cover image A Dead Hand

A Dead Hand

Paul Theroux. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26 (279pp) ISBN 978-0-547-26024-2

The prolific and well-traveled Theroux follows Ghost Train to the Eastern Star with a crime novel set in India. Jerry Delfont, a middle-aged travel writer, has ended up in Calcutta with no stories, no ideas, and no clear direction until he receives a letter from Mrs. Merrill Unger asking for his help. Rajat, a friend of Mrs. Unger’s son, woke up in a cheap hotel with the dead body of a boy on the floor of his room and fled, rightly untrusting of the police. Jerry meets the Mrs. Unger and falls under her spell, his obsession fueled by her beauty and her skill at tantric massage. Mrs. Unger, who runs a children’s charity, came to India to work with Mother Teresa, but soon joined “the temple across the street” dedicated to Kali and is a practicing priestess who doesn’t shirk at the goddess’s requirement of animal sacrifice. While it’s all good light fun, the real pleasure is Theroux’s talent for rendering place and his irreverent comments on everything from the British royals to pop culture, aging, and yes, the venerable Mother Teresa. (Feb.)