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Mystical melodrama, set on the Boston-India circuit--with a foot on both the earthly and the astral planes--The Rishi is rooted in the old Sax Rohmer Fu Manchu novels, in Dennis Wheatley's astral mysteries, and in Eric Lustbader's more recent Oriental-assassins-in-Manhattan, The Ninja. Lovers of the old Gunga Din movie will be happy to know that the century-dormant Thuggee cult has risen again and that Goddess Kali's religious assassins are out in force with their deadly pickaxes and stranglers' scarves. The Thugee, who satisfy Mother Kali's bloodlust, are an extremely secretive sect whose members remain hidden from their neighbors and often from their own families. And now a Huzoor has arisen, a Lord or Messiah for Kali, appearing simultaneously in the dreams of sect leaders all over India and instructing them to meet with the Deliverer for a mass gathering in a cave on Gangroti Glacier in the Himalayas. Though Rama Shastri's police force captures and impounds the gathering, the Huzoor escapes--but not before a piece of the ancient rishi scrolls has been tom off and subsequently sent to Shastri's brother in spirit, the anthropologist Stephen Wrench and his daughter Santha at Harvard. Thus, Huzoor plans to relocate the Thuggee in America while recovering the lost piece of holy writing. Stephen is in mourning for his dead wife Kamal, a state of mind that seems to have transferred itself to Santha, who is having astral visions of India, the Thugee, and of Kamal with her head bashed in. Santha, who is described as having the body of a nautch dancer but a spirit that is ""sweet and lovely,"" refuses to acknowledge her visions to George Buchan, her lover, who is also a psychiatrist and as such would discount her continuing visions as mere hallucinations. Santha knows they are true mystical events. It is not long, though, before the Huzoor--now in the States--recognizes in Santha his bride-to-be and sets about abducting her while reclaiming his scroll. . .Sometimes beautiful, sometimes hideous as the Medusa, Goddess Kali is an active figure as the story whips in and out of the real world, and this granting of substance to the astral is perhaps the novel's greatest benefit. Even so, the cast is huge, the plot very complex. The descriptions of Indian life are nicely evoked, and it's fun to have people flashing in and out of the astral plane in Boston. But none of this is really very convincing, and the writing eventually collapses into long passages of declarative sentences full of overwrought action but tired imagination. For an audience presold on Lustbader, and quite likely with sequels forthcoming.

Pub Date: Sept. 27th, 1985
Publisher: Evans--dist. by Dutton