The soil of central India hides more than the bones of long-dead giants.
The East India Company is master of almost the entire subcontinent, but real power is now with the Crown. Far from the great games of empire, Captain William Henry Sleeman is content to administer Jabalpur district and dig for remnants of petrified bones with his charming and knowledgeable wife. Until he is tasked with investigating the activities of an obscure group of criminals who are said to strangle their victims.
As Sleeman uncovers the many layers of the Phansigar problem, he finds a language unlike any other, and a set of beliefs, lore and superstitions seemingly drawn from the soul of the countryside. He finds orchards of corpses, and a hierarchy of stranglers, but also ordinary men driven to murder. He hears subtle murmurs of discontentment at the changes which have come to a land believed by some to be unchanging. He finds auguries of a conflict to come. And behind it all, the legend of a mysterious, beautiful man, whose capture might be the key to understanding the Phansigars.
Sleeman’s inquiries will make him confront the nature of his beloved adopted homeland and of the mighty people in Calcutta who he serves. Through the prism of caste, the consequent web of intricate social and cultural relationships, and the nature of travel in the hinterland, he will see the real face of India and come across its uncomfortable, bleak truths.
But to unravel such truths is not easy…