Book Review – The Puppeteers of Palem by Sharat Komarraju
To be honest, I started on this book with trepidation, for frankly, the horror thriller genre is not my preferred bedtime reading. Quite frankly, I was anticipating Ramsey brothers with a Telegu accent, and was preparing for some unintended humour.
However, Sharat Komarraju has taken this book beyond the narrow confines of this genre. This is a tale of patriarchy, caste oppression, economic depression and the resultant violence hidden behind the facade of a rural idyll.
The form is that of narration from the perspective of the different members of a group of young people, who had grown up in the village listening to the stories of a village elder, and who had since moved out to the larger world outside. They were all returning to the village which appears to be under threat from some malevolent supernatural power, summoned by a letter from their old storyteller.
The village had been plagued by a series of unnatural deaths occurring at various spots in the village linked to some similar mishaps of the past. This is attributed to an evil spirit that resides somewhere in the village. These children, led by the storyteller, had destroyed this creature once before, and were gathering together to do so once again.
The story keeps going backward and forward in time, and is interspersed with newspaper reports and narration by a TV journalist who covers the unfolding drama of the unknown village.
We also get glimpses from the past history of the village and our protagonists, which have a bearing on the current incidents. This history is of poverty, degradation, hatred, violence and death.
The visitors start dying violently one by one, and mutual suspicion poisons the air.
Here the mystery deepens, as to who is the killer on the loose, and who is controlled by the evil spirit.
The entire village seems to be infected by this vileness. We are no longer certain what fact is and what is fiction. Dreams and memories intermingle. Our dramatis personae all appear to have guilty secrets.
I was hoping that there would be a rational explanation to it all, which would make it an excellent whodunit.
But the author chose the eerier option of the supernatural to conclude the mystery. What redeemed it however was the justification of the spirit, which destroyed the village seeking vengeance on the society that destroyed her.
I will not spoil the surprise ending by revealing more. If horror thrillers with the supernatural are your literary diet,