The Lost Americans
March 14, 2023
The Lost Americans by Christopher Bollen tries to balance social issues within a mystery. The story starts with a body, moves to a cover-up, and ends with a dangerous quest in Cairo. Readers also get glimpses of corruptness within large corporations and the Egyptian government as well as social issues regarding the treatment of gays in the Muslim world.
When the lifeless body of Eric Castle, a weapons technician for a major American defense contractor, is found under his hotel balcony, both his employer and the Egyptian authorities quickly declare his death a suicide. But the dead man’s sister, Cate, doesn’t believe Eric took his own life and is determined to get to the truth. Especially since she feels guilty for drifting apart. She even enlists the aid of a retired forensic pathologist to examine his body. Defensive wounds, injuries on both sides of his head, and a short fall all point to the fact that the fall did not kill him.
She decides to travel to Egypt to investigate and piece together her brother’s life in Cairo. She takes on not only the arms company’s top brass but the Egyptian military, secret police, and a slew of American expats with their own reasons to keep the dead buried once and for all. Soon she’s in over her head, with her only ally a gay Egyptian named Omar. He yearns to escape the brutality of Egypt’s harsh and restrictive government. The regime’s brutal crackdown has made life as a gay man in Egypt a nightmare. He is already living the secret life of a spy with a hidden identity. To enlist his help Cate offers to assist in getting him to America. But both are in the cross hairs of those who do not want the truth to get out. Facing danger and intrigue, it’s uncertain whether she and Omar will make it out alive.
Elise Cooper: The idea for the story?
Christopher Bollen: This is my fifth novel. I wanted to go into a new direction and test out new territories. The last two novels are very different from each other except both deal with society, wealth, and privilege. I wanted to tackle the world from a different lens with this one, the international arms trade and have an American die abroad.
EC: Why Egypt?
CB: I always wanted to write about Egypt and Cairo, being obsessed with them as a child. My relatives always sent me postcards and books, so I became fascinated with ancient Egypt, plus it was a time when the King Tut exhibition came to America. I did travel to Cairo as an adult. I wanted to address the political situation there and wrote a gay character. It can be an amazing and generous place, but also very complex and grim regarding human rights.
EC: Corruptness plays a role in the book?
CB: I did not want to write about Cairo as only a paradise place. The company was also complicit, the real problem. They swept Eric’s death under the rug with a big settlement to the family. Egypt is an authoritarian government. In 2017 an Egyptian gay woman, Sarah Hegazi, went to a rock concert and waved the rainbow flag. She was arrested, tortured, and exiled. There are gay people in Egypt who are being persecuted. I did have an Egyptian gay character, Omar. This book falls in line with 1970s films where there was a distrust in big corporations and government.
EC: How would you describe Cate?
CB: Cate was lost with her life. Cate had some emotional abuse in her childhood. She wanted to find something to believe in bigger than herself. I thought of her as a soldier, putting her life on the line to investigate her brother’s death. She is tough and wanted in some way to reconnect with her brother and wants answers. Cate has grief because of his death. I think I would go to a place where my sister would die if there was foul play.
EC: How would you describe Eric?
CB: The prologue was written last. Eric was a total mystery and readers see him only through Cate’s eyes. He is a nice guy with good intentions. Maybe a little bit careless. He was in a high-risk job involving shady characters, selling arms. He began to have a conscience.
EC: Next book?
CB: I took a boat from Cairo to Luxor. King Tutankhamun’s tomb is there. There will be a short story out first, a horror novel set in Luxor. It is about being trapped in an old Victorian hotel on the Nile River. I am now writing a book set in Paris, which will come out in two or three years, about a male prostitute.