“Smoothly written and tightly plotted, Bombay Monsoon might be the start of a whole new series for the highly decorated James W. Ziskin.”
James W. Ziskin has written seven mysteries set in the early 1960s featuring female newspaper reporter Ellie Stone. Most were set in upstate New York. Those seven novels earned Ziskin nominations and awards for all the major crime fiction awards—the Edgar, the Macavity, the Barry, the Anthony—and one of his short stories was a finalist for the Edgar as well.
With his new novel, Bombay Monsoon, Ziskin jumps continents, shifts action to 1975, and conjures a male protagonist. He retains his main character’s career—journalism—but shifts from murder mystery whodunit to thriller mode.
Daniel Jacobs arrives in India at the same time that Prime Minister Indira Gandhi triggers one of the most controversial periods in the country’s history by declaring an “Emergency” that gave her the power to rule by decree, jail political opponents, and censor the press. The government oversight of what gets published includes the stories Jacobs is writing for a 10-year-old wire service called United News.
Bombay Monsoon opens with Jacobs interviewing a man who claimed to have planted a bomb that killed a policeman with the Criminal Investigation Department—precisely the kind of internal civil unrest that prompted Gandhi’s “emergency.”
Bombay Monsoon is dubbed a thriller, and clearly Jacobs is the central character who will be put through the wringer, but the novel takes its time setting the atmosphere and getting us familiar with Jacobs’ world, including a “celebrated” European neighbor named Willy Smets and his “enchanting” partner Sushmita.
Jacobs covers stories, goes for long jogs, shows us readers around Bombay, drinks whiskey and socializes with his growing circle of friends late into the evenings. Ziskin has a good eye for the details. His Author’s Note reveals his admiration for the country, including 50 trips over the past quarter century. The resulting descriptions go beyond the obvious surface particulars, whether it’s a Marathi-language serial on television, “beef” Stroganoff made with buffalo, singer Kishore Kumar on the radio, or the brands of whisky that are available (or not).
Jacobs and Sushmita are soon entangled, to no reader’s surprise. Ziskin lets the romantic tension build. In equal measure, Jacobs grows restless. He’s weary of sending stories back to New York that don’t qualify as “true journalism,” thanks to the all the government censors. And Jacobs wonders about his own status in the country and if he’s doing enough to embrace the Indian culture. Maybe he is just another ugly American who expects everyone else to adapt to his needs.
Soon, Jacobs is carrying on “the least secretive affair in the history of lovers.” And he begins to realize that his lovers’ partner has business dealings which are vague. And shady. Others in the tight circle of ex-pats are not who they appear to be. And there is a great deal of interest in the photos that were taken when Jacobs interviewed the bomber. Soon our “nice boy from Connecticut” is up to his eyeballs in uncertainty and intrigue, including a justified concern that Sushmita may have been misleading him all along.
When Jacobs starts to take matters into his own hands, Bombay Monsoon pours on the drama. Jacobs uncovers a truly vile enterprise. There’s a hair-raising car chase and plenty of deception for Jacobs to unravel and some interesting plot choices that will please those readers who can’t tolerate clichés. Smoothly written and tightly plotted, Bombay Monsoon might be the start of a whole new series for the highly decorated James W. Ziskin.