Interview with John P. Davidson, author of The Obedient Assassin

Welcome to the tour stop for John P. Davidson’s The Obedient Assassin.  I’m really looking forward to this novel about an assassin assigned to murder Leon Trotsky, the founder of the Red army who joined the Bolsheviks before the revolution in 1917 and became a major player in the Soviet Union.  I love a good thriller, and this sounds like one of those books that’s sure to deliver.

About the book from GoodReads:

Ramón Mercader was plucked from the front of the Spanish Civil War by the Soviets and conscripted to murder the great in­tellectual Leon Trotsky, a leader of the Bolshevik Revolution who was exiled in the 1920s for opposing Joseph Stalin.

As Ramón is trained for the task and assumes a new identity, he lives a lush life in Paris, befriending Frida Kahlo and other artists of the time. He falls in love with a left-leaning Jewish woman whom he is ordered to seduce as a means of getting at Trotsky.

Today, Davidson is joining us for a little question-and-answer fun; please give him a warm welcome:

1.     What was the most surprising thing you learned from your 10 years of research for the book?

One of the many surprising things I learned was that Trotsky had almost absolute faith in the power of the written word. Knowing that Joseph Stalin was attempting to have him killed, Trotsky was attempting to defend himself by writing a biography of Stalin. This had to set some kind of record for a problematic author-subject relationship.

2.     What drew you to Trotsky that made you decide to center a book around him?

Trotsky was a classical tragic character. He was known as one of the “great minds” of his time, was considered the greatest orator of the Russian language, and was a brilliant writer who, coming from nowhere, rose to the greatest heights only to have everything ripped away because he had slighted Stalin.

3.     The Obedient Assassin is a story full of personal relationships. Which relationship is most interesting to you?

The relationship between Ramon and Sylvia and Ramon was intriguing in that it developed slowly into a genuine romance, but what was perhaps more fascinating and certainly more unusual was what occurred between Ramon and Trotsky toward the end of the book. With little direct contact, from opposite sides of the wall,  they became intensely aware of each other and it seemed that Trotsky all but collaborated with Ramon in his execution. As Sylvia says at the end of the book about panic attacks, he certainly stopped looking.
4.     How difficult is it to write fictional dialogue and actions for characters that really existed in history?

Because so many of the characters were speaking a second or third language, they needed to sound a bit foreign and that was fairly easy because I’ve studied German, French, Italian and am fluent in Spanish. The scene in the hospital room at the end of the book when there were so many languages being spoken and simultaneously translated was tricky but the power of the drama was worth the effort.

5.     What draws you to this particular period in history?

The late 1930s were a romantic, dramatic and mysterious time when the world powers were on a collision course, alliances were shifting, and one could cast the story in terms of good and evil.

6.     If you could go back to one period in history in any part of the world, what would you choose?

Paris in the years after the first World War.

7.     Why do you think that few have written about Trotsky’s story?

The Kremlin’s propaganda machine destroyed Trotsky reputation and wrote him out of Soviet history.  There are famous photographs from the Revolution that were airbrushed to remove Trotsky from the picture. Many Russians today don’t know that Trotsky was a revolutionary hero.

8.     If Trotsky had not been assassinated, how do you think the world would be different?

Trotsky provided a voice of reason and a humane face for socialism, but the forces against him were so great, I doubt the world would be any different.
9.     How did growing up in a small ranching community in Texas impact your imagination as a child and your desire to write?

We were newcomers and outsiders in a deeply rooted and tightly knit German community. We didn’t speak the language or know all that much about the culture, so that understanding relationships required attention and curiosity.
10.  After studying economics and history in college, what inspired you to leave Texas and serve in the Peace Corps?

I wanted to have exotic adventures, speak a foreign, and help less fortunate people.

11.  How did your time in Peru impact your storytelling?

I was the only foreigner and English speaker living in a small desert village. At night, I read Henry James by candle light after the town’s generator was turned off.

What questions would you like answered?


  1. This sounds like a really well-researched novel. I like that he paid so much attention to the different languages.
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