Blog Tour Review & Giveaway: The Thing About Thugs

I received this book for free from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Blog Tour Review & Giveaway: The Thing About ThugsThe Thing About Thugs by Tabish Khair
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on July 24, 2012
Genres: Historical, Mystery
Pages: 256
Format: ARC
Source: TLC Book Tours

A subversive, macabre novel of a young Indian man’s misadventures in Victorian London as the city is racked by a series of murders

In a small Bihari village, Captain William T. Meadows finds just the man to further his phrenological research back home: Amir Ali, confessed member of the infamous Thugee cult. With tales of a murderous youth redeemed, Ali gains passage to England, his villainously shaped skull there to be studied. Only Ali knows just how embroidered his story is, so when a killer begins depriving London’s underclass of their heads, suspicion naturally falls on the “thug.” With help from fellow immigrants led by a shrewd Punjabi woman, Ali journeys deep into a hostile city in an attempt to save himself and end the gruesome murders.

Ranging from skull-lined mansions to underground tunnels a ghostly people call home, The Thing about Thugs is a feat of imagination to rival Wilkie Collins or Michael Chabon. Short-listed for the 2010 Man Asian Literary Prize, this sly Victorian role reversal marks the arrival of a compelling new Indian novelist to North America.

First Sentence: “This is what I see across time and space.”

The Thing About Thugs is not precisely my ordinary reading material. Howe cover, I have always been morbidly fascinated by books about serial killers, although I’m not sure that designation is quite right for what happens here. At any rate, I was also drawn in by the racial tensions and the unique sound to the story. Sadly, The Thing About Thugs did not turn out to be precisely my kind of read.

What was really cool about this book was all that I learned about the study of phrenology, or trying to read the human skull, something I knew little about previously. I think I’d heard of it, but that’s about it. The study itself, while creepy, is also scientifically and psychologically interesting. While the debates about phrenology might tire some readers, I found those sections to be most illuminating.

So, too, did I enjoy the parts about the murders. More than that, I enjoyed the whole way the scientific process sometimes worked back then, with some men robbing graveyards for the bodies to be used in experiments. What grisly work! People would go to such lengths to study such things. It amazes me that there was a whole underworld industry for that.

What lost me more than anything else as a reader, though, was the structure Khair used to tell this story. While Khair’s writing itself is good and not without appeal and skill, I didn’t care much for the organization or narration style used. I found that I was constantly withdrawn from the story and that the focus was often on the least interesting (to me) aspects.

Khair told the story through multiple media: newspaper articles, letters written by Amir Ali to his love (though never sent), transcripts of Amir Ali’s story to William T. Meadows, first person narration (though we don’t know whose for a long time), and even (I think) some omniscient third-person narration. This was just too much. I feel like it would have been a stronger novel with more of the third-person narration. The first person narration was jarring, especially following third person sections. I had so much trouble trying to figure out what was going on and I don’t think that added to the story in any way.

Amir Ali’s story is an interesting one, and he is a compelling character. However, I didn’t feel like I particularly came to know him, probably because all I really learned about him was from his letters. This means I was only TOLD who he was, rather than getting to see him interact with anyone too much.

Obviously, this book has been lauded, what with being shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize. Though it was not my cup of cocoa, I think other readers will likely enjoy this Victorian mystery, in which prejudices are generally wrong. I am giving away my ARC to one of my readers!

Favorite Quote:

“Forgiveness and vengeance are easy only in thought, when language pretends to tell us all about life.”

5 responses to “Blog Tour Review & Giveaway: The Thing About Thugs”

  1. Gea Bridged says:

    the book is intriguing. the story beyond the murdering and stuff.. thank you for the review and giveaway!

  2. Anita Yancey says:

    I really enjoyed reading your review on this book. It certainly sounds interesting. I have always been interested in phrenology and murder cases too. Thanks for having this giveaway.

  3. Nancy says:

    Sounds deliciously creepy. Count me in.

    nanze55 at hotmail dot com

  4. There IS something horribly fascinating about serial killers so I can see why you are drawn to books like this.

    Thanks for being on the tour.

    • Christina says:

      So glad I’m not alone in being drawn to the dark stuff, although, if I were, CSI and Criminal Minds and Law & Order would not be nearly so popular, I suppose. 😉

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