Monday, October 18, 2010

A Dead Hand

A Crime in Calcutta
Paul Theroux

Paul Theroux is the well known travel writer who visits uncomfortable, out of the way places, riding with the locals on public transportation and writes unflattering descriptions of the places he visits and the people who live there. He has written 58 books, according to About half of them are novels set in exotic places and A Dead Hand is one of those.
The protagonist of A Dead Hand is a hack writer of magazine articles about travel to exotic locations, someone like but not like Theroux himself. He uses this character to poke fun at himself and his reputation as a travel writer, showing that he has a fine sense of humor.

The book is written in the form a a classic murder mystery which starts of with his down at the heels writer receiving a hand written letter from a mysterious woman, delivered to him at the hotel he is staying at in Calcutta. Events proceed as expected from there, including a body found in a hotel room, a romance between the writer and the mysterious lady and a variety plot devices which lead to a denouement in which all is resolved though the clever investigation performed by the protagonist. I am trying not to release spoilers in this review, which is a hard thing to do. I found the plot to be rather thin and easy to penetrate anyway, but this did not reduce my enjoyment of the book one bit. Theroux was not trying to write a rip snorting who-done-it. He was parodying the form.

One unusual plot device, used to good effect, is to bring Paul Theroux, the famous big time travel writer into the book and have a meeting between him and the hack writer protagonist. This is written from the jealous hack writer's point of view and is there for no other reason that the humor involved in the situation and perhaps to poke a little fun at the post modernist, self referential novelists of the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries (see John Barth) It also gives him more scope to laugh at Paul Theroux in a very self referential post modernist way.

This post is in the 56th

Book Review Blog Carnival

Keywords: crime fiction, Paul Theroux, travel writing, India


  1. Thanks for this. Because I'm now teaching a course on Christianity in India, I'm often to be found reading books of all sorts about India. Here is a link to a review of one I liked alot, Sea of Poppies:
    I liked its 19th century setting and the window it gives on the globalization of that time.

  2. You remember his parents lived down the street from us in Acton, right?

  3. I remember you saying that. Did you ever meet Paul? He was grown up and out of the house by the time we lived there.

    I liked their Saab - the first one I ever saw.

  4. Yes, I remember seeing him play tennis at the high school courts once and Frank and I getting a ride in one of their White Saabs. They had three, all of them fit in a 1960's two car garage.

  5. Your description seems like an odd way to write but I like a sense of humor and someone humble enough to poke fun at himself! Sounds like an interview with this author would be fun! I like the title of this one.

    Here's another new-to-me author to investigate. Thank you for sharing! :)


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