Five friends return to the village of their childhood to find that nothing seems to have changed, and at the same time everything has. Whose voice is it that called them back, and whose hand is it that now hunts them down, one by one?
Palem’s grand old man, a Brahmin landlord, their childhood storyteller, makes one last ditch attempt to save his village from ruin at her hands. Will he succeed or will his past catch up with him and demand fair price?
Two boys, one blind and the other lame, skirt the village borders at the old Shivalayam, listening, staring. On their faces they wear smiles of contentment. They sleep well. They see happy dreams.
A TV reporter arrives to study the village, only to sink deeper into the mystery with each passing day.
And hovering above all of these is the shadow of Lachi, who is believed to haunt the old Shivalayam on full moon nights. Some say she’s consumed by lust, others call it madness, but all catch the red glint in her eye and the icy calm in her voice as she croons a sad, lonely song. The one thing she hungers for, that will satisfy her soul, is the fire that will burn Palem down to ashes.
The village of Rudrakshapalem awakens, and tells her tale. Listen closely. It will chill you to the bone.
The sleepy village of Rudrakshapalem near Dhavaleswaram is quite nondescript and people wouldn’t even have heard of it had it not been for the mass murder of all its inhabitants when the entire village was burnt down to ashes. This is the story of the events that led up to that incident, and does it make for a riveting read or what.
When five childhood friends Ramana, Chotu, Chanti, Aravind and Sarayu get letters from their old friend, Avadhanayya, someone who had regaled generations of youngsters of Palem with his stories, they immediately make their way to the village. After all, the six of them share a secret which nobody else in their families or the village is aware of, the secret of Pitchi Lachi whose spirit seems to haunt the entire village of Palem.
And soon when one by one they start dying under mysterious circumstances, that is when the narrative starts gripping readers by the scruff of their necks and drags them deeper and deeper into their predicament. What is Pitchi Lachi’s story, why is she bent on extracting revenge from these youngsters, what are her motivations, can she be stopped and if yes, how? These form the crux of the rest of the narrative.
The book uses the non-linear narrative structure where the chapters flit back and forth between the childhood days of these protagonists, their days with Avadhanayya and the present where they are being relentlessly hunted down by an unknown murderer. As the narrative picks up pace, readers slowly realize the quagmire of the situation the protagonists find themselves in. Peppered with chapters which detail the newspaper and TV coverage of current events in Palem, the author uses this relatively unusual technique of narration very effectively. In fact, at some places in the book, the author uses the viewpoint of Sonali Rao, a reporter to bring forth the severity of the situation very effectively and helps readers understand the gravity of the events unfolding in the village.
All in all, this is quite a gripping read which will leave you turning the pages in quick succession with ease. And trust me, the events in the book will stay with you for quite some time after you put down the book; such is the power of the narrative technique and the depth that the author has provided to his characters, especially the main antagonist.
I am highlighting some of the portions of the book which I immensely enjoyed (no spoilers ahead).
“Venkataramana’s return to Palem and the entire setting near the Gandhi statue; the cripple, the flock of crows punishing one of their own by killing it and eating it, the cripple preventing him from disturbing the proceedings; this scene is so well described that I could actually visualize the same and reads akin to a movie screenplay. The entire scene is so eerie and surreal.”
“The subtle hint to his earlier book ‘Murder in Amaravati’; very smartly and subtly inserted as a footnote to one of the chapters. This mention forms part of a supposed extract from another published book.”
“Chapter 7, where all the protagonists undergo a sequence of dreams which seem to tell readers more about some of their deepest darkest desires, fears and other myriad ranting of their disturbed brains. I personally found this entire chapter very interesting, and it piqued my interest in trying to figure out how these dreams and lucid imaginings fit in with the rest of the narrative. The repetitive references to these lucid dreams that various characters have throughout the novel adds so much more the entire suspense and thrills the narrative provides”
“The use of the medium of letters that Sonali Rao writes to her little sister Shilpi which chronicles her gradual descent into the unending abyss that Palem proves to be for her”
“The last of the series of murders and how the mystery unravels itself is a befitting finale to a wonderfully surreal narrative”
While I have immensely enjoyed Sharath Komarraju’s books in the crime-thriller genre (read my reviews of Murder in Amaravati here and Banquet on the Dead here) and also thoroughly loved The Winds of Hastinapur (read my review here), the first instalment of his retelling of the Mahabharata from the viewpoint of principal women characters, this book, The Puppeteers of Palem in the paranormal thriller genre is a notable addition to his lovely portfolio. Given the depth and breadth of his writing in multiple genres, he makes for an exciting author to look forward to; more so given that he is currently working on multiple books which are in various stages of the creative lifecycle right now.
First three chapters of the book
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