A new novel tells the story of a Karachi held hostage to a political party that is run by a charismatic, crazed and ruthless leader. The leader, even though he is in exile (in the US), exerts an iron grip on his party and his city, paralysing Karachi with strike calls and ordering the assassination of any comrade he begins to feel is either a threat or a nuisance. The party’s militant wing strikes terror into the hearts of citizens and carries out murder, torture and extortion with seeming impunity and at the behest of the leader known generally as the ‘Don’.
It’s fiction of course but it makes for a cracking good read.
With The Party Worker Omar Shahid Hamid, Karachi cop and novelist, has produced yet another pacy, racy urban thriller. This is his third novel in less than four years (after The Prisoner and The Spinner’s Tale) and it is very much a book about Karachi even though it opens with an assassination attempt in New York.
The novel’s characters include two dogged NYC detectives, a shady CIA officer, the feared head of the Party’s militant who has become a liability to the Don, an elderly Parsi man whose son has been a victim of the Party’s militant wing, a young woman who wants to avenge the murder of her police official brother, a lowly newspaper reporter with ambitions and a police officer back in the city after a long period of banishment in the form of postings in far flung areas of the country. And at the heart of it is the exiled Don, now an unsavoury and paranoid character but once a charming leader who inspired immense loyalty in his friends and followers.
The action moves through New York and Dubai and Karachi and through the present day as well as through the past, the decades of the Party’s initial formation. It gallops through Soldier Bazaar, Lines area, Lyari and Clifton, through Queens and the upper west side of New York, and reveals all sorts of power linkages, vested interests and underworld rackets. There are lots of swearing and bad language and criminal activity and a lot of visual description of the characters — what they look like, how they sound etc.
The Party Worker also makes reference to the characters and events of Hamid’s first novel The Prisoner and though we do not actually meet Akbar Khan again (the character Hamid modelled on real life cop Chaudhry Aslam), we do come across the province’s former chief minister Yousuf Chandio who was undone by the killing of his brother in a police shootout. But perhaps the author’s most impressive creation is ‘the old man’, a Parsi widower living in his house in Soldier Bazaar with deep sorrow and many memories, but determined to get at least revenge, if not justice.
As a police officer, Hamid has a unique insight into the underworld and mafias that control Karachi, and the political linkages and financial arrangement that are linked to these. His stories reiterate the adage that indeed truth is stranger than fiction.
This novel is real page turner and it has the un-put-downable quality of a work by Dan Brown or Lee Child. Hamid finishes the story with an almost operatic ending, everything coming together in the climax of one character’s clever and devious plan.
The Party Worker is an entertaining and gripping read and with it Hamid has secured his place as master of this genre, the Karachi crime thriller.