There is an inherent pleasure to read a book with little expectations and be pleasantly surprised with it. Prey by the Ganges by Hemant Kumar maintains a consistent tone over the course of nearly 400 pages and provides a tight thriller that is hard to put down. It helps that the author is sure-footed with the milieu the story has panned itself and brings an ensemble of engrossing characters that are difficult to get out of your mind even after finishing the book.
Set in 1948, during one night on the bank of Ganges, Vaidya Shambhu along with his servant, Hariya, are waiting for his friend, Ravi, who to had gone to Janak Ganj to trade with Thakur Suraj Singh. Shambhu, helplessly, watches his friend getting beaten to death. When the bandits leave Ravi on the brink of death, Shambhu brings the dead body, washes it and buries it. Intrigued to find the reason of his death, he starts a journey to Janaj Ganj to take on the evil Thakur, Gajanan. Both the Thakurs are competitors and are loggerheads with each other. What follows is a fascinating story about dealing with these two characters and a blood-curling heist for an exclusive diamond.
From the word go, with the nerve-wrecking description of killing of Ravi, the author barge in the point that it is not going to be an easy read. Over the course of the narrative, we are introduced to an eclectic mix of characters – the psychopath among Thakur’s men, the nubile girl having immense sexual prowess, the well-knitted thakurain, the lusty babe whose piece both the gangs want and many more. All these characters interwoven seamlessly within the narrative brings about a roller-coaster ride that will engage and enthrall you no ends.
The book flirts with such themes as the compromises of village politics, the price that must be paid for integrity, and the loss of innocence. Even these revelations aren’t of an earth-shattering magnitude, and the book feels naive for presenting them as such. But despite its shortcomings, the book works as a tight thriller that sustains dramatic tension throughout. The only time it falters is when all the blood-curling and abusive scenes starts to appear repetitively, almost sequentially making you feel like skipping the pages and get on the climactic deal.
I am going with 3.5/5 for Hemant Kumar’s debut novel, ‘Prey by the Ganges’. It is written with love, care and affection albeit portraying emotions of lust, revenge and power. A fresh voice on the Indian fiction circuit, which needs to be loved, nurtured and protected to provide us even better work in the future. Go ahead and get absorbed in a world of gory details, highly recommended!
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