cover image The Bandit Queens

The Bandit Queens

Parini Shroff. Ballantine, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-0-593-49895-8

In Shroff’s acerbic debut, a woman helps other women escape their abusive marriages in their small village in India, often through murder. Geeta’s unearned reputation for having killed her physically abusive husband, Ramesh (he’s not dead, he just ran off), prompts women to approach her for help. It’s a fortuitous development for Geeta, who’s become socially isolated after a fight with her lifelong friend Saloni, who’s part of the microloan group that funds Geeta’s jewelry business. As well, Geeta admires the legendary Bandit Queen, who exacted revenge on those who’d wronged her, and agrees to help a local named Farah kill her husband (Farah’s first attempt backfired because she mistook hair growth pills for sleeping pills). Geeta also connects with widower Karem, a bootlegger, though not before costing him his livelihood by putting a stop to Karem’s biggest buyer, Bada-Bhai (Bada-Bhai was cutting the booze with methanol and testing it on dogs, and Geeta frees the dogs). After Geeta adopts Bada-Bhai’s sickest dog, whom she names Bandit, she begins allowing others into her life, including Saloni, which helps after Ramesh resurfaces. Shroff deals sharply with misogyny and abuse, describing the misery inflicted as well as its consequences in unflinching detail, and is equally unsparing in her depictions of mean-girl culture in the village. Readers are in for a razor-stuffed treat. (Jan.)