Shalimar the Clown is not a clown, but a Kashmiri man who became a terrorist after the woman he loved left him for an American diplomat. The novel begins in Los Angeles in 1991, when Shalimar kills Max Ophuls, the former U.S. ambassador to India. Shalimar had been working as his chauffeur.
A long flashback shows how Shalimar grew up in a small village in the Kashmir region of India. He earned his nickname through his skill on the tight rope. He fell in love with a girl named Boonyi, and their marriage is arranged by both sets of parents.
However, Boonyi wants more from life than the small village can offer. She has an affair with Max and becomes pregnant with his child, departing with him for England. Boonyi wants to name the daughter Kashmira, but Max's wife intervenes, takes the child, and names her India.
Shalimar vows revenge, and joins one terrorist group after another, training himself as a killer. At the same time, the Indian army attacks the village in the name of counterinsurgency, destroying it.
Shalimar works his way to America to kill Max Ophuls. He is captured and convicted, but he escapes from San Quentin, planning to kill the now 24-year-old India. But her father's death shocked her from her pampered existence, and she has spent the last several months toughening herself: working out at a boxing gym, beefing up her home security.
Finally Shalimar works his way south to Los Angeles, where India lives. He breaks into her home one night when she is alone. She cuts off the power and retreats to her room, where she puts on her night-vision goggles, grabs her bow and arrow, and waits. As Shalimar enters, knife in hand, India lets the arrow fly. The novel ends before we see what happens.
Best scene in story:
When he is sent to prison, Shalimar speaks to no other inmates, but simply walks out onto the workout yard and starts doing pull-ups. After several hundred everyone is watching him in amazement. It speaks to the physical but also mental conditioning that he put himself through to become the killer he is -- single-minded focus and unwillingness to give up.
Opinion about the main character:
Shalimar is the closest the novel has to a main character, and while I sympathize with his plight, by the end he has become only rage and revenge personified. He no longer has anything to live for beyond his bloodlust, and the pain he suffered no longer registers.