Author: David S. Arthur
Publisher: Brighton Publishing LLC
American novelist, David S. Arthur sets his most recent novel, Shaytan: A Journey into Evil in the Indian village of Gohatti in the tiny Indian village of Gohatti in 1947 where a feared and deadly man-eating leopard roams the nearby jungle. The few inhabitants that did manage to see the beast and who survived to recount their findings describe it as “a shadow in the shadow with eyes like fire- something that kills in the midst of many but can neither be seen nor heard.”
As the yarn unfolds, British archaeologist and classical historian Richard Quizzenbury and his wife Emily are planning an extended exploration of the Indian subcontinent to visit the historic sites of ancient people in pursuit of their mysteries.
Richard contacts a former University of Oxford classmate of his, Victor Bloodworth, who resides in India, announcing his intentions to visit India with his wife. Upon receiving Richard's communication, Victor immediately invites the couple to stay with him in his hilltop estate overlooking Bombay. The couple are delighted to receive the invitation, and when they arrive at Victor's home, they are informed that their host has received a rather curious inquiry from a Colonel Ram Singh of the Forest Guard. It seems there is a man-eating leopard that has been at prey in a remote section of the Narmada River Valley, southeast of Indore and Victor has been invited to go and hunt this beast. Victor then asks Richard and Emily if they care to go along with him, and after some apprehension, they agree to accompany him. As Richard states, “never in our wildest imagination could we have foreseen how Victor's generous hospitality would lead to the harrowing circumstances soon to be confronting us in the remote regions of India's Central Provinces.”
Using the journals and the voices of Richard, Emily and Victor, the author allows the three to reveal their distinct perspectives of their Indian adventures which, as we are informed, include Victor's descriptions of certain, and perhaps even paranormal, episodes.
Initially, the killings were confined to an area surrounding the village of Gohatti, however, within days the leopard visits other areas and eludes being destroyed by everything from traps, poisons, rifles and even using a human body as bait. Suspicion falls upon a traveling magician (fakir) who incites the villagers and offers to cast a charm for a fee to protect them from the mad animal. Unfortunately, this only exacerbates the situation and even almost leads to the murdering of the fakir, whom some believe that by day walks among them as a human and at night a ferocious animal that kills for the sake of killing and not for food.
From time-to-time the novel falters as Arthur has a tendency to overwrite and wander with his philosophical reflections of Indian culture, its Gods, legends, history, arcane scriptures, astonishing revelations about the past and perhaps the future, superstitions and religion, which, I admit grasping it can be a trifle difficult and tiresome. Nonetheless, readers will not only come away with great respect for his breathtaking ear for language and his ability to fashion memorable and credible characters but also his dexterity in maintaining our concern for the villagers and the hazards they face. In addition, the novel is quite impressive in effectively evoking place and mood as it zips along at the pace of a thriller gluing me to my chair until the final chapter impatient to see how it will all end.