The book “Xianqui” by Raghu Srinivasan, a serving officer in the Indian Army, is an unputdownable thriller about Chinese military aggression and the threat of a nuclear war.
In the novel, in the year 2019, the temperamental President of the United States of America has imposed trade sanctions on a belligerent China. The leaders of the Communist Party in China initiate military action, drawing its rival superpowers Japan and the United States into a conflict that portends an all-out nuclear war. As nations across the globe switch to emergency mode, Japanese intelligence reveals that China’s aggression could have been fuelled by a singular circumstance: the development of a vaccine based on ancient tribal knowledge that could tilt military balance in its favour.
The fate of the world now rests on the success of a quest undertaken by an eclectic team – a Japanese policewoman, an Indian ethnologist and a young Indian mountain guide, assisted in part by a devious Russian geologist – to unravel the only clue they have at hand, buried in a fable from a time long past, when the magic of the shamans guided the rulers of Tibet.
Read an excerpt from the book below.
15 March 2019
The Keishi-cho, commissioner of police, Susi Mamoto, was winding up her day when the internal phone buzzed. She glanced at it and grimaced. She had had a hard day and was looking forward to a shower and a couple of drinks. She let the phone buzz a few times and then picked up.
‘Sir?’ she asked her boss, the chief metropolitan commissioner of Tokyo.
‘Will you come into my office now?’ the urbane, polite voice on the line asked rhetorically. When she went to his office, he made her sit down and came directly to the reason he had summoned her.
‘The Imperial Household Agency wants to see you,’ the chief said, referring to the organization responsible for the upkeep and day-to-day functioning of the imperial palace.
She cocked her head to one side, looking puzzled. ‘Why?’
‘I am told they are looking for a new head of security for the imperial palace. They want to interview you.’
‘Oh,’ she replied, surprised. Don’t they do background checks? Didn’t someone tell them why she had been posted to this dreary, mind-numbing, paper-pushing desk? ‘But there’s been some mistake, chief – I did not request the job.’
‘I know,’ the chief agreed, looking uncomfortable. This interview with Susi was something of an aberration; he usually dealt with her on the phone. As a general rule, he avoided contact with ‘disharmonious spirits’, including her. ‘They have asked for you, nonetheless. It is a very prestigious appointment, and there are many applicants. You should be pleased.’
‘I don’t want it.’
‘I don’t think there is a choice.’
There was a silence as they both looked at each other. ‘Susi?’ her boss asked gently.
She began to fumble in her pockets for a cigarette. She lit one and took a deep drag. The chief shook his head disapprovingly but didn’t say anything. Smoking inside the building was a strict no-no.
‘I won’t go,’ she said, blowing out smoke. ‘You can’t make me.’
‘It’s an official directive,’ the chief replied. He had reached into his drawer and pulled out an ashtray which he placed on the table.
‘Sure,’ she retorted angrily, ‘and I am wilfully disobeying an order.’
The chief said nothing. Then, after a long pause, he tapped the table authoritatively, to draw her attention. ‘Look, why don’t you go there and tell them that you don’t want the job?’
‘When do I have to go?’ she asked.
‘Tomorrow,’ he replied, rubbing his bald head, sounding hugely relieved that she had agreed to something. ‘You have to be there at 10 a.m. The palace will send a vehicle to your apartment at 9.30 a.m.’
‘Very well,’ she replied and began to get up.
‘And Commissioner,’ he said, tapping the desk again.
‘Be polite, wear your ceremonial uniform, and try not to smoke in the palace?’ he grunted, not looking up from his files. He missed the look she gave him as she turned and left the room.
Her car went past the palace gates at exactly 9.50 a.m. It was a cold, cloudy and gloomy day but still, the kokyo, as the imperial palace was called, had all of its ethereal beauty. Their car went across the Nijubashi Bridge, crossing the moat, to the private area where the royal family and their staff resided. Susi could see why many of her colleagues on the police force were enamoured by the job she was just about to turn down. No long hours, meet the rich and famous and live the good life like a princess in a castle.
The car stopped in front of a double-storey building of stone and timber, with a carpet of creepers draping the walls. She was met at the door by a distinguished-looking gentleman with silver hair, who bowed. ‘Madame Commissioner, I am Tomo Yaguchi, the grand steward of the imperial household. If you would follow me?’
Susi bowed back, and then raised her hand in a gesture of stopping the proceedings before they went any further. ‘I’m afraid there has been a misunderstanding, honourable grand steward,’ she said. ‘I most respectfully do not want to be considered for the appointment.’
Her statement did not seem to affect the older man, who had already started walking towards another door at the rear of the room – he did not even break stride. ‘That is quite understandable, Commissioner,’ he retorted. ‘But perhaps you will join us for a cup of tea.’
Susi looked at him puzzled, and then not knowing what else to do, she followed him out of the door, which he closed behind them. They were in a hallway which ended in a flight of stairs. They climbed them whereupon they came to a genkan, a traditional Japanese doorway, where, taking her cue from the grand steward, she took off her shoes and changed into the cloth slippers placed on a small table. They entered a large room furnished tastefully in wood and bamboo, with one wall covered with a large number of black-and-white photographs. On the opposite side were French windows with lace curtains, overlooking the grounds, filling the room with natural light. At the far end, an old man in the robes of a Buddhist monk was seated at one end of a low table. There was what appeared to be a three-sided chessboard with ornate pieces in front of him.
They walked up to the old man and the grand steward bowed, to which the old man responded without getting up. Susi then noticed that he was seated in a wheelchair. The steward bowed again to the old man and then abruptly walked away, exiting the room through another door.
Susi turned, hearing the old man speaking.
‘Sit down. But before that, could you pour both of us some tea? The things are on the sideboard behind you.’
‘Yes, of course,’ she replied, looking curiously at him.
He was bald and stout, with pink, slightly discoloured pouches under his weak, watery eyes, which peered at her through silver-rimmed spectacles that had gone out of fashion 40 years ago. He had the comfortable, affable manner of a gentle, humorous grandfather. Susi found herself instinctively taking a liking to him, and knew she needed to remain wary. It’s definitely not going to be just a cup of tea, she thought.
She poured out two cups, placing one in front of the old man before taking her seat in front of him.
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