Friday, July 23, 2021

What Happens Next Is Anyone’s Guess, an essay by Jonathan Harries, author of The Carpet Salesman from Baghdad

Today I'm welcoming author Jonathan Harries with an entertaining post about his writing process for what sounds like an equally entertaining historical adventure series.


What Happens Next Is Anyone’s Guess
Jonathan Harries

“Come, come,” my wife’s brother said to me. “Surely you plot out your novels. What sort of idiot embarks on a novel without any idea where it will end up?” Well, that’s the gist of what he said. He didn’t use words like “come, come,” but he definitely used “idiot” or it could have been “moron,” I forget. Or perhaps I wasn’t listening.

The Carpet Salesman from Baghdad
is my sixth novel, and I’m in the process of putting the finishing touches to my seventh, The Bodyguard of Sarawak. In none have I developed a plotline on the appropriate app nor pinned an outline to a cork board. I have no notebook with character sketches and elaborate ideas for how they’d develop as the novel plods its way to the finish. I’m sure someone who may have picked one up in the past will be making some sort of disparaging sound and thinking, “Well, there you go. That explains a lot.”

My first novel, Killing Harry Bones, began as a biography of a childhood friend who lived the most colorful—and irresponsible—life imaginable. My initial flirtation with his story happened to coincide with a particularly nasty incident at work involving a despicable swine whose actions I felt were in dire need of redress. I am not by nature a vindictive person, but in his case, I felt a dollop of vengeance was justified. So, I combined the two stories, threw in animal traffickers, poachers, big-game hunters, and ex-Nazis for good measure and began to write with absolutely no idea where the story would end, other than that the bad guys would get their comeuppance. Two other books in the series followed a similar theme.

Now, I imagine the mere mention of the word “theme” means there is some plotting involved. In that respect I suppose there is. All my books have unimaginably awful people getting their just deserts. In the Roger Storm books – Killing Harry Bones, Killing Bobby Fatt, and Killing Valerian Zolotov, trophy hunters and animal traffickers are creatively dispatched by a group of vigilantes hell-bent on saving the planet’s dwindling wildlife. In the Tales of the Sica series—The Tailor of Riga, The Carpet Salesman from Baghdad, and the soon-to-be-completed Bodyguard of Sarawak—a family of assassins who can trace their origin back nearly two thousand years (and just happen to be my own family) take out some of the biggest rotters in history—including Jack the Ripper. The weapon of choice? A millennia-old dagger called a sica, once used in the Jewish uprising against the Romans in around 70 AD.

The Carpet Salesman from Baghdad, which launches on July 27, features a distant relative, Elias Smulian-Hasson, who is summoned from Baghdad to Bombay by David Sassoon, the “Rothschild of the East,” on behalf of the Maharaja of Kutch. The year is 1858, soon after the end of the Sepoy Uprising against the British occupiers of India, and the man Elias is tasked with whacking is an English officer whose cruelty towards the Indian survivors of the rebellion are too much even for his own men. What seems like a standard hit at first turns out to be a lot more complicated, and after surviving an ambush in some caves outside of Bombay, Elias pursues his quarry to the southern Kingdom of Travancore. Here, beneath a magnificent temple in amongst troves of gold and jewels and nests of giant cobras, a fierce battle takes place. Will justice be served up like a fiery chicken vindaloo? Aha, you’ll just have to find out.

I don’t believe I knew who would be in the book initially (other than Elias) or who he’d meet or where he’d meet them until shortly before he did. I really like it when my characters make their own decisions as to where they’re going, and I become no more than a chauffeur dropping them off at their destination and picking them up when they’re ready to leave. It’s more fun for me—which is why I write—and I hope more entertaining for my readers.

If you’re one of them, then I appreciate you very much. You may also like to know that every cent I make on all my books go to different animal and wildlife charities.


Jonathan Harries began his career as a trainee copywriter at Foote, Cone & Belding in South Africa and ended it as Chairman of FCB Worldwide with a few stops in between.

After winning his first Cannes Lion award, he was offered a job at Grey Advertising in South Africa, where he worked as a copywriter and ended up as CEO at age 29, just before emigrating to the US. Like most immigrants in those days, he started once again from scratch. After a five year stint as Executive Creative Director of Hal Riney in Chicago, he was offered a senior position at FCB. Within ten years, he became the Global Chief Creative Officer and spent the next ten traveling to over 90 countries, racking up 8 million miles on American Airlines alone.

He began writing his first novel, Killing Harry Bones, in the last year of his career and transitioned into becoming a full-time author three years ago, just after retiring from FCB. He’s been writing ever since while doing occasional consulting work for old clients.

Jonathan has a great love of animals, and he and his wife try to go on safari every year. They’ve been lucky enough to visit game reserves in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Tanzania, India, and Sri Lanka.


What if my highly dubious story of a two-thousand-year-old family of assassins turned out to be true?

Can you blame a chap for wanting to turn his otherwise humdrum family into a bunch of assassins?

It turns out you can.

I found this out soon after my novel The Tailor of Riga was published, and I received a bunch of beastly emails and threats from incensed family members horrified that I’d portrayed them as the descendants of bloodthirsty hitmen.

Then, out of the blue, a package arrived from a long-lost cousin in Argentina that changed everything.

It was the diary of an unknown ancestor, Elias Smulian-Hasson, summoned from Baghdad to Bombay by the enormously wealthy David Sassoon to take on an assignment for the Maharajah of Kutch.

His mission was to find and kill a British officer responsible for some of the most brutal acts of retribution against Indian survivors of the Great Sepoy Uprising and retrieve a fortune in stolen gemstones. Elias pursues his quarry from Bombay to the Kingdom of Travancore, where the contemptible swine is planning to rob the vaults of the richest temple in the world.

Priceless treasures, mysterious maharajahs, unspeakably evil villains, and the beautiful Mozelle Jacob, a woman Elias will pursue to the ends of the earth, all blend together like a spicy chicken vindaloo in the next saga of the sica.

The Tailor of Riga (see the review at Kirkus), the first book in the Tales of the Sica, is free on Kindle between July 23-27, for anyone interested in getting started with the series.


  1. Thank you for the review and the link to the free book (which I've downloaded)