Mayur Didolkar is the author of the new suspense novel The Dark Road. He also has written the novel Kumbhpur Rising. He is a wealth manager and a runner, and he's based in Pune, India.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Dark Road, and for your character Prasanna, the detective?
A: I had registered myself to participate in the National Novel Writing Month for two years in 2013 and 2014 but could not bring myself to write one story every day for one month during those two months.
I always wanted to see if it was possible to write the first draft in 30 days flat so when I started writing The Dark Road my main goal was to write every day and finish in 30 days.
I had this idea about a family that loses two children to violence. For some time, I was curious to examine the effect that a violent death/ disappearance of a family member may have on an impressionable teen.
The way the story came to my mind was to have two daughters of the same family lost to murder and the elder daughter’s ghost helping find the killer of the younger one. If you have read the book that is not quite how it goes.
As a reader I was always drawn to strong women characters in crime/psychological thrillers or even in adventure stories. In my teens and 20s I read a lot of books written by Ken Follett. His books always have strong women protagonists.
As The Dark Road was about how one family is torn apart by two violent tragedies, I was not sure if a male private detective would be able to empathize with what the parents were going through.
Q: You tell the story from several characters' perspectives. Why did you decide to do that, and were there any characters you especially enjoyed writing about?
A: The decision to write the story in different voices and from different perspectives was primarily driven by the structure of the story itself.
I didn’t want to use a linear structure because that would have meant Prasanna makes her entrance about two-thirds into the story as her story would begin when Sanju’s story and her life has ended.
At the same time, the story was as much about Sanju Pathak as it was about Prasanna, so I decided to cut back and forth between two different time periods.
Frankly speaking, I was most worried about writing Sanju’s character when I started. I was ready to chicken out if I had realized that character was not talking to me, so to say, I was going to reduce the back story substantially and focus on the murder investigation more.
What a pleasant surprise it was to discover what a complex, bright and somehow heroic [character] Sanju turned out to be! Even my editor at Juggernaut, one of the most experienced and amazing person I ever worked with, was extremely impressed with Sanju’s character.
Q: Did you know how the book would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes as you went along?
A: Funny you should ask this. If by ending you mean did the murderer change from the first to last draft the answer is no. This was one of those cases where I knew who killed Sanju even before I put down the first word on my machine.
But like I said, initially it was the story of the elder sister’s ghost helping the investigation, but in the final draft, as you saw, it turns out a bit differently.
Also the character of Kunal in the novel turned completely different from my initial impression. The part about the political movement came and grew as I wrote.
I would say the starting point and the destination did not change but the journey was largely through unknown waters and completely exciting.
Q: Who are some of your favorite authors?
A: Till about age 16, I could read only primary level English and speak hardly more than a sentence. I began reading during my college days to improve my English. So most of my reading is restricted to what is referred to as popular fiction.
I am a big fan of Stephen King and have read about 80 percent of his total published works. During my 20s, I was a big fan of World War II adventure stories by writers like Alistair Maclean, Jack Higgins and the aforementioned Follett.
I read my first Michael Connelly novel sometime during the 2000s and I am hooked. In terms of sheer consistency in quality I think Michael Connelly is peerless.
Of course, a discussion about my favourites is incomplete without mentioning two extraordinary books I read in the last couple of years.
One was Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. The book uses the unreliable narrator technique to absolutely devastating effect and the somewhat ambiguous ending is remarkable, considering how psychological thriller writers sometimes suffer from the need for closure.
I also thought the book had a lot of interesting things to say about how much or little we know about people we share so much with.
The other novel is The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. The Girl on the Train to me is a gold standard, sort of a benchmark to shoot for in that genre. This book is a very good example of a character-driven thriller where the arc of the characters is more fascinating than the mystery itself. I identify with that style a lot.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: After The Dark Road, I went on a short story writing spree and eventually landed a five short story deal with Juggernaut Publications for them too. These are quirky standalone stories that attempt to straddle the supernatural and thriller genres. I feel readers are likely to show greater willingness to suspend disbelief when it comes to short story, and hence as a writer you can take more creative risks.
I also finished writing my third novel, tentatively called Tears for Strangers this March. We are in the process of finalizing the publishing contract for it now.
The novel is about a young woman journalist, who has recently gone through a messy divorce and who is tottering on the brink of personal financial ruin, investigating the murder of another young woman journalist.
Nimisha, the protagonist, is going through a challenging period of her life, but that has also given her a strange sort of empathy about this dead journalist, who died, broke and lonely, supposedly suffering from schizophrenia. Who will cry when you die? That is the central question I seek to find answer to through this book.
Last month, I began writing my fourth novel. In this novel I am exploring the toxic impacts of a dysfunctional childhood and domestic violence one more time.
But unlike in The Dark Road, where we analyse the impact post-fact, here, the cycle of violence and destruction plays out as a direct and immediate result of the pasts of the characters. If it sounds a little vague, it’s because I am still discovering the story myself.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Two interesting facts about me: I have run two full marathons and one Olympic distance duathlon and I do stand-up comedy as a hobby.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb