The Thing About Thugs by Tabish Khair
Published: 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Source: Received from publisher for review
The Thing About Thugs was a confusing book for me. The main story, set in Victorian London, takes up most of the novel; however a narrative set in the present day pops in occasionally. This narrative, from a young man perusing the contents of his grandparents’ library in their Indian home (presumably the author), and said contents are the origin of the other part of the novel, but I couldn’t understand why this part was included.
So let’s turn back to the main story. It is told from several perspectives and centers on a series of gruesome killings where the heads of the victims are decapitated. The perpetrator of the crime, John May, takes the skulls and sells them to a wealthy benefactor who has a macabre collection of odd-shaped skulls. Though the victims are from the underclass of London society, the killings cause a stir in London.
Suspicion falls immediately on Amir Ali, a member of a cult of thugs (Thugees) in India who is brought to London by a British army man to document his life. Ali’s story in India and his relationship with Jenny, a servant in Meadows’ home, is also brought into the narrative, though to what effect I’m not entirely sure.
So yes, I was confused. The story of the killings and the search for the killers (known to the readers) was interesting and reminded me of an old-time murder mystery, but the constant change in the narrative perspective was hard to follow, especially when the narration went from present day to Victorian London sometimes within the same paragraph.
Not my cup of tea, unfortunately, but please visit the other stops on this blog tour for different opinions.