“Smokescreen” by Khaled Talib is a fast paced, action packed and highly intelligent espionage thriller that I must highly recommend.
It concerns an assassination plot, in this case the killing of the Israeli Prime Minister on a visit to Singapore. Talib does an excellent job at showing the different sides and interests in this conspiracy story that has a great complexity of plot, to say the least.
Exposing connections between unlikely allies and focusing on the role of Singapore in the peace process covers some of the well researched and plausible background for the story, but this novel is not limited to political and diplomatic issues.
There is plenty of action, violence, sex even and powerful writing that makes for a gripping read and fast turning of the pages.
The setting in Singapore has been a particular plus for me for personal reasons but it adds a new aspect and dimension to the ‘issue’ of Israel and the peace negotiations that I am certain will be appreciated by many readers. There are several great scenes that as responsible reviewer I must not spoil for you but let me assure you that Talib is creative in his writing. Realistic dialogue, fast pacing and well chosen characters make for an explosive combination that keep the readers interest and suspense up throughout.
At an ancient café in Cairo, two veteran spies plot a covert mission to resolve — once and for all — the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. The pledge: Israel will make a major concession as part of the peace treaty. In Singapore, Jethro Westrope, a magazine journalist, stumbles onto the scene of a murder: the beautiful Niki Kishwani directs him, in her last breath, to a digital recorder, evidence that puts Jethro’s life in serious danger. And, much worse, he is framed for Niki’s murder. Jethro sets out to find Niki’s killer and is drawn into a web of deception and intrigue involving officials from the Singaporean, Israeli, and American governments, each with a complex, competing, and potentially deadly agenda. Against this pulse-pounding backdrop, Jethro races to find answers and save himself —yet nothing is as it seems. He finds himself at the centre of a political plot so diabolical and sweeping in its world implications that he is stunned to discover tomorrow’s news headlines today. He is being set up not only as a murderer but as an assassin, and something much larger than his own fate is in his hands
Interview with the author:
Well, for starters, you shouldn’t trust me with chocolates. Imagine a vampire staring at someone’s neck after it has been nicked by a razor blade while shaving. My mother, repeatedly to this day, complains that I eat chocolates as if they were rice. However, I have to watch myself these days because my doctor has warned me about having too many sweets. Try to imagine a vampire changing diet from blood to water. Not going to happen.
By nature, I am a tenacious person. I think it is an important asset to have as a writer. When my publisher rejected my novel Smokescreen the first time around, he wrote an email saying he ex-pected a fuming email in response. Instead, I replied politely enquiring if I could resubmit my manuscript. A year later, I sent him a new pitch. I scored.
What made you become a writer? Have you always written?
During my first year in primary school, I couldn’t read and write well. To overcome this problem, my mother gave me a book to read entitled, Circus Days Again. I read it slowly. Written by an English author named Grid Blyton, I found myself yearning for more books afterwards. I discovered a treasure box of old books that belonged to my mother in the basement. Inside this box, there were some books penned by another English author with the same surname as Grid. I assumed they were either married to each other or they were siblings. It took me a long time to realise that Grid was in fact Enid. You see, I could not make out the ‘E’ in the author’s name on the book cover because it was written cursively.
One day my mother came home with some fresh books. She bought them from a bookstore. These books were also by Enid Blyton. However, they were different. They had the element of mystery and suspense, which intrigued me. From that day, I became acquainted with the Famous Five, Five Find-Outers. I also discovered the Secret Seven, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Three Investigators and The Hardy Boys. Before I knew it, I was participating in book quizzes and storytelling competitions in school.
When I was fourteen, I decided to try to write a detective story. During school recess, I stayed back in class to write the story in a textbook. One day, however, I decided to take a break. I stepped out of class and left the textbook on my desk. When I came back later, I found one of my classmates reading the material. Instead of encouraging me to go on, he mocked my writing. He even invited everyone else in class to laugh at me. They couldn’t understand what I was doing.
The scary part is the same classmate tried to contact me months after I had signed a contract with my publisher. I refused to return his telephone call out of fear that he might jinx my publishing effort. I am not superstitious but it is so uncanny that he should show up after thirty-five years when my novel was about to be released.
I guess I have always wanted to write but I didn’t know where to begin. I didn’t dare tell anyone that I wanted to write. I was afraid they might laugh at me – again. But one thing led to another and a book was born. I think the secret is to believe in yourself. It’s not easy but it can be done… the question is, how badly do you want it?
When did you decided to write thrillers?
One evening in Singapore, I attended a high society party. Suddenly, an apparition appeared in the image of a young man. I am not sure why he appeared. Maybe I was bored, maybe I was looking for inspiration. The apparition stalked me for days… and the days became years. That stalker is my protagonist, Jethro Westrope. My subconscious was pestering me to write a book. So I discarded the time has come.
What is the easiest about writing and what is the hardest?
For me, the easiest part about writing is to describe action scenes and develop characters People seem to love my protagonist and hate his nemesis with a vengeance. I take that as a compliment. I also enjoy doing research, and I get a rush when I discover something interesting that I can put into the book. The hardest part would be sitting down and writing… and oh, the rewrites… it really sucks you dry.
Would you say there is a message in the book beyond the story? Do you find it is well received and picked up by the reviewers?
A reviewer said she felt like my novel had a “hidden story within a story.” I’ll leave it to the reader to decipher the mystery. Smokescreen delves into many themes from a micro to a macro perspective. It also discusses issues concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the United State’s position on the question of Palestine.
What do you like most about your characters? Which one is your favourite?
Smokescreen is made up of an eclectic mix of interesting characters, each with a unique personality. What makes these characters interesting is that they are made up of people from various parts of the world. So readers can expect different tones of voices. My favourite character is the mysterious spy named ‘X.’ He is an enigmatic personality.
Who would play the characters in a film?
I never thought of that. Now that you’ve asked, here are my choice selections:
• Donald Sutherland would be the perfect actor to play ‘X’.
• Laurence Fishburne could play Michael Dexter, the United States ambassador.
• Ryan Reynolds would be suitable for the character of Dexter’s sidekick, Robert De Angelo.
• George Young, a British actor in Singapore, could get away with being my protagonist.
What are your next projects? Tell us about your other books.
I am working on a new novel set in Europe. This time, the novel takes a different theme altogether, but it’s still within the thriller genre. I have a created a new characters.
Who are your literary influences? What are your favourite books/ films/ albums?
Oh, so many. I am an eclectic personality so my influences include Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Paulo Coelho, Naguib Mahfouz… the list goes on. And I have so many favourite books – too many to mention. To Kill a Mocking is a favourite classic while Thomas Hardy’s The Woodlanders is a must read… it’s a sad story. I even read books for children, romance novels and young adults… practically anything that I find appealing. I also have a fascination for old movies. Some of my favourites include Juggernaut, The Pink Panther, Three Days of the Condor , Our Man Flint, Murder by Death, Clue, Death on the Nile, The Rear Window, and of course the James Bond franchise, particularly the ones with Sean Connery and Roger Moore.
What would your friends tell us if we asked for your best and your oddest qualities?
They would say I am honest, trustworthy, harmless, quiet and hard working. At the same time, they will also say that I am fussy, serious and intense.
What are your favourite animal/ colour/ outdoor activity?
I love all animals, especially cats. But I have never seen a green cat, which is my favourite colour. If I step into an office and I don’t see plants, it would really bother me. I am not into sports so you’ll find me most of the time day dreaming at a sheesha cafe having a puff. Well, people might see me as day dreaming but the truth is I am concocting stories in my head.
Singapore is such a small island so there isn‘t really much to do apart from the usual like going to a cafe with friends or to the movies. Blame it on gravity otherwise I’ll be sitting on the moon or some exploring some planet. However, when I do get the opportunity to do some recreational activity, I enjoy exploring the nooks and crannies of the island. Strangely, despite its size, there’s always something new to discover. I am hoping to visit some island that belongs to Singapore. It’s has a lighthouse with an interesting history.
What would you take to a remote island?
Apart from the necessary, a pencil sharpener… in case I need to sharpen some sticks.
Who would you like to invite for dinner and why?
I’d like to invite Keith Thomson, the New York Times bestselling author of Once a Spy, for dinner. I promised him a meal if we ever meet after he gave me a blurb for my book. In fact, I think I owe everyone else lunch, including Jon McGoran, author of Drift, Ruth Harris, co-author of Brainwashed and Hooked and Jake Needham, author of The Umbrella Man and The Ambassador’s Wife.
What else would you like us to know about you and your books?
Smokescreen taking the espionage thriller genre to a unique level. Readers can expect the unexpected. It’s not every day someone from Singapore writes a thriller novel so I hope people will enjoy this book.
SMASHWORDS https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/384871Action, assassination, Author Khaled Talib, Cairo, conspiracy, espionage, Israel, political thriller, Singapore, spy, thriller