A Crime in Calcutta
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 Amazon.com. 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.
Keywords: crime fiction, Paul Theroux, travel writing, India