David Macdonald launched his novel, Elvis in Kabul, at Carpe Diem Gallery, Majorda, recently. It is a murder mystery about ruthless schemes, drug production, bootlegging and corruption during the Taliban reign in Kabul.
Merging fiction with his personal experiences while working as the Drug Demand Reduction Specialist of the United Nations International Drug Control Program, in 1999 in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it’s a reader-grabber.
The protagonist, Gil Moncrief, a Scotsman, is an ‘agency advisor’ sent to Kabul to find the killer of Waheed, a driver with the UN agency. Waheed was a respected, mild mannered person, who’s murder was dismissed by the police, as “just another of those murders.”
Abdul Quabit, the driver assigned to Gil, takes him from the airport to a meeting of UN personnel, where he meets Mena, a doctor in the Ministry of Woman’s Affairs. He’s attracted to her, but a platonic friendship develops, while he’s grappling to solve the mystery of his wife Stella’s mysterious disappearance.
When Gil arrived at the scene with his driver, Mario, it was dusk. The Toyo Cruiser, with a shattered windscreen and doors perforated by bullets, lay forlorn; the bullet-ridden body of Waheed inside had been removed.
Looking into the interiors, the pool of dark brown congealed blood on the seat, its sharp metallic odour lingered, he barely noticed a plastic figure of Elvis dangling from the rear view mirror, dressed for Las Vegas, in white tight-fitting trousers with red flare inserts, topped with a bolero with an eagle, adorned with rhinestones.
“The bird glinted in the last rays of the sun, the figure with curved lips in a sneer, blaring white teeth, dark glasses, a silver microphone in one hand, the other hand wrenched from its socket, lay stiff abandoned in the ashtray below, gave no clue” reads a passage from the book.
From his first owners, changing hands several times, Elvis arrives in Kabul on September 11, 2001, with Ahmed Shinwarni, the son of a Pakistani greengrocer in Glasgow. While attending his grandfather’s funeral in Pakistan, he bonded with Hassan, his first cousin, who gives him the figure as a gift, and on getting home, his father let him dangle it from the rear view mirror of their car.
In early September, Ahmed accompanies his father to Afghanistan on a business trip. Vivid descriptions of the countryside captivate you. They pass the high-walled building, known as ‘the drug trafficars,’ Taliban’s opium storehouse.
Bustling jostling crowds, impatient drivers squeeze past as a large group of would-be refugees who try to forge their way into Pakistan as lines of container trucks from Iran pass through Afghanistan to smuggle goods into Pakistan.
Ahmed’s father tells him, “Farmers become poorer, children starve, as the stockpile of opium with the Taliban increased in price.” Claiming he wasn’t involved in the trade, he seem to know a lot about opium, which was one of the reasons he had come to Kabul.
Gil is posted to Pakistan, the family felt cloistered being in that environment. So, he suggested a two-week holiday in Goa, over Christmas 2002. Gil recollects sitting under the awning at Ram’s Beach Shack, in Candolim, and as usual, Stella goes to swim.
The last view he had was her trim bottom in a bikini, walking slowly over the sun-bleached sand and into the sparking water of the Arabian Sea. She usually swam up to the spotlight marking the start of Calangute, and back to Candolim, which took about an hour.
When she didn’t return even half hour later, Gil was concerned, and walked up and down the beach to see her head bobbing in the distance. His concern grew; even hours later no one could locate her. Who knew what happened to her?
While investigating Waheed’s murder, he meets ruthless men, among them is Mirwais ( a cripple drug dealer) Waheed’s best friend, who tells Gil that Waheed and he were walking down from a restaurant; then Waheed spotted a small white object and picked it up and gave a loud cry, “Look Miwaris, it’s Elvis. I have found a good luck charm.” He hung it in every vehicle he drove. Miwaris wants Elvis as a reminder of his friend.
The characters emerging in the narration have been exposed to the Taliban, Soviet atrocities and the figure of Elvis. Does Gil solve the mystery of Stella, and Waheed’s murder? Does Elvis help in solving the mysteries?
This book is a thriller albeit with the same intensity and sharpness of a first book, palatable for cross genres of readers.
Living in Scotland, Donald has been coming to Goa since the time the Candolim road was not even tarred, and plans to shift to serene South Goa from the now turned ‘Mini-Mumbai.’ He has published many novels and articles in newspapers, magazines and journals.
His message about alcohol to Goans is, “It is so damaging and destroys the basic tenets of a community.” He hopes the people of Goa take this issue seriously.
Elvis in Kabul by David Macdonald is available on Kindle, Amazon and Carpe Diem Gallery, Majorda