Local author Dave Macdonald didn’t think that, by the time his last book was published, the country in which it is set would have seen a complete turnaround in circumstances.
“Elvis in Kabul” is a new novel by the resident of Comrie.
Set in the Afghan capital in 2005, the book is a complex mystery influenced by Dave’s experiences during his travels and work in Afghanistan as a drug and development adviser to the United Nations and government ministries. Public health and the fight against narcotics.
When the body of Waheed, a UN agency driver, is found in a bullet-riddled vehicle, it comes back to Gil Moncrief, an agency adviser already grappling with his wife’s mysterious disappearance, of track down the killer in a city of intrigue and insecurity where the police have no modern methods of detection or interest in solving the case.
Through his research, Gil runs into ruthless men involved in smuggling, corruption, kidnapping and drug trafficking schemes.
At the center of it all is a small plastic Elvis figure hanging from a vehicle’s windshield – the key to unmask the killer.
“It took me seven years to write, even though I wasn’t doing it full time,” explained Dave. “And I had to put a warning in a postscript at the end.”
Because while the book was being written in the fall of 2021, Afghanistan was going through another turbulent period in its history with the return to power of the Taliban following the withdrawal of NATO and United States forces.
The 2005 Kabul described in the book no longer exists – bars and restaurants are all closed and the expatriate lifestyle is long gone.
Unfortunately, as Dave predicted, “For them the party is over. For the Afghans, the suffering will only continue.
He said: “What the book is about is really a trip to Kabul; a trip to Afghanistan. I went there for the first time when I was employed by the UN as a drug demand reduction specialist for Afghanistan and for Afghan refugee communities in Pakistan – looking for ways to ” helping people in terms of drug addiction treatment and drug prevention.
“In 1999, the Taliban controlled Afghanistan, so it was quite difficult to enter Afghanistan with a British or American passport.
“We were then evacuated from Islamabad to Pakistan where we were based, but I returned the following year and lived in Kabul and traveled back and forth over the next decade.
“When I first returned in early 2002 and until 2005, Kabul was a cosmopolitan city for Afghanistan, which happens to be the second most Islamic country in the world after Saudi Arabia. There were restaurants, pubs and karaoke bars.
Dave was involved in setting up drug treatment programs, although after 2005 security started to deteriorate again and he was not able to enter communities to work in the same way as before.
Dave has always found Afghans friendly and hospitable, as well as resilient, and he enjoyed working there. Only once did he feel in danger when a nearby bombing killed eight.
He worked there long enough to see firsthand the changes in the country’s fortunes, as well as its corrupt society, and some of his personal experiences have been incorporated into the book.
The father-of-two says he’s always loved having a writing project and has published factual books in the past, mostly aimed at the drug field.
Notes and ideas were often written in transit as Dave traveled the world as a drug demand reduction advisor.
He continued, “I thought, ‘I wonder if I could take some of these ideas and put them in a novel?’ The book is partly based on some of my experiences in Afghanistan. For example, the description of the feast scene and the chapter on the disappearance of Gil’s wife in the sea.
In Dave’s case, when he thought his wife Liz had not returned from her swim and was about to send a search party, she was actually found relaxing in a cabin in beach drinking a cup of tea. In the book, Gil is not so lucky.
The eldest daughter Roseanna also has a role in the creation of a work of fiction by Dave because, once he expressed the desire, she gave him a book on how to write a detective novel.
And where does Elvis come from?
Dave added, “It came naturally. This little plastic Elvis doll, dressed as if he’s singing in Las Vegas, is the center of the story.
“It hangs from the rearview mirror of the vehicle containing Waheed’s body. Originally it came free with speakers I bought from Richer Sounds in Glasgow. I was just sitting watching it one day and thought I might use it.
“He should not be confused with the current Afghan Elvis – a local Kabulian singer who was very famous in the 1970s.”
Everything becomes clear in the book, published by The Book Guild and available at most bookstores.
A donation is made to Médecins Sans Frontières.
The World Health Organization estimates that in Afghanistan more than one million children will die of hunger this winter.