"Between the Assassinations" isn't a novel but a dozen or so short stories set in the fictional Southern Indian town of Kittur, very much like R.K. Narayan's classic Malgudi tales, but without Narayan's universality and charm. Rather, Adiga has a savage streak, and unlike Narayan, he has a message and a purpose. His portrayal of the lot of the poorest is unembellished, unapologetically in your face, and often angry. He refuses to allow us to walk past the downtrodden with eyes averted.
The first few stories are quite dire, schoolboyish, and smutty. However, as with all short story collections there are good ones too. I liked the tale of Gururaj the journalist in a vain search for the uncorrupted truth, with its dark and mischievous ending. My favourite was the tale of George and Mrs Gomes, a searing indictment of using an advantageous relationship with a boss to obtain work for relatives. When the tables turn, it isn't just George who loses out.
Adiga is an unsentimental writer and offers up no happy endings. `Good' fortune is always relative and temporary for those who have drawn the short straw in the lottery of life. The rich are born to prevail. The lower-castes-turning-on-upper-castes theme of "White Tiger" predominates in these gritty stories, sometimes repetitively so with vicious, often lavatorial humour. But Adiga's great achievement in the best of the stories is to make us squirm uncomfortably at the power of the rich over the poor and their constant willingness to use it.
Overall, four stars for the book. But some individual stories merit only two.