Jim recently published Bombay Monsoon, a book which enchanted me. He kindly agreed to the following interview where you’ll see that we have different takes on his main character, Danny Jacobs.
KP: Danny Jacobs is a young man from a secure, liberal family, who he is fond of. Yet, he’s left home and goes out into the world, seeking danger: Chile in 1973/74. Viet Nam in 1975, where he was wounded. Now India. What drives his desire to be in the middle of the action?
JWZ: I don’t know that Danny’s attracted to danger as much as he’s interested in the important events going on in the world. Danger, of course, is likely to follow those events. As a journalist, he wants to be at the center of the action. But when he ships off to India, the Emergency has not yet happened. India wouldn’t have been considered especially dangerous at the time. Things become a little dicey once the Emergency is declared, but by then Danny is in place and hoping to make the most of the journalistic opportunity he’s been given. I see Danny as more ambitious and idealistic than adventuresome. His recklessness is surely a result of his youth and the sense of invincibility that comes with it.
As for his feelings for his family, he’s not ready for the challenges and predictability of children and mortgages. His closest sibling is ten years older than he is, and his father was in his sixties when Danny was born. Those family dynamics clearly contribute to his own discrete ambitions.
KP: Did Danny’s character come to you first, or was it the setting and time that intrigued you first? How did the setting and time influence building Danny’s character, if it did?
JWZ: The setting came first in this case. I had long wanted to write a book, or series of books, set in India. My own time as an expatriate in India provided a strong draw. I’ve spent nearly four years living, working, and traveling there. The stranger-in-a-strange-land thing is a real and complicated experience. Fascinating. I wanted to share some of the wonderful and not-so-wonderful things I lived through and saw there.
Next came Danny. He changed considerably from the first draft to the final, becoming smarter, more active, and less of a drinker. He considers himself a romantic, which explains a lot of the attraction to love and danger. Placing him in a foreign land during a historic time of political upheaval gave me the chance to challenge Danny to grow. Or fail. Or compromise on loyalty and love. He’s not without his flaws. And, exploiting his shortcomings, I presented him with conflict, difficult situations, and opportunities to rise or fall to the occasion.
KP: When I picture Danny, I see the Scottish actor Jack Lowden (Dunkirk, Slow Horses). If you were to cast an actor to play Danny, who would you pick?
JWZ: That’s a tough one. I don’t watch much TV or movies these days, so I’m out of touch. Whoever plays Danny should be young. He’s twenty-six in Bombay Monsoon. But Hollywood actors always play younger than they actually are, so I’d say someone twenty-five to thirty-five years old, tall—but not a giant—with a endearing, somewhat helpless air. People are attracted to Danny. They like him even when they want to get him out of the way. So maybe I’d propose someone like Chase Stokes (Outer Banks, Stranger Things). He’s the right height. Right age. Am I way off base? I’d make a terrible casting director.
The year is 1975. Danny Jacobs is an ambitious, young American journalist who’s just arrived in Bombay for a new assignment. He’s soon caught up in the chaos of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s domestic “Emergency.”
Willy Smets is Danny’s enigmatic expat neighbor. He’s a charming man, but with suspicious connections. As a monsoon drenches Bombay, Danny falls hard for Sushmita, Smets’s beguiling and clever lover—and the infatuation is mutual.
“The Emergency,” a virtual coup by the prime minister, is only the first twist in the high-stakes drama of Danny’s new life in India. The assassination of a police officer by a Marxist extremist, as well as Danny’s obsession with the inscrutable Sushmita, conspire to put his career—and life—in jeopardy. And, of course, the temptations of Willy Smets’s seductive personality sit squarely at the heart of the matter.
Democracy is fragile and the lines of loyalty and betrayal often cross and cannot be untangled.
James W. Ziskin is the author of the Anthony, Barry, and Macavity Award-winning Ellie Stone Mysteries. The latest in that series, Turn to Stone, won the 2021 Barry Award for Best Paperback Original and the Macavity Award for Best Historical Mystery. Ziskin’s books and short stories have also been finalists for the Edgar, Agatha, Lefty, and Sue Grafton Memorial Awards. A linguist by training, he studied Romance languages and literature at the University of Pennsylvania. His latest novel, a thriller, Bombay Monsoon (December 2022), is set in 1975 India during the Emergency. For more information, go to www.jameswziskin.com, http://www.facebook.com/james.ziskin.39, or Twitter @jameswziskin.