an immensely satisfying read for me. Ranjit takes the job as caretaking with the intent of using the extra cash to buy a nice winter coat for his beloved daughter Shanti. When the situation spins wildly out of control, he remains competent and careful, working through the information he possesses to try and get the situation back under control. It’s a fun and exciting story with characters I enjoyed, and I’d definitely read a second one.

In not-so-great elements, here is where I have to cop to being extremely my father’s daughter. One time I was talking to my dad about some romcom he’d checked out from the library, and I asked him how he liked it. “I didn’t like it at all,” he said, the most indignant that a human man has ever been. “The guy and girl are cheating on their boyfriend and girlfriend! This was supposed to be a comedy!”

LOOK. I would JUST HAVE PREFERRED IT if Ranjit hadn’t cheated on his wife. I just would have felt happier about him as a protagonist is all, if he hadn’t slept with the Senator’s wife — not once! SEVERAL TIMES, a bunch of them while his wife and daughter were meantime in a detention cell.

Apart from that, an excellent read. I understand that Ranjit and his wife are separated at the start of the second book in this series, The Last Taxi Ride, so if Ranjit sleeps with any ladies in that one, I won’t have to be so fussed about it.

Friends, am I being unreasonable? Is it fine for people in books to cheat on their spouses and I should just suck it up and accept it as part of the literary landscape? Also, does it seem to you that dude detectives in ongoing mystery serieses are particularly prone to cheating on their spouses?

  • Aarti

    I am with your dad – I totally disliked his affair. Not necessarily only because it was an extra-marital affair but because he was just not a great guy to his husband. There were a few other things I disliked about this book. BUT I really enjoyed that the main characters were ALL minorities (and minorities from different backgrounds!). I wrote about it here (and you commented!):

    • Hahahaha, well see, and you made me think I wouldn’t love it because of the cheating, and then I immediately forgot the author’s name. :p I do still want to try the sequel just to see. Maybe now that he is separated from his wife I won’t have to be mad about cheating.

  • Laila@BigReadingLife

    One of my personal annoyances, in books, TV, or movies, is characters cheating. That’s just me. You’re not being unreasonable.

    BUT, this one sounds interesting!

    • Hahahaha, okay good, I’m glad I’m not unique in being annoyed about that. It happens so often in mysteries, I feel like! I don’t know why!

  • I have abandoned otherwise perfectly fine books because one of the characters cheated. I just can’t stand to read it!

    • Right? It really bums me out! It’s so easy to not cheat? So maybe do that instead, protagonists?

  • JeanPing

    Well, I was going to get all excited about reading this book, until I got to the part about the cheating. Nope. Anybody who cheats on his wife WHILE SHE IS BEING HELD IN A CELL does not get to be read about by me. No wonder she leaves him. I hope.

    It’s not that I will never read about adultery/cheating ever–I thought Madame Bovary was fantastic–but I’m never going to approve of it or think well of the cheater character.

    • JeanPing

      PS Try Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton if you’re looking for books w/characters from different minorities. It looked pretty interesting when I wrapped it up for a book blind date the other day. It’s middle-grade YA though, pretty different from adult thriller.

      • Yep, she leaves him! Partly because she gets deported, but when he comes after her with new visas, she won’t have any of it. I supported her completely, what a jerk.

        Thanks for the rec of Full Cicada Moon! I’ll have a look.

  • Sounds very interesting, and I’ll definitely check it out. It sounds like the perfect mixture between usual and unusual. But I know the cheating will bother me as well. There’s way too much cheating going on, especially in contemporary literature, in my opinion.

    • I so agree. I guess that’s probably how much cheating is going on in real life, too? Is that cynical to think? Anyway, yeah, it wears me out to read it, especially when it’s a character I otherwise like.

      • Maybe the author’s just trying to be realistic – which is a depressing thought. I don’t like it either!

  • Stefanie@SoManyBooks

    My husband regularly abandons books because the characters cheated. I don’t generally read books that have infidelity in them and if I do they tend to be ones that deal with the aftermath, not use it as a plot point.

    • This comments thread has been hugely validating. Almost all of the commenters have said they also hate reading about cheating.

  • lol I can understand the ish factor with the protagonist cheating on his wife. That is so uncool. I think it can work when the motivation is well established, but it sounds like it wasn’t in this case. So fuck that guy

  • I’ll chime in with a totally opposite point of view and say that I don’t hate reading about cheating. In fact, some of my most favorite books in the world are about cheating. I think it’s part of human experience, and I like to find out why people do things, including bad things. I also like the ambiguity of books where a person is good but sometimes chooses to do nasty things; that seems realistic and helpful to me as part of a window into the human soul.

    • Akilah


  • Ha, I’d say it really depends on the situation of the cheating (in the book – I personally wouldn’t actually cheat, I’d probably dump their butts and then move on to the next one.) If the person being cheated on is horrible then I have far fewer qualms about characters seeking enjoyment elsewhere. However, cheating while your wife and daughter are in detention sounds like a douche-y thing to do!

  • I think it’s fine, but I don’t like it. I have very little sympathy for cheaters.

  • I know this post is almost a month old, but I have to weigh in to your question. 😀

    I try not to mind that a character is cheating, especially when the author is trying to drive the point that it isn’t right. I know life isn’t perfect – that bad things do happen to good people, that bad things are sometimes done by people who were previously good. But it still annoys the crap out of me when the central character in a novel where he is mostly doing good things goes out and cheats. (I don’t know if that’s the case in this book though.) Somehow, it sometimes feels like the author is saying “Yes stuff happens, deal with it”. I hope that at the very least, the cheating had some relevance to the storyline.