Jerry Delfont leads an aimless life in Calcutta, struggling in vain against his writer’s block, or ‘dead hand,’ and flitting around the edges of a half-hearted romance. Then he receives a mysterious letter asking for his help. The story it tells is disturbing: A dead boy found on the floor of a cheap hotel, a seemingly innocent man in flight and fearing for reputation as well as his life.
Before long, Delfont finds himself lured into the company of the letter’s author, the wealthy and charming Merrill Unger, and is intrigued enough to pursue both the mystery and the woman. A devotee of the goddess Kali, Unger introduces Delfont to a strange underworld where tantric sex and religious fervor lead to obsession, philanthropy and exploitation walk hand in hand, and, unless he can act in time, violence against the most vulnerable in society goes unnoticed and unpunished.
An atmospheric and masterful thriller from “the most gifted, the most prodigal writer of his generation” (Jonathan Raban).
This is a novel that I read a long time ago, and am only now reviewing it because I could not figure out what I felt about the book. Even now, I’m not sure … It was not the easiest to read because the action took quite a long time to happen, and quite honestly, I could not like any of the characters very much.
However, what I did like was being transported to the bustling streets and by-ways of Calcutta and meeting the eccentric, quirky, and out of the ordinary characters of the city. This is one of those stories that mix fact and fiction, and to be honest, because Theroux is known for his non-fiction work, it was difficult to tell whether this was fiction or non-fiction. There were aspects of the story, especially when truth behind the dead boy is revealed, that broke my heart.
This was nothing like I expected it to be, which is not a bad thing … just different. It’s worth a read.