An experimental narrative, alternating first-person and third-person points of view separated by chapters, no clear setting in terms of location except a time stamp before every chapter, an inventive voice that defines the contours of this rather unique plotline, Hungry Gods by Richa Lakhera is a new-age crime novel that needs to be read and enjoyed at leisure.
And yet, at the core of this story is a cliched plot that involves rape-cum-murder which is avenged two decades later by a mystery person. But aren’t all plots clichéd? “All stories,” to borrow from what Brandon Sanderson recently said, “have been told before.” How you tell it in your unique voice is the only remaining trick. Well, Richa’s voice is unique indeed, one that fits well into the ambit of that word ‘remaining’.
A part of the city where the story is set is called the Dune, a red light area next to the sea where the businesses of drugs and sex feed on one another to thrive. This is where lives Este, a prostitute, along with her infant daughter and her mother. The mother is mentally unstable and Este seems to be slowing moving in the same direction without her knowing, consumed as she is with the pressures of survival and the knowledge that her father and her daughter’s father might be the same man, a rich superstar who goes by the name of Neville Valentine.
Mr. Valentine is a thickheaded and short-tempered superstar, who has been hired to do a film series for a pharma company called Medici. Valentine has a basement under his bungalow right next to the beach where he keeps his sex toys and indulges in fetishes with select few upcoming starlets. He is cruel, his mind poisoned with money, drugs, and success, and he hates the legal head of Medici pharma, a man called Ranganathan, or just Ranga. Ranga likes young boys and hates Valentine as much as Valentine hates him. Their paths have crossed earlier too, we are told, when they had committed a crime together.
Over and above these characters are others like Mr. Dinesh Thackrey, who is the first to be murdered by the person avenging the killing. Then there is Thackrey’s daughter Rathi, and a journalist called Molly Limaye, who has access to information that can well derail Medici’s money-making plans with its new drug. And finally, there are the two police officers: Inspector Dorab Silva (a rather unique combination of a Parsi first name with a Christian surname) and his assistant Gauda (not the cheese, of course). These police officers, though as immoral as the others, have a set direction to take and they do precisely that right from the murder of Thackrey, as their investigation takes them to the location where Ranga is murdered, and finally to the attempted murder of Valentine. As they make headway, consumed by their own addiction to sex and drugs, they make intriguing discoveries.
The uniqueness of the names of people and places stand out. The bar in the Dune is called Roobi Bloo, the superstar lives in 555, Neverland, there’s a Pied Piper yacht in Dune harbour, and the police headquarters is located in South City etc.
The end, not quite as expected, is surprising if not rewarding. In many ways, reading this book is like watching a Guy Richie’s movie where multiple characters come in and out of a unique and inventive plot. All in all, Hungry Gods by Richa Lakhera is good read that you shouldn’t miss.
Rating 4.5 / 5 stars.