TODAY'S PAPER » SUNDAY MAGAZINE
February 14, 2016
On a knife’s edge
There is a twist at the end of Raakshas — India’s No.1 Serial Killer, but you will find no spoilers here
As long as you don’t look for subtlety, the account of ‘India’s numero uno’ serial killer is a racy read. The main protagonists, a lady ACP, Maithili Prasad, and the serial killer, forge a bond reminiscent of the one between Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling in Thomas Harris’s cult book, The Silence of the Lambs . However, in Jha’s story, the bond slowly, inevitably, turns fraught.
From the beginning to quite a bit into the book, the story is told alternately in the first and the third person, the serial killer adopting the latter and Maithili Prasad’s account of her life in the first person. Just so you know, both accounts begin literally with their respective births.
Predictably, we get to see the making of a serial killer in the early chapters which deal with the killer’s life. But this is where the book makes a departure from the prescribed path for the genre. We actually begin to sympathise with the man as we look back with him at his lonely, torturous childhood. The killer loses his mother at birth, and this incident enables Jha to start his story thus: ‘He became a killer the minute he was born; his mother died in childbirth.’ Brought up by a work-obsessed, unbalanced father who is increasingly cold, cruel and sadistic with his son, the boy’s gradual descent into hell begins almost on cue.
In deliberate contrast, Maithili Prasad’s childhood is a happy one. It is only later in her teenage years that she goes through turbulent times. She becomes indirectly responsible for a girl’s death, a murder she inadvertently commits; the murder runs like a thin wire through the story. So Prasad tussles with the troubling question: is she also a killer like the ‘raakshas’?
The serial killer, meanwhile, is honing his craft stealthily, gaining expertise along the way. Even as the boy’s slow transformation into a full-fledged killer takes place, Jha continues to evoke reader sympathy. The story proceeds at a brisk pace, the killer on his murderous spree and the ACP just a step behind him. The various disguises the killer adopts to meld in, that of a vacuum cleaner salesman, real estate agent, student, are well drawn.
Midway through the book, the killer has an affair with a woman for whom he seems to develop some feelings. Here again, the story departs from the genre norm: serial killers are usually portrayed as emotionless, remorseless individuals. A killer who develops a fondness for one of his eventual victims, one who goes through the resulting conflict of emotions, gives the story an interesting nuance. There is a neat twist at the end but you will find no spoilers here. The cat-and-mouse game between Prasad and the killer, which hurtles to its culmination, is also gripping.
In the climax, Jha uses a ruse that the American best-selling crime writer Karin Slaughter frequently employs to very telling effect: that of letting a reader know, even a peripheral character so that the character does not become just another faceless victim. The book contains all the crime thriller requisites: gore, violence, blood-letting, murders, even a tastelessly unsubtle cover picture. Hannibal Lecter would have approved.
Sheila Kumar is an independent writer, manuscript editor and author
based in Bengaluru.