It had been a long time since I read Jim Corbett and Kenneth Anderson going in the jungles of India and shooting rogue animals. Of special interest we...moreIt had been a long time since I read Jim Corbett and Kenneth Anderson going in the jungles of India and shooting rogue animals. Of special interest were their encounters with leopards and tigers, dreaded man-eaters who craved human blood in the dead of the night or stark daylight.
'Maneater' (also published as 'Shikar' in another edition) was lying on my shelves since a wrong time in the pile of books that I will perhaps never willingly read and the inspiration to read this came from an amazing documentary on Discovery some days back. This book starts with an amazing flashback of a man-eating tiger called slashfoot (called so because of his deformed pugmarks) in the Indian jungles, who is a daredevil and hunts humans at any time of the day. The chapter ends and a new one begins in present day Georgia, where an illegal party of animal organisers is transferring a caged royal Bengal tiger in a van. And ultimately when the van falls in a ditch, the driver realises the tiger has jumped out. A couple of days later the tiger makes his first prey, Lanelle Jackson, a woman who is out on delivery. The tiger now roams the dense forests of Appalachian mountains. Where tigers are unheard of, this mystery animal soon becomes a force to fear, almost Satan-like. With depleting herbivores like boars and deer, the tiger soon starts searching for easy prey in the form of careless human beings.
And then as the death tool rises and the media starts putting pressure, the sheriff of Harte country, Grady Brickhouse starts shaking in his pants. He tries everything with support from the governor and even some untalented gunmen and the military but to no avail. The tiger outsmarts them all and even managers to make prey of the very people who are out hunting it. And then comes old Jim Graham, who's been modeled on Corbet as a God-like hunter from India in his earlier days. Graham has retired and his health is failing and amidst doubts on his ability to hunt the man-eater, he does manage to trail the tiger and study it yet he does not seem to be making any progress when it comes to hunting it down. All this till Graham manages to find out about the bond between the tiger and a small boy named Roy, who lives on the outskirts of the forest with his mentally challenged mother. From hereon, the story gets interesting as Roy is befriended by both hunters, Graham and the tiger. The thing to be seen is that will Graham's last hunt be successful or will the tiger, who resembles slashfoot (whom Graham's father had hunted down or it was believed so!) will make him pay for his decision.The small boy is unsure whom he should support and aid because it means that one of his friends would die. The way his character has been handled has been a revelation.
Warner writes in a simple narrative, taking care to introduce even the victims and their motivation to be in that place where the tiger would soon walk on. The dialogue seems draggy at times between characters that actually don't matter to the story. Somehow it reminded be a bit of Benchley's 'JAWS' but Warner has his own unique style that works for the story. The concept is definitely great. We have read about man-eaters in India where a tiger or a leopard could easily wolf down over two hundred (official) individuals in its career as a man-eater but a tiger in America! Sounds fascinating. Couple with good research, Warner makes an impressive debut and the blurbs on the book justify the praise. A great beginning and a great ending, somehow tend to make you forget the draggy middle that puffs up the book to at least a hundred pages more. Overall, it definitely makes for an amazing adventure novel, definitely under-rated. I would go with a 4/5 for this strongly suspenseful novel. (less)