The Thing About Thugs

The Thing About Thugs by Tabish Khair
ARC provided by the publisher through TLC Book Tours
Description from back cover of the book:
In a small Bihari village, Captain William T. Meadows finds just the man to further his phrenological research back home: Amir Ali, confessed member of the infamous Thugee cult. With tales of a murderous youth redeemed, Ali gains passage to England, his villainously shaped skull there to be studied. Only Ali knows just how embroidered his story is, so when a killer begins depriving London’s underclass of their heads, suspicion naturally falls on the “thug.” With help from fellow immigrants led by a shrewd Punjabi woman, Ali journeys deep into a hostile city in an attempt to save himself and end the gruesome murders.
Ranging from skull-lined mansions to underground tunnels concealing a ghostly people, The Thing about Thugs is a feat of imagination to rival Wilkie Collins or Michael Chabon. Short-listed for the 2010 Man Asian Literary Prize, this Victorian role reversal is a sly take on the post-colonial novel and marks the arrival of a compelling Indian novelist to North America.

My take:
The Thing About Thugs is such an interesting book on many different levels.The premise of the book is intriguing and has enough potential scandal to draw the reader in. But there is so much more to this book.  Tabish Khair, the author, uses more than one type of storytelling in the novel. There is first-person narration, third-person narration, personal letters, and newspaper articles - all used to tell the story from different perspectives and in some cases, different versions of the same story. Once I got the various voices straight in my own mind, I thoroughly enjoyed the transitions from voice to voice and really loved the different views of the characters, events, motivations, and the world presented in each different type of storytelling. I especially enjoyed the disparity between the excerpts from the writings of Captain Meadows and Amir Ali's version written in his personal letters.

The mystery of exactly who is killing the members of London's underclass is never a mystery to the reader, but the general public and the authorities jump to all the wrong conclusions in the matter. The way the elites reason and the complete wrongness of their beliefs is quite fun to read. The limited views held by many about class, race, gender, etc. are all dealt with in the novel. While I did enjoy Amir Ali and his quest to find the real murderer, I found that the character I was the most interested in was Qui Hy - an intriguing, mystery of a woman who is more capable than most of the well-educated, wealthy men of the city. I so want to read more about her and her Irish husband. Such great characters!

The Thing About Thugs is a beautifully written book. Khair is a wonderful writer with great skill in descriptive writing. I absolutely loved his many, beautiful descriptions of Victorian London throughout the book. To compare this book to Wilkie Collins is quite apt. The atmosphere is similar and I feel the book should be savored in much the same way as one would savor a Wilkie Collins novel. The book is only 244 pages long, but I read it as slowly as I could to savor the words -- until a certain point in the story and then I just couldn't stop reading until I had reached the end. I would highly recommend this book.

About Tabish Khair

Tabish Khair is an award-winning poet, journalist, critic, educator and novelist. A citizen of India, he lives in Denmark and teaches literature at Aarhus University.Here is his website.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review this book You can find the rest of the blog tour stops here.


  1. I recently read my first Wilkie Collins book and LOVED it so I'm intrigued by your comparison to his work.

    Thanks for being on the tour!

  2. I didn't love this book, but then not every book I review is going to be my *cup of tea*. I do agree that it was well written and interesting on many levels. I have a feeling that other readers would really like this book; thanks for an excellent review.


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