John Keay

Considerate Killers

Thug: The True Story of India’s Murderous Religion

By

Granta 317pp £20 order from our bookshop

As killers go, the Thugs of India must rate among the most considerate. Traditionally they targeted only adult male travellers and, before assaulting them, went out of their way to reassure them by making themselves immensely agreeable. To be thagi meant literally to be ‘a deceiver’, a conman to whom the art of ingratiation was just as important as that of killing. Their softening-up tactics could go on for days. Attaching themselves to some suitable party, the Thugs – they always worked in gangs – would enliven the weary miles with cheerful comradeship, assist with the campsite chores, and fill the long dark evenings with songs and anecdotes. Their presence seemed less a threat than a protection, and by all accounts there was no better company to be met with in the wastes of central India in the early nineteenth century. 

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Start your week with a dose of Russian Revolutionary zeal. Donald Rayfield reviews Tobie Mathew's 'Greetings From t… ,
    • A treat from the LR Archive: exactly 20 years ago, Malcolm Bradbury reviewed John Updike's 'Bech at Bay' ,
    • ‘When bullets come close, the noise they make as they go past changes from a zing to a crack’ John Lanchester's dy… ,
    • Man with a Bloody Paintbrush: Robin Simon on Lucian Freud ,
    • Jane Ridley reviews The Diaries of Kenneth Rose (ed. D R Thorpe) ,
    • ‘Look,’ says Trump. ‘The fact is I’m only human.’ On the evidence of this book that point is debatable. From the A… ,
    • From our December/January issue - here's John Banville's review of Colm Tóibín on the fathers of Wilde, Yeats and J… ,