The Bandit Queens: A Novel

This surprising crime thriller (352 pages) was published in January of 2023 by Ballantine Books. The book takes you to modern India. Melissa read The Bandit Queens and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.

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The Bandit Queens

A Novel

Parini Shroff

Come for the crime, stay for the celebration of female friendship. Set in modern India, this unusual caper story will keep you guessing until the last big reveal.

The village is abuzz with rumors that Geeta killed her no-good husband. She didn’t. Five years ago, he walked out of the village, and she has no idea where he is.

But Geeta’s new-found reputation for badassery has benefits. No one messes with her anymore, and none of the men want to marry her. That alone is cause for celebration.

But there are repercussions to her friends and neighbors believing she’s a murderess. The other women in the village want her to help them get rid of their rotten husbands — and they’re not above blackmail and threats to nudge Geeta in the right direction. And so begins a daisy chain of hijinks, some with very serious consequences. There are murder plots run amok, dangerous confrontations with a bootlegger, revelations of secrets, and very real, sobering accounts of domestic abuse.

The author Parini Shroff pulls off a fascinating sleight of hand. Even as she delves into the sexism and misogyny that are baked into village life, she seamlessly sneaks in action scenes that verge on slapstick comedy and sharp, funny dialogue. Somehow it all works. One of the standout chapters is a set-piece during Diwali, the Festival of Lights, that plays like the climax of a caper movie. There’s legitimate danger and laugh-out-loud antics.

This book also makes the caste system visible, showing in real terms how it works in everyday situations. It also explores the tension between Muslims and Hindus and the way bribery is just part of life. But all of these heavy topics are simply woven into the lives of the characters. To them it’s just normal, and they usually react with a conversational zinger: ‘We’re middle-aged housewives. Who’s more invisible than us? We can get away with murder. Literally.’

Try as you might, you’ll be unable to guess what might happen next. As the stakes are raised yet another notch and Geeta somehow makes a precarious situation (hilariously) worse. The combination of action and tenderness is very effective, and Geeta’s redemption arc is a real pleasure to behold.

Eventually, through discovering her talents for jewelry making, salient truths emerged: There was a Geeta before Ramesh’s hands had found her, and that Geeta was still alive, and even if no one else was interested in knowing her, Geeta was. She found extra salt pleased her palate. She made it a point not to apologize. She liked music and danced to her old radio to jump-start her mornings… Biscuits and tomato Lay’s were a perfectly acceptable dinner some nights… Her grapes, whether sour or fair, were her grapes. — Parini Shroff

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