Once you take up as a job, something you earlier did for the fun of it, the fun goes out and only the work remains. When a copy of “The Butcher of Benares” by Mahendra Jakhar was forcibly thrust into my Flipkart reader last week, I just grimaced and bore it – the very name did not appeal to me. Sighing resignedly, I flipped my e-Book open …
And bang! After a philosophical prelude, I found myself bang in the middle of a thrilling Dan Brownish prologue.
Sub-inspector Hawa Singh of the Delhi Crime Branch is in an encounter with a dreaded dacoit, during which he loses his entire team and the love of his life. Eight years later we find him as Senior Inspector visiting Benares with his dying (but lively) father, so that he (the father) may die in Kashi and directly attain Moksha, when a mysterious corpse comes floating down the Ganges river. The dead body, that of a beautiful woman, has had the heart removed and a wooden cross has been placed in the cavity.
After this thrilling prologue, we are introduced to the other characters of the story.
Having been on the scene of the crime Hawa Singh is called to assist the Benares police in their investigation. Ruby Malik, a FBI operative has been sent by the FBI to investigate the cause of death, as the dead woman is an American citizen. Without going too much into the details, the other dramatis personae are: two powerful men of Benares, (the Kashi Naresh and a mafia-boss-politician), each with a maniacal relative, two factions of sadhus the (Naga Sadhus and the Aghoris) always at loggerheads with each other and the police force of Benares with its bosses.
Another murder happens and then another. The pattern is the same – the victim is white. The victims have a connection with the Vatican and are in search of the Bhrigu Samhita, an ancient text on astrology. The murders are done in the same fashion – the heart of the victim has been removed and a wooden cross has been driven into the chest. At each of the places of the murders the killer leaves clues about the next target in the form of a horoscope – a serial killer is at large. What follows is an absorbing chase to nab the killer. The suspicion is turned on each of the suspects in turn and there is the expected twist at the tail. In between we see some more murders and a hint of romance between Hawa and Ruby.
- Is the killer is nabbed?
- Does the romance between Hawa Singh and Ruby blossom?
- Does Hawa Singh’s father die and attain moksha?
To know the answers read the book.
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- Kashi provides a fantastic setting to the story – its ancient history, its mysterious cults with their bizarre rituals, its association with astrology, death and having curious foreign tourists, who happen to be important personae in the story.
- The narrative keeps the reader involved throughout – events keep happening at intervals to maintain the reader’s interest.
- The author has successfully implemented the Dan Brownian pattern of murder-mystery-thrillers in an Indian setting.
- The itsy bitsy intimate moments can make the romantically inclined go “Aww”.
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- Characterization of the female lead was a big disappointment. She is just another pretty face, doing nothing substantial, despite being a FBI operative. In dangerous situations she instinctively clutches at / turns to the hero. She ministers to him at times of his distress, cleans and bandages his wounds.
- The characterization of the male protagonist too is stereotyped – he is the typical hardened, macho man; he has had a tragic past; he is master of any situation he finds himself in.
- Storyline is weak, several instances where the logic is not clear. For a thriller it is not “nail-biting” or “edge of the seat” kind of book.
- The writing style and language just about pass muster, though there are places where it could have been better.
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- Inserted within the narrative there are numerous philosophical ponderings by the author, some of which are thought-provoking.
- The intermittent small passages of descriptive writing are good – they add very much to the overall effect.
It was late evening and the Ganges seemed to suck out all sunlight. The sun hung limply in the sky …
- The author has done quite a bit of research. He provides tid-bits / historical information about many things. (eg. Description of different small weapons used – the M 1923, the M 9; about the history of the Bhrigu Samhita etc). Some of the info seems authentic while some can be contested.
- The Dan Brown pattern of thriller has come of age, and many writers of Indian origin have used it successfully.
Get thrilled – the desi way.