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Wednesday, August 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 75.0° F  Overcast
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A Book A Week: A Dead Hand: A Crime in Calcutta by Paul Theroux
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Doesn't Paul Theroux's A Dead Hand: A Crime in Calcutta sound like it's a mystery novel? Look at the cover: scary! But no, bait and switch.

It's really about a washed-up travel writer who becomes obsessed with a mysterious American woman living in Calcutta. On and on he goes about how beautiful she is, how fascinating, how unique. He can't get enough of her. When she asks him to look into a teeny problem she is having, of course he agrees; how could he not? Sucker.

He does eventually catch on to her nefarious business, but not until long after we have figured it out. Meanwhile, he's developed a bad case of writer's block (he has a "dead hand"), and we have to listen to him go on and on about that, too.

The weird thing is that Paul Theroux is himself kind of a crabby old travel writer (though I wouldn't describe him as "washed up"). What was Theroux trying to accomplish with this book? The mystery is dull and the characters are sketchy. The descriptions of India are good, though. Was Theroux really just writing another travel book with a half-baked novel plastered on top for marketing purposes?


Becky Holmes blogs about books at A Book A Week.

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