Michael Walters's first novel, The Shadow Walker (Reviews, June 16), is a mystery set in modern Mongolia, to which the British author has traveled as a management consultant.
When did you first visit Mongolia?
In the early 1990s, when the country was going through dramatic change following the collapse of the U.S.S.R. I was particularly struck by the sight of nomads riding on horseback across the Gobi desert to register their votes in the country's first democratic elections. It occurred to me that everything I was seeing—the mix of the traditional and the modern, the pace of democratic change, the growing political tensions—would someday provide the perfect backdrop to a crime novel.
Did you have to take any liberties with the setting to accommodate your story?
I've tried to be true to the country, as that sets the context for everything else. The book's plot draws strongly on the real tensions facing Mongolia, although of course the events described are pure fiction. Having said that, some issues and incidents added for fictional effect have subsequently been echoed in real life: for example, problems of environmental pollution and the international tensions over mineral rights.
Where did your intriguing Mongolian detective, Nergui, come from?
I'm not sure, though my own mental image of him is based on a photograph I took of a Mongolian herdsman, which hangs on my wall at home. In a way, I see him as emblematic of the country and its values—honorable, patriotic and proud—but also a highly pragmatic survivor. I enjoy writing about him enormously, partly because, like the reader, I'm only gradually uncovering his secrets.
What did you find most fascinating about Mongolia and its people during your time there?
Above all, it is that mix of tradition and modernity, that nomadic lifestyles survive at the edge of a city with all the trappings of 21st-century life. The people are wonderfully friendly and hospitable, as you'd perhaps expect in a landscape where survival may depend on the kindness of strangers, and the beauty of the countryside can be breathtaking. And there's also an ever-present sense of history—always something to remind you that this most remote of countries once ruled half the world.
What are you currently working on?
The second Nergui book, The Adversary, is to be published by Berkley Prime Crime in 2009, and I'm just about to begin the final edits on the third, The Outcast, so that will no doubt dominate my life for a month or two.