Balakrishna Kamath is a retired Intelligence officer of a premier Intelligence agency of India. He is a recipient of the coveted national-level honours such as the Indian Police Medal and President’s Police Medal. Although passionate about writing, being in Intelligence service, Kamath had no opportunity to write for the open media. It was only after he hung up his professional boots that he started writing, mainly fiction based on spy and intelligence operations. His first novel ‘The Velvet Gloves’, a thriller published in November 2018, was received well, and is being adapted into a web-series. With his first book, Kamath demonstrated his flair for telling stories on intelligence operations that can keep the reader spellbound.
TBE: Could you please tell us about your most recent book, The Ace of Shadows, its overall plot, and the main characters in it?
Balakrishna Kamath: The Ace of Shadows is a book focusing on the interplay and clash between Pak ISI’s intelligence and India’s counterintelligence sleuths. Yashwant Narayan Godbole (a young intelligence operative) is the principal character, with Anand Kumar Das (Head of field operations division) also playing an important role. Pak ISI undercover operative Ahmed Bilal, Damji Savla and Colonel Naveed Mustafa form the perfect foils for Godbole and Das on the Indian side.
TBE: Given the complexity of the story, can you remember what your starting point was when plotting The Ace of Shadows? How did this story first come to be?
Balakrishna Kamath: It was a newspaper article on security issues written a few years ago by a retired Indian Maj. General that had served as a trigger to write The Ace of Shadows. Soon a plot sprouted in my mind. In fact, in the first chapter of the book itself, I have dealt with the ramifications of a similar newspaper article written by a retired ISI official.
TBE: Since you are a retired Intelligence officer of a premier Intelligence agency in India, how did your background in the field influence your work as an author?
Balakrishna Kamath: My intelligence background and experience certainly influenced my work and helped me put the plot in perspective.
TBE: Your novel excels in great detail when it comes to secretive topics – the conspiracy theory, covert spy agencies, and classified information. Does this come from research or experience? How do you get your information?
Balakrishna Kamath: While the on-the-job experience was quite handy, research was important to keep the plot credible and relevant. So, a healthy combination of experience and research was necessary to weave a sound storyline.
TBE: There are some qualities in your sleuth Yashwant Narayan Godbole that set him apart and make him memorable. Did you draw him from real-life people, or completely from your imagination? How much of him is based on you?
Balakrishna Kamath: One cannot create characters totally from the air. Observing and studying colleagues and officers I had worked with, did help to some extent in my endeavour of building characters. But I did blend my imagination too in large measure in developing each character, including the Pak ISI agents and officers. To suit the plot, the characters have to be tailor-made. Yes, I admit that there are a few of my reflections on the portrayal of Godbole’s character.
TBE: I found the atmosphere in the book dark and full of page-turning tension. How conscious do you have to be of language to create such an effect?
Balakrishna Kamath: Choice of words is important to help give the desired shape to thoughts. So, I used the language consciously. I read, corrected, reread and again corrected till I felt that the language I used did portray the right situation and effect.
TBE: Which mystery and suspense writers do you draw inspiration from? And what are your favourite books from the same genre?
Balakrishna Kamath: I am influenced and inspired by Frederick Forsyth and Jack Higgins. ‘The Day of the Jackal & ‘The Odessa File by Forsyth and ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ by Higgins are my favourite suspense thrillers.
TBE: How was your publishing experience with Leadstart?
Balakrishna Kamath: My experience with Leadstart was smooth and pleasant. I found Leadstart cooperative and helpful. They were also sensitive to my requirements and points of view. This is my second book with Leadstart, and I have no complaints.
TBE: Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?
Balakrishna Kamath: I am already working on a short book, maybe a novella. The subject is different from what I have done so far – the finer aspects of human relations and the place of God, or the lack of Him, in the trials and tribulations of human life. That does not mean I have given up on Godbole, not yet. Side by side, I am collecting material and doing a bit of research for the next episode on Yashwant Godbole’s exploits!