The Puppeteers of Palem by Sharath Komarraju is a decent horror thriller set in a small sleepy village in South India. This is a type of village where everyone knows everyone else. The book has almost all the elements of a nicely written horror story. There is spookiness, a number of murders, tragedy and a disturbing dark atmosphere. And, most importantly, there is suspense and tension with a number of twists and turns. The author has successfully created an atmosphere of creepiness. The book also throws light on some of the social evils (caste repression, economic depression and exploitation of woman) that exist in our society. However, while the book starts on a good note, the plot gradually gets skewed and you start to get confuse by the events that are taking place in the book. Consequently, the heavy atmosphere the author has created starts to strangulate you.
Two parallel but interwoven stories (one set in 1984 and the other in 2001) oscillate throughout the book. I have no problem with this method and, in fact, I am a big fan of this technique. Such a continuous fluctuation in timelines can not only be used in building the suspense and moving the story forward, but also can be used in building an intricate and integral back-story. However, organizing the timelines in a manner that both sets of plot merge near the appropriate moments in the main story is not an easy job. The author needs to balance both the timelines in such a way that the events happening in the book appear in a logical pattern. And, this is what, I think, missing in the book – ‘a logical patterning of the events’. Every now and then the author has tried his best to shock the readers with interesting twists but the execution of the same could have been better.
The story revolves around five friends who return to their childhood village after receiving a mysterious letter. However, after reaching there, they realize that their village was not the same village where they had spent their childhood. Something sinister was going on in the village. One by one, they are hunted down. Who was killing them? Was there any childhood event connected to their deaths? Were their childhood sins coming back to haunt them or was there any supernatural element involved in these killings? Read the book to know the answers of these intriguing questions.
The narration is crisp and the language used is simple. The author has used simple but powerful words to paint the story. The village life has been depicted so well that you can visualize it easily. While characters have been fleshed out adroitly, the number of supporting characters could have been reduced. The cover justifies the contents of the book.
I always enjoy reading Sharath Komarraju’s books. His other books like The Crows of Agra (a murder mystery where Birbal of Akbar-Birbal fame plays the role of a sleuth), Murder in Amravati (a murder mystery set in a rural village of South India), Nari (a book that deals with the sensitive topic of rape) and The Winds of Hastinapur (a book that concentrates on the ladies of our grand old epic Mahabharata) are definitely a pleasure to read. Though the book under review is a nice read, the execution of the story-line could definitely have been better. Most probably, my expectations were much higher.