I first became aware of Dan Fesperman in 1999 when his debut novel Lie in the Dar’ won The John Creasey award presented by The CWA [now referred to as The CWA New Blood Dagger]. After doing a little research I realised that the reason why Fesperman’s debut was so illuminating was his background as an international correspondent and journalist who spent many years with the Baltimore Sun. What I enjoy most about Fesperman’s work is how he intertwines and breaths life into his characters who are placed against the backdrop and stress of a geo-political situation. He tackles big issues using his characters lives and deaths to show how people interact under the stress of war and the relationship of conflict and the foreign policies of the major nations. He has a keen eye for the little details that make his novels thrilling as well as compassionate.
His second novel Small Boat of Great Sorrows, like its predecessor, was set against the Balkan conflict and it too was highly regarded by The CWA who presented Fesperman with the 2003 Ian Fleming Steel Dagger. It beat Robert Littell’s The Company – no mean feat for a relative new-comer like Fesperman. I first met Dan when he was present at Boucheron 2003 in Las Vegas – and then he actually came to England the following year to receive his award at The Dagger Awards in London followed by his presence at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival in 2004. Since then his novels have been lauded on both sides of the Atlantic and as his work progressed, he shifted his locations from the Balkans to Afghanistan for The Warlord’s Son which my colleague and Assistant Editor at Deadly Pleasures Magazine Larry Gandle reported –
"Sweeping in grandeur like Doctor Zhivago, yet intimate enough to be reminiscent of a Graham Greene and as a thriller intelligent enough to be in the same ranks of John LeCarre. However, I predict Dan Fesperman will ultimately equal them in fame writing his own type of stylistic war novels. This one is a masterpiece."
So last summer I met up with award winning Dan Fesperman at The Harrogate Crime Writing Festival to have a beer and chat about his latest work, The Amateur Spy which is currently available in hardcover in the UK and due shortly for Paperback release. It will be making its debut in the US from Knopf on March 4th. We toasted the success of The Prisoner of Guantanamo winning the 2006 Dashiell Hammett Award. And believe me if you’ve not read Fesperman, it’s time to pull out the blue helmet and Kevlar vest and head to a war-zone.
Ali : Could you tell us a little about The Amateur Spy which comes hot on the heals of the tremendous The Prisoner of Guantanamo which I enjoyed back in 2006.
Dan : Thank you and great to see you again Ali. Well it features a UN aid worker Freeman Lockhart, who thinks he’s about to retire nicely on some [possibly] ill gotten gains and he’s confronted by a gentleman from the intelligence services who wants him to work for them; to spy on an old Palestinian friend of his. He worked with this friend during the intafada. The friend runs an aid agency that the security services think maybe funnelling money to the wrong places. He’s dubious but the security services have certain leverage over him about his past. He therefore has little choice but to work for them in Jordan.
Meanwhile back in Washington there is an Arab-American couple [Aliyah and Abbas Rahim] who lost a daughter due to some terrible circumstances overseas, and Abbas Rahim [a well respected surgeon] is having a mental breakdown. Abbas blames the US Government due to the post 9/11 paranoia in the US administration that caused ripples both domestically as well in terms of foreign policy. His wife Aliyah is concerned that his depression is moving him into his own brand of radicalism, not a religious brand of radicalism, but his own personal radicalism. She is worried that it might have just as disastrous consequences, so she’s moving to stop him without alerting the authorities and as result she winds up in Jordan. That’s when her path will cross the other amateur spy - Freeman Lockhart, and we see these two amateurs involved in a ‘game’ that only the professionals play. That’s basically the set-up for the new book.
Ali : I recall when we last spoke that you had visited Guantanamo Bay which gave your last book such an authentic feel. Did you visit Jordan for The Amateur Spy?
Dan : I did, and in fact I have over the years spent a lot of time in Jordan, visiting six or seven times before - and so in preparation for The Amateur Spy, I went back to Jordan to get myself back up-to-date - in terms of the state of play in politics, social aspects. Jordan’s an interesting place in that it’s a very progressive monarchy which has a parliament that doesn’t have any real power, but it is allowed to vent the opinions of the street. A lot of people consider the regime benign that you can say anything you want, but it’s not quite like that. It’s very unlike Syria and Saudi Arabia and places that are more repressive toward their people.
Ali :Considering your journalistic background coupled with your novels – what is it about geo-politics that interests you so much as it provides a foil for your fiction?
Dan : Just the whole meddling of the great powers trying to make the wheels turn in different countries, flexing their muscles. I also like to observe the things that happen in those countries and the way the great powers exert their influence in regions that have inherent instability and the effect on people living and working there.
Ali : So are you still practicing your journalism or has your fiction writing taken over completely?
Dan : ….Laughing…Well actually I’ve quit my day-job for good – two months ago [April 2007]. I took a long leave, and finally at the end of that I decided that I want to concentrate on writing books. I have some new contracts with publishers so I feel OK about severing my ties to journalism.
Ali : So Dan, what have you been reading lately?
Dan : Mainly fiction, as I only read non-fiction for research – I recently read The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles, speaking about Americans having misadventures in places they know nothing about, and I’ve just started The Rotters Club by Jonathan Coe.
Ali : Can I assume you’re working on another geo-political thriller?
Dan : That’s correct. Yes geo-politics again but the new book is a little bit of a departure – half of which is set in Switzerland during the Second World War, involving the OSS and intelligence agencies and the interplay between them. The other half is set in the present, with someone tracking something that went missing from that time.
If you can’t wait for The Amateur Spy’s release – click here to read the first chapter
An edited version of this interview first appeared at www.therapsheet.blogspot.com
The Amateur Spy is published by Hodder & Stoughton ISBN : 9780340896839
Pub Date : 12/07/2007 £16.99 RRP Hardback BUY IT