A Dead Hand, By Paul Theroux

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"The envelope had no stamp and only my name underlined on the front; it had somehow found me in Calcutta." So begins Paul Theroux's 31st novel, and by the end of page one, you're hooked.

Jerry Delfont, a travel writer suffering from writer's block, is asked as a favour by Mrs Merrill Unger, an American philanthropist who works to save homeless children in Calcutta, to investigate the mystery of a dead child found in a hotel bedroom.

The novel is a brilliant evocation of modern India, as you'd expect from a gifted travel writer such as Theroux. He has a marvellous ear for the way that Indians of different classes handle English idioms. There is a cameo appearance by Theroux himself, described by Delfont as "inquisitive, evasive, probing, a bit sad and unsatisfied" and as "having lost his looks, if he'd ever had any". It's a dark story, full of artfully timed revelations, and by the end you feel you've had a great deal of story for 265 pages. A nourishing novel by an experienced writer at the top of his game.

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