Review: ‘The Anatomy of a Sting’ by Bhupen Patel

An account of selective sting operations conducted by journalist and editor Bhupen Patel, ‘The Anatomy of a Sting’ makes for an interesting read. The book details ten such accounts by Patel during his career with media organizations like Mumbai Mirror, Mid-Day, and NDTV. But more interestingly, it stays true to its name.

Each account takes us to a new illegal activity or racket. From fake casting agents in Bollywood to the exploitative C Grade film industry that operates in parallel, from illegal adoption of kidnapped children to the off the record respite prisoners got in hospitals in the name of medical emergencies. How the author came across it, how he or someone he guided went undercover to lay a trap, how the evidence was gathered and evaluated, and what was the aftermath. Disclaimer: Not all the stings were successful. But all of them had a real threat of blowing over and endangering those who were involved.

The author gets into the nitty-gritty of a sting: the people, the setting, the equipment. I took the author’s message loud and clear: It all comes down to the person conducting the sting. And their job is to be the best actor they can under pressure to sell their act to the other party. The technology that complements the actor is important too. These operations, spread over years, visibly demonstrate the change in this technology. While the author has used a bulky camera with a limited standby capacity in one sting, he uses a camera hidden in his shirt’s button in another.

I’m glad the author didn’t stick to only the success stories to come across as a Bollywood hero. One of my favorite stories was that of a woman who tried to use him to frame a senior bureaucrat for sexual harassment. And another interesting one was the one where he found himself imprisoned in a foreign country while enquiring about a terrorist.

One thing to note would be that these are real life stories, due to which I have refrained from commenting on the plot points. The crimes, though nuanced, are not highly mysterious or difficult to understand.

At 212 pages of highly accessible English, this book can be finished in a sitting if one wills. I took my time with each story though. Making notes and thinking of alternate possibilities. If you’re a crime buff like me, you’d perhaps take equally long with this book. And it’ll probably be worth it.

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