The Butcher of Benares – Mahendra Jakhar – Book Review


Goodreads blurb: The shocking and brutal murder of a young American woman rips apart the peace of the ancient city of Benares. She is found to be a research scientist working with the Vatican Observatory, one of the oldest astronomical research institutions in the world. Hawa Singh, a senior inspector from Delhi crime branch on a visit to Benares, gets embroiled in the case. He finds that the murdered woman had been researching the Bhrigu-Samhita, an astrological classic dating back to pre-Vedic times, believed to be lost. The FBI sends in Ruby Malik, a Pakistani-American to investigate the murder.

Soon, more bodies are found with bizarre connections to both the Bhrigu-Samhita and Christian orthodoxy. The Vatican seems to be carrying out a clandestine operation, seeking the secrets of Hindu astrology in the city most sacred to it. Secrets that the Vatican would kill to know.

Hawa Singh, hardened by many gunfights and with a bullet already lodged near his brain in a previous encounter, teams up with Ruby Malik to unravel the mystery. Nothing is the same any more. The temple bells fade in the perpetual winter fog. There is blood on the streets of Benares, which becomes a battleground where faith and science collide. The worlds of astronomy and astrology come.

Hawa Singh and Ruby search the opium dens and the domains of Naga sadhus, Aghoris and Doms in the cremation grounds, hunt a cannibal lurking in the maze that is Benares and clash with the figurehead king of the city, Kashi Naresh Maharaj Abhay Narayan Singh. The killer could be anyone. Only Hawa Singh and his beautiful co-runner on the chase, Ruby Malik, possess the mindset and the indomitable courage, to find the murderer at the heart of this mystery and in the process, find themselves.


As the blurb states, the book begins with the protagonist Hawa Singh, a senior police inspector finding himself bang in the middle of the murder investigation of a young foreigner at Benares unwittingly. Assisted by Ruby Malik, an FBI agent sent from the US of A, the duo soon realize that there is more to the crime than what they had initially bargained for and the action soon picks up a frenetic pace. They are soon on the trail of a serial killer whose modus operandi is nothing short of shocking. I will not reveal the same here as it might end up being a spoiler.

The list of suspects includes the high, mighty and powerful in Benares ranging from the leaders of the Naga Sadhus, the Aghori Sadhus, the ruler of Kashi and a powerful politician who controls the Coal Mafioso in the north-central part of India. And as if this weren’t enough, the curious connection of a long lost manuscript of the Bhrigu-Samhita, an ancient Indian treatise on astronomy and astrology also continues to baffle the duo throughout their investigation.

Does the duo manage to apprehend the culprit before he wreaks further damage and continues on his serial killing spree? What are the motives of the perpetrator? Who will his next target be? Does Hawa Singh manage to successfully overcome his inner demons to focus fully on the investigation? The answers to these questions form the crux of the book.

What worked well for me in this book were the descriptions of the various ghats and holy places in Benares. While I have had the pleasure of actually seeing this city and its famous ghats on TV, this was the first time I was reading about them in a fictional setting. The author Mahendra Jakhar has done a commendable job of providing a setting where readers can actually visualize a lot of Benares, its ambience and the entire scenario surrounding the happenings in the book.

However, I personally found the entire premise of the Bhrigu-Samhita being the ‘ultimate tome’ of astrology and astronomy, and the Vatican being paranoid enough to want it to be destroyed a little too far-fetched. In my personal opinion, the author probably bit off a little more than he could chew with that angle in the book. Not to say that it affected my opinion of the book in a big way, but I just found it  a little too much for this book, that’s all.

Another place which I felt a little bothered about was that at times the proceedings seemed to have lost some pace, especially the parts between the second and third murders, where the protagonists Hawa Singh and Ruby seem to have no clue as to what needs to be done next. Maybe I felt this as I was reading this immediately after I read a really well paced police procedural book, but there were some passages here where I felt the pacing lacked a little bit of a punch.

But overall, I must admit the book was quite a nice read. Not as breezy as I would have liked it to be, but a nice read nevertheless.

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Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from the author, but the review itself is unbiased and has not been influenced in any form or fashion.


Name The Butcher of Benares
Author/s Mahendra Jakhar
Publisher Westland
Year published 2014
ISBN 13 9789383260775
Goodreads link Link
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Amazon link Amazon