Former cop Omar Shahid Hamid on his debut novel “The Prisoner”, a thriller set in the shadow world of Karachi
The kidnapping of American journalist Jon Friedland in Karachi by a fringe group threatening execution elevates tensions between Pakistan and the U.S. With the attempt to rescue him going nowhere, the police and intelligence agencies must turn to Akbar Khan, a former cop who is now languishing in jail for his unconventional methods. But the only person capable of convincing him is his friend and former colleague Constantine D’ Souza, referred to as Consendine. Moving back and forth between past and present, the pacy thriller delineates the contrasting but intersecting careers of these two men.
The author Omar Shahid Hamid’s debut novel, “The Prisoner”, draws from his years of experience in Karachi police to present a cinematic picture of the Pakistani sea-side city, and the challenges cops face at various levels — from high-ranking intelligence officials, to self-serving politicians. The author replies to some questions in an e-mail interview. Edited excepts:
Can you talk about what compelled you to write ‘The Prisoner’?
When I joined the police, and was involved in some of the episodes that I have been involved in, and talked to many of the other “eccentric” characters in the department, it always struck me that the police has amazing stories to tell, but no one ever got to know of these stories. That’s what got me writing. It was by accident, rather than by any design.
Your book is dedicated to the men and women of the Karachi police. Are they a misunderstood tribe?
I think the police are misunderstood, because as a society, we are quick to dismiss them as corrupt and inefficient, which some of them of course are, but we neglect some of the tremendous sacrifices that cops make, in a city like Karachi, every day.
What was the significance of having a Pakistani Christian as a central character?
I thought it would be an interesting concept. I had a Christian inspector who was my subordinate for a while, and I always thought it would be interesting to look at the world from his shoes.
The book contains veiled references to actual events. Was this inevitable, considering how closely you must have seen some of them?
Yeah, I think so. If you start telling the story of Karachi, the reference to actual events, or individuals, or parties, is inevitable.
Who do you count among your influences as a writer? Which are the aspects of novel-writing that came easily to you?
I’m a very bad literary fiction reader, much more of the mass paperback follower. Robert Harris, Vikram Chandra, Mario Puzo, in the way they create and describe an entire world, have been influences for me.