Vish Dhamija is a British Indian crime-fiction writer who lives in the UK. Dhamija's first novel, Nothing Lasts Forever, was long-listed for "Vodafone-Crossword Book Award 2011. He is best known for his multi-layered plots, believable characterisation and captivating storylines. In a recent survey by eBooks India website, Vish was listed along the top 51 Indian authors you must follow. Vish's latest books are Déjà Karma & Doosra.
Kulpreet Yadav: Like most other thriller writers you started writing late. Why?
Vish Dhamija: Are you calling me old? I must admit it’s quite an interesting observation. I never thought about it before, but now that you mention it, it does make me think and you might be correct. As I’ve always said, I ruminated on the story idea for my first novel, Nothing Lasts Forever for a long time (over 15 years if not more) before I eventually wrote it.
Maybe as you age you learn from your own experiences, and experiences of those around you… maybe you acquire the confidence to take up more complicated assignments, because writing crime fiction, as you would know, is anything but simple, straightforward essay writing. There are plots, intricacies, details and everything has to be tied up in the end.
KY: Why thrillers? Which thriller writers have you grown reading & who are your current favourites?
VD: I don’t think what I write are necessarily thrillers; well, not according to me anyway. Both mysteries and thrillers are sub-genre of crime fiction. My own way to distinguish between them is: mysteries are about the who? — who’s murdered, who’s robbed? In contrast thrillers are more about the how? — the narrator lets the reader/viewer know who’s done it (or drops enough clues) and the whole hook in the story is how will the killer/burglar be caught. Thus, a thriller by definition has action; mystery might or might not have action. But honestly, I’m getting into semantics now…
I strive to write entertaining crime fiction, and sometimes a plot can cross subgenres in crime: Bhendi Bazaar is psychological / noir; Déjà Karma is, legal/psychological. Somehow, crime fiction fascinates me. I enjoy both, reading and writing crime fiction. I know it's complex to write them, but if you get it right you can have a highly entertaining story, don’t you think?
Like a lot of us, I’ve grown up reading Agatha Christie, PD James, Allister MacLean. My favourites contemporaries are Michael Connelly, Scott Turow, Greg Iles, Val McDermid, John Grisham… the list is endless. I also read Lee Child, Robert Crais when I’m in the mood for light reading.
KY: An Indian magazine has compared you with John Grisham. Do you like Grisham? Which is your favourite Grisham novel?
VD: Legal fiction is a genre that’s been dominated by American writers. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist in other countries, but you’d have to look really hard to find legal fiction that’s based outside of the US. Surprisingly, not man authors write legal fiction in the UK or Nordics or Asia. So when Déjà Karma was published, it was logical for someone to notice that it will stimulate a genre that’s dormant in Indian fiction. And what is the first author comes to your mind when someone says “legal thriller”? Of course, John Grisham. Hence, they called me India’s John Grisham. It was to make the audience aware that if they were fans of legal thrillers, they should not miss an equally interesting legal thriller that’s set in India. It became a bestseller in Crossword stores and on FE charts, so I am confident more Indian writers will write quality legal thrillers. (Even I’m writing another one).
My favourite Grisham novel is: A Time to Kill. It was his first novel and it was the book that reinvigorated the legal thriller genre across the world.
KY: You live in London, but most of your readership are in India. How do you stay connected with your readers & how do you influence them?
VD: I believe readers anywhere always connect to a good story. If the plot is engaging, if the narrative flows, if every chapter leaves them gasping for more, then it does not matter which part of the world the story is set in — we’ve always read novels based in the UK and the UK. The world loves noir from Nordics these days. The fact that I set my stories in India actually brings them closer to the plot — Mumbai, New Delhi are cities that they’ve all seen, travelled to or live in, so I doubt they even concern themselves with where the author is located. And considering how much the world has shrunk, thanks to social media, connecting with people is simple.
KY: Your favourite Indian writers, particularly thriller writers?
VD: You, Kulpreet Yadav, are one of them. I won’t mention anyone else. Everyone’s good. I’m serious. That’s the good part about art and creativity. If you don’t like it, it does not mean it’s not good; maybe you weren’t the intended audience.
KY: Indian police, though good at their work, are not very efficient due to their dependence on archaic forensic tools & an absence of biometric national database. As a writer writing about police procedurals set in India, do you think this is a good thing for the writer in you? I ask this because technology has ruined the typical detective novel's narrative & many western writers choose to set their thrillers in the 60s or the 70s.
VD: Technology can only as useful as a detective’s competence. A lot of actual, tangible investigation is basic detection, which is still based around three core psychological questions: motive, means and opportunity. Anyone who has had all the three makes is in the suspect pool. The first task is always to find/trace those people in the suspect pool and physically meet/speak to them to either eliminate them from the list or investigate them further. I regularly speak to Indian Police officers, and I can tell you that they now use some of the most sophisticated tools that are available to most police forces around the world. So, I don’t think the authors are/should be setting their story in the past because of the technology available now. All the authors I mentioned in my current favourite list are crime authors and most of them write fiction set in present times. And some, like the popular television series CSI, have actually taken technology in their stride to venture into new kind of crime fiction.
I totally agree with you that what we lack in India is a national criminal database (biometric/blood/DNA etc.). However, like everything else in life the lack of such a database has its merits and drawbacks while writing crime fiction too.
KY: Tell us about your latest books: Déjà Karma & Doosra.
VD: 1) Déjà Karma is an intense story of Jay Singh. He is shown as the best defence lawyer in New Delhi. But Jay Singh is a closet alcoholic; he has a dark and ominous past. His mother has been accused and convicted of killing his father… something he doesn’t accept even after twenty years.
Flamboyant, wicked, lethal, Jay Singh never loses a case, though his methods might not always be within the law. If the law is after you — guilty or not — there is only one man who can save you. If Jay Singh takes your case, witnesses for the prosecution disappear or turn hostile, evidence evaporates, and technology and science fail to provide any cogent support. What’s more — Jay Singh can even provide you with an ironclad alibi.
And then he gets a case that can completely destroy him. If he loses the high-profile case, he can kiss his career goodbye; if he wins the case he better keep his obituary ready.
2) Doosra is DCP Rita Ferreira’s second thriller (Same lead detective that was the protagonist in Bhendi Bazaar)
Ron Jogani, a jeweller from Mumbai, is in Belgium to buy a consignment of loose diamonds worth over €10 million. Hours later he’s dead in his hotel room in Brussels: murdered. The perpetrators are extremely tech-savvy and have defeated all CCTV cameras in the hotel… but one concealed camera in the elevator has snapped one of the guys. When one of the stolen diamonds is sold in Mumbai, the Belgian Police reach out to their Indian counterparts to catch the person in the candid-shot.
The case is assigned to Rita Ferreira. But when Rita and her team track down the man in the photograph provided by the Belgians, they realise there must have been some slip-up: the target does not even have a passport — he couldn’t have travelled to Brussels. And then they discover that a private detective is already following their target….
Doosra from Amazon: Click to Buy