My thanks to Oceanview Publishing for a review copy of this book via Edelweiss.

Bombay Monsoon (2022) is a piece of historical fiction with a thriller/mystery element, set in India in 1975 during the period when the then PM Indira Gandhi had declared an Emergency.

Twenty-six-year-old Danny Jacobs is an American journalist working with United News International and has arrived in India hoping for a challenging experience. While his immediate boss isn’t the most supportive, he manages to secure an interview with a Marxist extremist, while also through a contact fixes an appointment to interview an important opposition politician. But before the second interview materialises, Emergency is declared and Danny finds himself confined to Bombay and local stories. A censor is posted in the office who removes anything deemed in any way critical of the government. At home, on the other hand, his new ‘servant’ Ramu is arrested for suspicious activities, leaving Danny to manage on his own.

Alongside, Danny meets Willy Smets, a businessman who lives in the same apartment block and begins to socialise with him. But before long, he finds himself falling for Smets’ beautiful companion Sushmita. Danny also meets other expats, an air hostess on stopover Birgit, obnoxious and racist fellow American Russell Harlan, and the warm-hearted and friendly Janice, receptionist at Danny’s office, who has taken to the country and found love here as well. As Danny is balancing his feelings, the story he is working on, and social life, the interview with the Marxist extremist begins to become a threat as the man seems to have changed his mind, especially as Danny took pictures, and he is willing to kill Danny to retrieve them. Also, pursuing his feelings for Sushmita, who appears to reciprocate presents its own dilemmas.

Bombay Monsoon turned out to be a book which got me reading right from the start. Interestingly, the properly thriller elements don’t begin to really kick in for a fair way into the book, yet just following Danny’s story as he navigates his way through his work, social life, and increasingly gets distracted by his feelings for Sushmita did keep me reading. We have developments in terms of Ramu’s mysterious dealings and the pictures Danny has got of the Marxist extremist to hold our interest, and one does wonder about the course the matter with Sushmita will take. Once the thriller aspects do start to play out, the plot does begin to get more interesting. There were some surprise aspects in the mystery thread that I didn’t see coming and one part which I worked out somewhat differently to what it actually turned out to be, so I enjoyed the outcome (though there are certain uncomfortable elements to it as well).

Danny makes for an interesting main character, a little out of his depth in a new place and situation, perhaps; ambitious and righteous but also rather naïve when it comes to matters of the heart for one knows as he pursues his affair with Sushmita, something is bound to go wrong (of course, I guessed wrongly in what way this would be so). Other characters give us far more surprises, turning our very different from what they appear at first glance.

The author does the sense of time and place rather well; as Emergency is declared, we see civil liberties and press freedom being curtailed, opposition politicians arrested and detained, and every industry, including the films feel its impact, the latter coming through when Danny starts to work on a story on the film industry (references to popular movies, stars and songs of the time made this thread fun, even though I’m not much of a movie buff). We also get some glimpses of Bombay, but more so of Pune where part of the action takes place. I must also make a special mention of food and snacks which are referenced aplenty, whether everyday meals (dal, rice and veggies), Parsi delicacies (berry pulao, for instance) or baked goodies (Shrewsbury biscuits). While these elements are well done and the author’s message (drawing a parallel with recent incidents in the United States) of the need to preserve democracy at all costs does come across, the Emergency and its consequences remain somewhat a background or tangential element, not entirely central to the main plot.

Still, with an interesting (even if not especially surprising) mystery/thriller element, and good feel of period and place, this made for an entertaining read which held my interest all through.  

Edition reviewed: Kindle ARC; Oceanview Publishing, 2022, pp. 320; release date: 6 December 2022


13 thoughts on “Book Review: Bombay Monsoon (2022) by James W. Ziskin

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