Siddhartha Deb, . . Ecco, $24.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-06-050155-6

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AN OUTLINE OF THE REPUBLIC Siddhartha Deb . Ecco , $24.95 (336p) ISBN 0-06-050155-3

The pursuit of a mysterious story transforms an Indian reporter in Deb's ambitious second novel (after The Point of Return ), vividly capturing the unrest and political infighting that underlies daily life in much of India. Amrit Singh is the bored, disillusioned Sikh protagonist who grinds through his days working for a Calcutta daily until he is jolted from his ennui by an assignment to cover the murder of a woman taken hostage and apparently shot and killed by an insurgent group. A photo of the woman haunts Amrit as he travels toward the Burmese border. At first she is identified as a porn star who was killed to set a moral example, but as Amrit makes his way through a labyrinth of politicos, military figures and shady allies, he learns that the woman, named Leela, was working with a prominent local leader on an optimistic renewal enterprise called the Prosperity Project. The climax is a mixed bag—the fate of Malik, the organizer of the Prosperity Project, who was temporarily able to do business with the insurgents, makes for an intriguing twist—but the final chapters outlining Amrit's efforts to interview Leela are a serious letdown. Still, Deb's intelligent writing and cool, observational tone distinguish this look at the curious mixture of danger, hope and boredom endemic to India's remote provinces. Agent, David Miller. (Apr. 15)