White Tiger was one of my favorite books in 2009, and though the premise of his newest book, Last Man in Tower, didn't appeal to me in quite the same way, I was more than willing to try it on the strength of the author's name alone.
Last Man in Tower is about an aging housing complex, called a "Society," in India. A wealthy builder wants to demolish the building and turn it into luxury housing, and he offers a large amount of money to buy the building from the current occupants. Eventually, all members of the close-knit Society agree to the sale except Masterji, a retired teacher and recent widower, who continues to hold out even when his neighbors begin to turn on him.
On the surface, Last Man in Tower seems like a pretty traditional story: greedy builder offers hardworking but struggling people unimaginable fortunes; greed then brings out the worst in people, turning kindly neighbors into monsters. In fact, the story seemed from the outset to be so straightforward and unoriginal that I almost anticipated some crazy twist. I was surprised when, in fact, Last Man in Tower is exactly the story that you'd expect from that set-up. There are no twists, no unexpected character development. The developer remains greedy and cruel; the neighbors devolve into inhumane savages and make excuses for themselves later; Masterji stays stubborn until the end.
It is a testament to Adiga's skill as a writer that Last Man in Tower is engaging even though the plot itself is not particularly so, and he does an excellent job of drawing out his characters, particularly Masterji and Mrs. Puri, the doting mother of a teenage son with Down's syndrome. The daily life of India is also particularly vivid, from the Society building itself to the streets of Mumbai. The only part of Adiga's writing I didn't care for was the frequent animal symbolism, which seemed heavy-handed and unnecessary. For example, (warning: spoiler) just before a group of Society members finally decides to kill Masterji, they root a crow's nest with baby crows out of the building, purposefully stepping on and killing one of the hatchlings. We get it.
Last Man in Tower is just as well-written as Adiga's previous novel, though it's not nearly as good. It's more straightforward than White Tiger, though, so it may appeal more to a general audience.