Indian horror has come of age with Neil D’Silva’s debut book, Maya’s New Husband. In the recent past, there haven’t been a lot of great horror books in the Indian literary scene, but Neil’s book makes a strong entry, and has all the hallmarks of a psychological thriller which is sure to leave the reader gasping in equal parts fear and disgust. Maya’s New Husband is what would happen if Hannibal Lecter had been born in India, forced to live in squalor, and had turned to fanaticism in hopes of salvation. However, instead of the usual overt supernatural and horrific elements, Neil goes for subtlety, with a creeping sense of fear slowly descending on the reader with the turning of every page.
The story begins with the beautiful protagonist Maya, a teacher who has only recently lost her husband. It starts slow, following a day at her school, introducing the rest of the cast from her point of view. The creepy but talented arts professor Bhaskar stands out and the reader can immediately make sure that all is not right with him. The vivid, negative description of the man makes him stand out. The side characters are also well written, some whom we sympathize with, others whom we dislike. They are the kind of characters one could expect to see in the city of Mumbai, their behaviour and mannerisms instantly relatable if not always likeable.
Slowly, the story shifts to the cannibalistic aghori man in the shadows, hiding and living in a decrepit and ramshackle place, preying on innocents and feasting on their flesh as he prays his master and worships him. The killing and gore is well done, sure to leave readers retching. The plight of the hapless victims is sorrowful, and the reader cannot help but feel for them, even if they aren’t important characters; another plus point in the author’s favour.
Despite all this though, the twist can be seen coming from a mile away, and is expected from the start, while Maya’s marriage to her new husband seems absurdly contrived, even if it was done with the aid of certain devices – which won’t be mentioned to prevent spoilers. The twists and turns were expected, but even then, if not handled with care, the story would have turned out to be another run of the mill Hannibal rip-off, however Neil manages to avoid falling into that trap with the addition of the Indian elements and the story of the aghori. All the plotlines fall into place in the end, and the reader finally gets to see the big picture, and the events which lead to poor Maya’s plight.
The description of the cooking of human flesh and the macabre murders is a testament to the author’s research and the hardwork which has gone into the book. No stone is left unturned to leave the readers on the edge of their seats, nor to have them green in the face.
Not one for those with a weak constitution, Maya’s New Husband is a solid 3/5, a novel worth heralding the arrival of a talented horror writer.