Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Interview: Novelist Davis Bunn

Lion of Babylon
 By Mark Young
Author Davis Bunn has written another edge-of-your-seat thriller guaranteed to make readers lose sleep. In this unique page-turner, Bunn’s well-written and fast-paced Lion Of Babylon novel takes readers by the scruff of the neck, never letting go until the last chapter. (Release date: July 2011 by Bethany House Publishers).

Ex-intelligence officer Marc Royce’s life—once filled with excitement and adrenaline—drifted into sadness, lethargy and boredom since his wife passed away at the age of twenty-nine. Grieving over her death, he prays life might change. Royce soon finds out that one must be careful about what one prays for.

His former boss, an ambassador living in the shadows of powerful government, emerges to report that Marc’s best friend—an assistant chief of security in Baghdad’s Green Zone—has disappeared along with two young women. The ambassador wants Marc to ferret out the truth. Were these disappearances just part of a romantic tryst at a Red Sea resort for a few days, or did this CIA operative and two women get caught up in political espionage, kidnapping, or are they lying in a sandy grave?

Thrust into a war-torn country, Marc joins forces with Sameh el-Jacobi, a lawyer and member of an Iraqi Christian Church, who specializes in returning kidnapped children to their families. Cultural and religious conflict makes the job harder to find Marc’s friend and to learn of the real reasons behind the disappearance of these three Americans. As the plot deepens, nothing can be accepted at face value. Everything has consequences. Religion. Politics. Even the release of nearly 100,000 criminals by Saddam Hussein prior to liberation may play into the problems Marc and Sameh face regarding the ugly trade in human bodies.

This novel explores some of the contemporary issues inside Iraq today, including the persecution and kidnapping of Christians and others in that country.  In a recent article posted in American, the national catholic weekly, figures show that of all the persecuted Christian communities in the Middle East, those in Iraq have suffered the worst. At beginning of the occupation there were more than 800,000 Christians in Iraq, now there are about 450,000.

It is within this political and cultural backdrop that the Lion Of Babylon is born.

Davis Bunn is a superb writer, whose many novels continue to intrigue, entertain and inspire readers. This author is a Writer in Residence at Regent’s Park College, Oxford University in England, while managing to migrate back to Florida for part of each year where he undertakes another one of his passions—surfing.

MARK:  Thanks again for joining us to discuss your latest novel, Lion of Babylon. As I read this novel, I became fascinated with the amount of detail you folded into the story. I came away feeling like I had received a deeper understanding about this troubled country and some of the issues it faces. Which sources did you draw your information from to write this novel?

DAVIS:  I worked for a number of years with a Swiss-Arab consortium, first as Assistant to the Chairman and then as Marketing Manager for one main division.  I was the only non-Muslim in the management structure.  I was twenty-five years old when I started there.   To say the least, this was a real eye-opener.  I lived about six months of each year at our headquarters in Switzerland, and the rest of the time in Africa and the Middle East. 

I left that job to become a consultant based in Germany, and it was here I came to faith, and then began writing two weeks later.  Since then I have been back a number of times to the Middle East and Africa, and have long wanted to base a story there.  This was my first real foray, however, and I am thrilled with how the story has turned out.

MARK: As I mentioned above, the level of kidnappings seems to have escalated in Iraq since Saddam Hussein was removed from power. As you point out in this novel, one of the last acts Hussein did before the occupation was the release of over 100,000 criminals. Can you share with our readers about the scope of this problem based upon your research and contacts? Does this account for a significant number of kidnappings, or are there other considerations at play?

DAVIS: The crime situation in Iraq is often masked by the overall violence and bombings.  This is only natural, since the terrorist bombings are what most affect the American service personnel still based in the region.  But for the average Iraqi, the problems of crime and lawlessness are equally vital.  I used the kidnapping issue, which is a very grave threat to all families with children, as a means of showing what life was like there for the average citizen.

MARK:  In your novel, one of the main characters is Sameh el-Jacobi, a lawyer and a member of the Syrian Christian Church, which you mention is the majority church for Iraqi Christians. Can you tell us a little about the history of this church and whether it has any influence on the current situation in Iraq?

DAVIS:  This was one of the great delights of this book, learning about the Christian churches of Iraq and the surrounding countries.  The Syrian Christian Church has its roots in some of the very earliest missionary journeys.  Some say it was one of Christ’s own disciples who founded the church.  Whatever the actual beginning, there are churches still intact today that are built upon foundations laid in the third century—around 225AD. 

MARK:  From your research and contact, can you tell us a little more about any positive alliances or progress being made in that country today? In your novel, there is a hint of optimism, of a hope that divergent groups might be able to come together in that country working toward peace. Is this possible, or are the cultural and religious differences so vast that there is little hope?

DAVIS:  The optimism is real, just as the hope that Jesus brings.  These peace initiatives are a strong and vibrant part of our heritage of believers.  They are often referred to as faith-based peace initiatives, and are usually headed by a former member of Congress or a senior White House official.  Chuck Colson, head of Prison Fellowship and former aide to President Nixon, is heavily involved in a number of these issues, mostly related to the treatment of prisoners and their families.

MARK: Your novel is titled Lion Of Babylon. This symbol of the lion is repeatedly used in Babylonian history and carried forward into today’s Iraqi culture. Even an Iraqi-built version of a Soviet battle tank was dubbed the Lion of Babylon. How did you settle on this name? What significance does it play in your novel or is this something the readers should find out for themselves?

DAVIS:  Because of the crucial role this plays in how Marc is perceived, and really who he grows into as a man applying his faith to his world, I would rather leave this for the readers to discover in the book. 

MARK: Your main protagonist, Marc Royce, came from an intelligence background with the U.S. State Department. Last year on this blog, we interviewed former anti-terrorism agent Fred Burton, (author of  Ghost: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent and his forthcoming book. Chasing Shadows), who served for sixteen years with the Counterterrorism Division of the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service. Is this the branch of service your main character emerged from or was he from another division within State? Did you have your own contact inside DSS or gain your information from other sources?

DAVIS:  Yes.  The State Department Intelligence operation is the smallest of the American intelligence groups.  Their primary remit, or main task, is to protect all non-military American operations – like embassies and safe houses – outside the US borders.   I had actually started this story planning to use the CIA, but this had already been used so successfully by other authors whose work I admire, and State intel was relatively unknown.  Then I was introduced to a wonderful woman who has served both as a senior operative and then as assistant to the director – the role Marc Royce plays – within the organization.  This was a genuine prize.  She is a fan of my work, and was happy to take me into their HQ and walk me through their operation.  Such opportunities are one of the greatest joys of researching a new story.

MARK: I highly recommend to those who enjoy a real page-turner to pick up a copy of the Lion of Babylon. They are in for a real treat. What does the future hold for you now that this novel is about to be released? Can we be look forward to any more stories like this in the near future?

DAVIS:  I am currently busy with the sequel to Lion.  The title is Rare Earth, and it is due for release in May of next year. 

MARK: Again, thanks for joining us. We wish you well upon the release of this novel.

For more information on Davis and his writing career, visiting his website at http://www.davisbunn.com/

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