By George Ebey
Author Dan Fesperman is no stranger to international intrigue.
An accomplished journalist, he has worked for the Fayetteville (N.C.) Times, the Durham Morning Herald, the Charlotte News, the Miami Herald, and The Sun and Evening Sun of Baltimore. During his career he has been front row center for many history making conflicts, including his coverage of the Gulf War from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait; his running of The Sun’s Europe bureau during the Yugoslav civil wars in Croatia and Bosnia; as well as his reporting of events in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the wake of 9-11. Through this work he has experienced his fair share of adventure, which includes accepting the surrender, along with a colleague, of ten Iraqi soldiers in the Kuwait desert in 1991, as well as surviving a fatal ambush on a convoy of journalists traveling through Afghanistan in November of 2001.
Considering this impressive résumé, it was only a matter of time before Mr. Fesperman would parley his skills into the realm of thriller fiction. The author of six earlier novels, he has won the Dashiell Hammett award and two British Dagger awards. Alan Cheuse of the Dallas Morning News put it best when he said, “Fesperman has over the past few years been building his reputation as one of the country’s most informed and entertaining thriller writers.”
This July marks the publication of his latest novel of international suspense, Layover in Dubai. Dubai tells the story of Sam Keller, a corporate auditor who, during a short layover in hedonistic Dubai, gets caught up in a world of suspense and intrigue when a colleague is murdered during a night on the town.
I recently had a chance to contact Dan who was able to offer some fascinating insight into the world of Layover in Dubai.
I assume from the title that a large part of the story takes place in Dubai. What made you choose this setting?
Back when I was wondering where to set my next book I seemed to be coming across something new and bizarre about Dubai every week – accounts of underwater hotels, ski slopes in malls, manmade archipelagos shaped like palm trees, or like a map of the world, and all of it was being built by an army of practically enslaved guest workers from the Indian subcontinent, who where in turn being serviced, to put it delicately, by an army of prostitutes supplied by Aeroflot and the Russian mafia. Throw in the international financiers, the money launderers, the real estate schemers, and the high-roller scoundrels of all nations and religions, and you have a new world capital of wretched excess. And it was incongruously playing out in a conservative Muslim country that not so long ago was a sleepy smuggler’s cove, a place where the best ways to make a living were by diving for pearls or selling firewood to Bedouins. I couldn’t resist those amazing contrasts. I had to go and see it for myself, and when I got there it was immediately apparent it would be a natural backdrop for strange intrigue.
What kind of research did you do for this story?
I spent two weeks there interviewing locals and ex-pats from all walks of life. I traveled around to the seediest and glitziest parts of the city – brothel bars, five star hotels, the spectacular malls, the sprawling port – and I sneaked into a few of the labor ghettos the government has set up for construction workers. I also came across some oral history collections covering the “old” days – meaning only 20-30 years ago in some cases – and spent a few hours watching the criminal docket evolve at the courthouse and the police station. Tiring but fascinating.
Tell us about your main character, Sam Keller. What does he do for a living? Do his skills help him through the conflicts he faces or does he have to learn as he goes?
Sam is an auditor for a multinational pharmaceutical firm. He’s careful to a fault, as an auditor is supposed to be, and he is pretty well trained at spotting anomalies and outliers, so in that sense he was well equipped to help a criminal investigator. But he really has to come out of his shell and become much more of a risk taker as the book evolves.
Did your experiences as a foreign correspondent help you to craft your story?
Mostly they helped with my research. As a correspondent you learn how to land in a strange, unfamiliar place and learn a lot in a hurry. And that knowledge in turn greatly helped shape the characters and events.Aside from a good read, what do you want readers to walk away with when they’ve finished this book?
A keen sense that they’ve actually been there, living and breathing the whole strange phenomenon of Dubai, walking alongside the character and sharing their sense of awe and amazement and, occasionally, their fear and shock at what goes on.
Once you’ve finished Layover in Dubai, never fear. Dan is hard at work on his next thriller about a man on the cutting edge of modern warfare who – after flying Predator drones over Afghanistan from a trailer in the Nevada desert – commutes home to his wife and kids in the “burbs” of Vegas. As Dan puts it, he’s a “not your everyday” kind of war hero. Appropriate, seeing as how it’s coming from a not your everyday kind of writer.