Set in the world of India’s moneyed crime families, Age of Vice updates The Godfather for our Succession-obsessed times. Deepti Kapoor’s sprawling novel - allegedly the first in a trilogy - follows the interlocking stories of three characters: Sunny Wadia, a rich playboy eager to get out from the shadow of his criminal kingpin father; Neda, the journalist with whom he strikes a dangerous relationship; and Ajay, his dirt-poor servant who rises through the ranks of the corrupt Wadia family.
Add the vibrant backdrop of contemporary India in all its socio-political and cultural complexity, and you have the ingredients of an explosive page turner.
The first propulsive third truly delivers, finding in young Ajay a sympathetic guide into this glitzy but lethal universe. His journey is compelling, a morally ambiguous protagonist on a rightful mission in a corrupt world, providing both the thriller’s underdog hook and the lens through which to unpack deeper themes of class, power and justice.
And then… not very much at all. 175 pages in, we switch to Neda and Sunny, characters with interior lives at once simplistic and confused, who struggle to uphold the reader’s sympathy, or even our attention. The rest of the novel - and at 550 pages, there’s quite a bit of it, meanders towards a climax I found predictable, underwhelming and inconclusive.
To get there, you have to read hundreds of exhausting (and exhaustive) lines about urban decadence that boil down to the titular vices of vodka, cocaine and cigarettes, repeated ad nauseam.
What remains are colourful depictions of a society on the brink, and a setting whose novelty (to this reader at least) saves the novel from the generic, but only just. Perhaps tomes two and three will deliver on Ajay’s promising journey, but it’s a wager I’m hesitant to make.