"He Drinks Poison ranks among the great thrillers of all time," says Pamela King Cable, author of Televenge, Library Journal's top pick for 2012. "Through sparkling prose, the story sparks fury and tears. It is impossible to read this book unmoved."
Cable's own first novel deals with the darkness found even among those who are considered intensely spiritual. She calls Cunningham's work "disturbing yet fascinating," the same mix that made Martel's work resonate with so many readers.
Priya Conlin-Kumar, a South-Asian American FBI agent, was conceived when her American mother was gang-raped in India shortly after marrying a Hindu man. Despite the fact that Priya's name means "beloved," the knowledge that she was created by an act of violence influences her decision to become a sworn officer.
When Priya is assigned to the FBI's Wheeling, WV location, she begins experiencing visions from the Hindu epic The Ramayana. Two killers are prowling the region. Cole Bennett, a thirty-something blue-collar worker, is a serial rapist who kills his victims in order to avoid capture. Quinn Lawrence, a furniture dealer, is a classic serial murderer. He is also the ten-headed demon king Ravana.
The body that proves Priya's two-killer theory is soon found lying on a sari beside an offering tray filled with rupees. As the killings continue, Lawrence uses the trappings of different Indian festivals to send her messages. Priya confides in Ohio County Sheriff Randal Pierson, a man who becomes her lover. Meanwhile, the visions manifest themselves in physical ways-a drop of blood, a feather, a flame-red asoka flower from the demon king's garland.
She also has visions of Shiva, the god who destroys the corrupt world then makes it anew with his great Tandava dance. In Hindu thought, male and female energy must combine for either to be effective. As Randal and Priya grow closer, their intimate passions build those same energies. Finally Priya's anger, the righteous anger Hindu warriors must feel if they are to be victorious, explodes. Kali enters Priya.