Why I Wrote...

'The Watchman'


At a lunch meeting with the publishers of my Harry Tate spy thrillers, Severn House, and agent, David Headley, I was asked if I’d consider writing another character to alternate with Harry Tate (’Red Station’, ‘Tracers’, ‘Retribution’ and ‘Deception’ – with the fifth - ‘Execution’ – on the boil).  

‘Of course I could,’ I said, fingers crossed beneath the table. Well, in these uncertain times, it pays to be positive. And I like a challenge.

Apart from the five books in the Riley Gavin/Frank Palmer crime series, I'd written three novels in the Inspector Lucas Rocco crime series set in France in the 1960s (‘Death on the Marais’, Death on the Rive Nord’ and ‘Death on the Pont Noir’ - published by Allison & Busby), and was into the fourth (‘Death at the Clos du Lac’ ) so perhaps sensed it was time for a change.

That change was to become something darker, with more edge, yet still with the up-to-the-minute themes that I’ve used in the Harry Tate books, and still in the world of security, intelligence and espionage.

On the way home I thought about an idea I’d been toying with for a while: a book involving Somali pirates. I wasn’t sure of the approach I should take; I had a few scribbled notes and one or two page grabs from news items. But that was it. Oh, and I had a character name: Marc Portman. No idea where it came from, but it wouldn’t go away, so I took that as a good omen.

 

In this game, you take your omens where you find them.

Truth is, I wasn’t certain I could sustain a plot about security specialists on, say, a tanker sailing through the pirate-infested waters of the Gulf – although there’s a lot of material there; neither did I fancy a high-tech all-out war approach to fighting pirates.

 

I wanted something a little off-centre on which to hang my plot.

Then I remembered some notes I’d made a while back regarding specialists who work for British and American Intelligence - and undoubtedly other agencies, like the French - whose job it is to provide hard back-up for spies and other operatives in hostile areas. Often working unseen, they need to be close enough to step in should a clandestine operation be compromised, and find a way out for their colleagues. They have to be resourceful, tough and willing to go to whatever lengths are required to ensure the spies do not fall into enemy hands, even if that means following orders that might be difficult to accept.

These kind of shadow professionals were used back in the Cold War era, and would follow western spies on missions across the Wall in East Berlin - often covertly – the intention being to run interference and outwit attempts by Russian and East German Counter-Intelligence to lure spies and others into traps. Whatever books and films might portray, violence between intelligence agencies is not quite as common as we might pretend – it would soon lead to a war of attrition that both sides would quickly find counter-productive.

I decided that in bringing this theme up to the modern era, it had to be faster paced, harder in tone but with the addition of threats relevant to current times. Back in the Cold War, successes or failures on both sides were often muted or even shrouded in secrecy; in the current climate and with the advent of social media and video streaming, success by our enemies is often measured in broadcast minutes around the world’s media.

This allowed me to bring in, instead of the Russians, current terrorist groups like al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda, who have strong contacts throughout the border region of Somalia and Kenya, where ‘The Watchman’ is set.

 

In Marc Portman I wanted to create a character with a strong sense of purpose, able to step in where other fear to tread and willing to do whatever he considers necessary to get the job done. He has dual US/British nationality (although his origins are not totally clear), is clearly highly trained and ex-military but now working as a deep-cover specialist for various agencies in the international intel community. He likens his role to looking down a tunnel and seeing it clear of threat on both sides, and following his charges through that tunnel and out the other side.

 

Except that he knows there's always a hidden threat somewhere along the way.

 

I hope I’ve managed to create something that readers of the spy thriller genre will like, and that Marc Portman is a character they will take to.

Most importantly, I had a lot of fun writing it.

Synopsis

He's a professional shadow. A watcher who provides protection in potentially hostile situations. He works in the background, stays off the record, and even the people he's guarding have no idea he's there. Until he moves in.

 

Some know him as Portman.


When two British intelligence officers are sent to negotiate the release of a group of western hostages in Somalia, veteran MI6 operator Tom Vane realizes that something about this operation doesn't stack up. Unwilling to see two promising officers sacrificed in what he believes to be a suicide mission, he covertly approaches his CIA opposite number for assistance.

 

He finds deep-cover specialist, Marc Portman.


Heading into the wild, lawless land on the Kenyan/Somali border, Portman soon confirms Vane's worst fears: the two officers - one a woman - have been set up by a terrorist group and are walking into a trap from which there is no return. He has to get them out.

 

But that's where Portman comes into his own. 

 

Then come fresh instructions from Vane: if he can't rescue them, he mustn't leave them to suffer at the hands of the terrorists holding them.

 

For Portman, there's no hesitation. He will do what he has to.

 

'The Watchman' - Signed h/b editions available via Goldsboro Books, London, otherwise via your local bookstore and Amazon sites using ref: dp/0727883704 - for example http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0727883704/

 

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'Execution' - Harry Tate 5.


What if Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian FSB officer allegedly murdered by polonium 210 poisoning in London in 2006 on the orders of Moscow, wasn’t the intended - or only target?

As with all my books, whether this the Harry Tate spy series, the Inspector Lucas Rocco police series (set in France in the 1960s), the Gavin & Palmer series set in London, or my new series featuring Marc Portman - ('The Watchman') - I like to use real events as a jumping-off point for the storyline.


While thinking about the subject matter for the next book in the Harry Tate series, and wondering where the story might take him, I'd picked up on recently renewed demands by Litvinenko’s family for a detailed investigation into his murder, seeking proof that it was the FSB  (Russia's Federal Security Service) involved. As intrigued by anyone by the sheer nature of the killing, and the trail that appeared to lead back to Moscow, I found myself thinking wider of the mark: what if Litvinenko wasn’t the only victim to be targeted? After all, it would have been unusual if he'd been the only member of that organisation to have ever spoken out against his former employers. Whistle-blowers and their like come from all backgrounds, but most of them are intelligent. And nobody would be able to say that the FSB only ever employed a bunch of unthinking thugs with the thought processes of a gnat.


 


The idea embedded itself in my mind, and nothing would shake it loose. I had to get it out the only way I could. And why?

 

Because stranger things have happened. And that, to me at least, is what writing thrillers is all about: taking an element of the real and using it as an idea or a backdrop on which to hang a wider story. 'Execution'  isn't about who did or did not murder Alexander Litvinenko; that's a very deep subject for others to write about for many years to come. I might have my own theories, but my job is writing fiction.


Along with former MI5 (the equivalent of the FBI) officer, Harry Tate, now working as a private security consultant, I decided to bring back a previous character from earlier books: former MI6 officer, Clare Jardine. Shot while saving Harry’s life (‘Deception’), she is now recovering in a trauma unit in London. In a nearby room is a newly-admitted patient, also a survivor of gunshot wounds. He keeps calling out in Russian, but none of the staff can understand him.

 

But Clare, a former deep-cover operative, does. And she doesn't like what she hears. The man believes he is going to be killed.


At first she thinks he might be delirious. But when two Russians arrive covertly in the middle of the night and go to the man’s room, she realises that they’ve come with one purpose in mind: to kill the patient… along with any witnesses to the event.


Aware that she is going to be the most immediate  collateral damage, she goes on the run. Weakened by her wound, without friends or resources, she cannot trust the establishment, having murdered the MI6 chief who tried to have her terminated along with Harry Tate and others (‘Red Station’). But her instinct is to survive, no matter what, and stay out of the reach of the Russian hit team.


Harry Tate soon gets involved, as he owes Clare a debt of honour. Yet how can he help her when she, an expert at working under cover, won’t show herself?


The Russian team soon close in on Clare in a relentless chase across London and Vienna, and Harry decides on extreme action. But they aren’t the only problem he has to contend with. An old adversary has teamed up with the Russians, a man who would love to see both Harry and Clare Jardine silenced for good. And this adversary knows all there is to know about the way Harry works, thinks… and acts.


It’s a fight to the death where not even the Russian hit team are as protected as they think.


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 'Death at the Clos du Lac'

 

 

Just outside the village in northern France where we lived when I was young, was a large old rambling house covered in ivy. It had two dark turrets and a high wall most of the way round, with a fast mill stream running by and a lake nearby. The windows were always dark and mysterious, and most of us made sure we never walked past late at night, in case whoever lived there came out and grabbed us.

 

Rumours among the local lids suggested that one boy had broken in there years before on a dare, and had never been seen again, and that it was actually an insane asylum for the idiot sons of rich people from Paris.

 

Of course it was as rubbish as it was unkind, but to our fevered imaginations, this was the stuff of high adventure, embellished with every telling. (Well, it was a small village and you had to get your fun wherever you could find it).

 

I guess nothing much has changed.

 

Trawling for a location and background for the 4th Inspector Lucas Rocco book - 'Death at the Clos du Lac' - this place was the obvious choice.

 

I wanted to use my memories of the house as the mysterious Clos du Lac, a secretive and forbidding sanitarium, and a therapy pool which forms the location for an unusual murder: one of the patients is strapped into an overhead swimming harness and lowered into the water. But it's not for therapy; it's so he can drown extremely slowly.

 

I've always been intrigued by how governments deal with those they want to treat in secret, whether special operatives who have been injured in the course of their work, or those of a more questionable nature that governments can't simply dump in a public or private hospital for fear of what they might say, or those rare characters they simply wish to hide until they can decide what to do with them.

 

In 'Death at the Clos du Lac', Lucas Rocco is quickly faced with the certain knowledge that the deceased patient was no ordinary man, and that there are those in the Interior Ministry who would rather he never find out. In fact, it's soon evident that the whole establishment is off limits even to his investigation, when the remaining residents are shipped out, a security guard is found dead and the man running the establishment disappears.

 

As with most of my novels, I wanted to bring in a sense of the times, and in this case, borrowed the 1964 kidnap of the wife of French industrialist and plane maker, Marcelle Dassault, as the backdrop to the story (with the names changed). Interwoven with a plot to derail French trade negotiations with China and/or Taiwan (there were strong camps on both sides), it allowed me to bring in Rocco's usual in-fighting with the Interior Ministry and his boss, Commissaire Massin, and to uncover the mystery surrounding the sanitarium and its residents, most of whom are far from mad, merely bad or a threat to the government.

 

Whether this story allowed me to excise any of the childhood questions still lingering about that rambling house near where we used to live, I don't know. But it certainly gave me free rein to use the countryside, the village, the regular characters such as Claude LaMotte, Detective Rene Desmoulins and Massin and - most deadly of all - the lake nearby for the final act.

 

It also, by way of a diversion, allowed me to introduce some potential romantic interest for Lucas Rocco in the shape of Jacqueline Roget, a Ministry worker with security connections.

 

Well, the poor lad can't sit and talk to the fruit rats in the attic every evening, can he?

 

'Death at the Clos du Lac' - Rocco No 4 - available in hardback and ebook (paperback out in April).

 

Synopsis:

 

France, 1964. At the exclusive Clos du Lac sanitarium, a man is discovered standing in the therapy pool. But he's not there for his health; someone has chained him to the bottom, and left him there to slowly die.

Inspector Lucas Rocco believes it's an unusual and elaborate method of execution, but finds that the inhabitants of the Clos du Lac are unwilling to talk. Nobody seems to have heard or seen anything, and the staff are resolutely unhelpful - or dead. Meanwhile, ministry officials sent from Paris to 'assist' in the investigation attempt to impede Rocco's efforts to find answers.

It soon becomes clear that the Clos du Lac is no ordinary place, and holds secrets the authorities feel are better left hidden. And with a high-level kidnapping mounted in an attempt to derail France's new trade agreements with China, Rocco faces threats from more than one quarter ...one of them a rogue government assassin.

 

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'No Kiss for the Devil’ - (Gavin & Palmer No 5) - is probably the edgiest of the Riley Gavin/Frank Palmer series, and one in which I was really trying out a few ideas. I’d covered different forms of criminal enterprises, from gangs to sects (but not sex) through old spies to drugs, and decided to push the boat out a bit.

There was a lot in the news at the time about Russian oligarchs and their business activities, buying up international energy, utility and telecoms companies (not forgetting a rather odd craze for soccer teams in the UK). Much of this was aimed at establishing their empires outside the rather changeable and risky confines of Mother Russia, as was buying homes in various parts of Europe, usually at the same time – well, they are very rich indeed, so why not?

What if, I wondered, Riley and Palmer should encounter one of these oligarchs and find themselves very much at threat from him, but for differing reasons?


Riley enters the story when she's asked to identify a dead woman, whose body is found dumped in a car in the Essex countryside. The dead woman turns out to be Helen Bellamy, an investigative reporter… and a past love of Frank Palmer’s.  

At the same time, Riley is offered a large fee to write an article about a well-known London businessman of Middle Eastern origins for a private subscription-only magazine. The magazine’s owner seems very intent on getting her to take on the assignment, which seems to Riley to be little more than a hatchet job. But he soon makes it abundantly clear that a refusal is not an option.

It’s also clear that the late Helen Bellamy was approached by the same oligarch-owned magazine.

Did she also refuse to take the job on – and paid the ultimate price?


Riley and Frank are accustomed to danger, but I wanted to up the ante in this story, with Riley being taken prisoner and Frank employing some extreme methods to rescue her, including the re-introduction of Szulu (first seen in ‘No Sleep for the Dead’), a street-wise wannabe criminal who likes blowing things up.


I had a ball writing this book, partly because of the slightly more extreme scenes, including the mad oligarch and his equally mad thugs, some torture, explosions… and Palmer in serious revenge mode; partly because it was nice to flex one’s muscles on paper and get a bit down and dirty.

Well, you have to get some fun out of your work, don’t you?
‘No Kiss for the Devil’ – originally published in paperback, now available on Amazon Kindle where you are.
 
"...bang up to date and thoroughly, scarily, believable. The plot is gripping and extremely fast moving. The writing is intense and vivid.
http://www.crimesquad.com


"Traditional mystery story telling with utterly believable characters... a gem of a writer. Magson has a unique voice and his characters are unforgettable. ”
Crimespree magazine - http://www.crimespreemag.com

"The 5th in a sharp, modern and popular crime adventure series, well received by readers and critics alike." The Guardian bookshop -
http://www.guardianbookshop.co.uk

"With plenty of crisp dialogue and tense moments, the plot hurtles forward at a furious clip. A strong choice for all mystery collections." AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION - Booklist Magazine -
http://www.ala.org/ala/booklist

"A gripping thriller, sure to please readers." Midwest Book Review -
http://midwestbookreview.com


 
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'Death on the Pont Noir' - Lucas Rocco No 3

What if one of the alleged 31+ assassination attempts on French President Charles de Gaulle (he wasn’t universally popular) involved a well-known criminal gang from London’s East End?
That was my premise for ‘Death on the Pont Noir’; the hook, if you wish, on which I hung my next Insp. Lucas Rocco story following ‘Death on the Rive Nord’.
 I like to use real events in history as a backdrop, and I borrowed heavily on this one to give Rocco his next case to solve.
Setting it up was a bit of a stretch, because in the 1960s, France was still a little off the tourist track for most normal British travellers, unless they were visiting the many war cemeteries to find the graves of their loved ones. But criminals are not normal; they do things because they want to, can often afford to, and don’t really give a hoot for the convention of the times.
I wanted the book to open with a bang, so I had a farmer witness a very strange event: that of a Citroen DS being rammed off the road by a truck in open countryside, then attacked by gunmen.
The DS was the car of choice among the French upper classes… and of French Presidents. Comfortable, beautifully aerodynamic, the DS spoke of luxury and importance, of having made it.
It also acted as a magnet to those keeping an eye on the French leader, and who wanted him taken care of, and when certain groups found information of his travels coming their way, they had a readily identifiable target to aim at.
Bringing in a bunch of East End gangsters gave me the opportunity to have Rocco travel to London, and for him to find out that they will go to any lengths to get him out of their hair and derail his investigation. It also put Rocco in the situation where his career is threatened, and he has to take extraordinary risks to prevent what he sees as an imminent and very real attack on de Gaulle – even at risk of being suspected of being part of the conspiracy.
The question for him is, is this real? And are the English gang really intent on killing off a foreign leader? Or is he about to make the biggest mistake of his career and find himself suspected not only of disobeying orders... but of being part of the conspiracy, too?
 
Synopsis
 
1963, France. A farmer reports a truck ramming into a car near Picardie, followed by gunfire. A group of Englishmen are brought in after a bar fight. A tramp’s body is discovered in a burnt out truck. All this occurring after multiple attempts on the French President’s life.

Inspector Lucas Rocco knows there’s a connection somewhere, and is recruited by Colonel Saint-Cloud to assist with the President’s Security. Yet despite all clues pointing to the Pont Noir for the next attempt, his boss, Massin, and Saint-Cloud reject his suspicions.

Left with no other option, Rocco decides to investigate the situation alone, risking censure by his superiors.

But he also has to contend with the lethal response of a group of London gangsters if he should go too far. When the Englishmen return to France, Rocco finds himself the victim of a set-up, leading to his suspension and investigation for bribery. With no badge, no authority and unsupported, Rocco is still determined to continue his investigation...
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'Death on the Pont Noir' - H/B, P/B and ebook.

The next Inspector Lucas Rocco - 'Death at the Clos du Lac', is out now.

 
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With the drugs trade pervading everyday life on all levels, I wanted to pitch Riley Gavin and Frank Palmer in this, their 4th adventure, into a situation about which they had little knowledge – the ramifications of what happens when a person in a high position allows himself to get caught up in the trade in drugs.

They begin by working unknowingly at opposite end of the street: Riley Gavin investigating rumours surrounding the former diplomat, whose son has disappeared, and Frank Palmer hired as a bodyguard for the same man, and whose job it is to keep journalists like Riley away.

But Frank’s job also entails protecting Myburghe from more fatal dangers than the tabloid press. And he soon finds himself up against a questionable DEA agent with a vicious agenda, and others who wish to bring death to Myburghe’s family during a wedding party.

 Synopsis


For once, Riley and Frank are working opposite sides of the street. Hired as bodyguard to VIP and former diplomat, Sir Kenneth Myburghe, it's Frank's job to keep journalists like Riley at bay.


But Riley has a job to do, too - and she needs to know if the rumours she's hearing about Myburghe are true. With death threats involving his missing son, and the involvement of a rogue DEA agent, it looks as if the former British Ambassador to Colombia's past might be catching up with him.



Helped by a traumatised former intelligence officer who knew Myburghe during the Falklands war, Riley and Palmer find Sir Kenneth has more secrets than the Borgias, and his crumbling country home is shored up by a powder which doesn't come in Blue Circle Cement bags.



"This intelligent crime novel... should garner this British author a larger following in the U.S. The crisp writing and fresh characters make this stand out from the mystery pack." 

Publishers Weekly
 
'No Tears for the Lost' - the 4th Gavin & Palmer novel - available on Kindle




 

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'Retribution' - Harry Tate No 4

For this book I wanted to delve into Harry Tate’s past, prior to joining MI5 (Britain’s Security Service) and later, becoming a private security operator. (This takes him back to when he was in the army in Kosovo, and heading up a Close Protection detail looking after a UN Special Envoy visiting the war-torn region).

When news comes from the UN’s American head of security that former members of the Harry’s CP team are being murdered, amid rumours of the rape and murder of a young local girl allegedly carried out by one them while  in Kosovo, Harry, with his army and MI5 background and his knowledge of the team, is reckoned to be the best person to investigate the affair. The fact that he is a trained man hunter means he might also be able to prevent any further deaths.

His problem is that the killer is also a hunter, utterly ruthless and highly skilled, and appears to have inside knowledge of all the team members – including Harry himself – and is intent on taking them all out, thus providing a huge propaganda ‘event’ for terrorists, who are believed to be behind it.
This is not about Kosovo, because there are people who have done that far more effectively than I ever could. But it gave me the platform for the story. I focused instead on the present day; the killer, Kassim, his origins and motives; the team members, who have all moved on, some putting their pasts behind them; and the people in the UN who are desperate to prevent a catastrophe and the ruin of the organisation’s good name.

It also allowed me to look at Harry from a slightly different perspective, while focusing on his skills, determination and motivation to do what is necessary. I also show the story from the killer’s viewpoint while he is tracking, hunting and confronting his targets in the full belief that he is also in the right.

I believe the result is a furiously-paced thriller with plenty of tension and action. Or, as these two reviewers have said:
"...chock-a-block with nail-biting suspense and high-octane action."
Booklist Reviews
"A stand-out thriller."
Publishers Weekly

'Retribution' - the 4th in the Harry Tate spy thriller series (pub. Severn House). Available in hardback and ebook.

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'Deception' - Harry Tate No. 3 

Former MI5 (Security Services) officer Harry Tate’s skill at tracking down runaways is second to none –and the Security Services need his help. A group of renegade former soldiers called The Protectory is preying on deserters from the British army, trading their military knowledge for money, a new passport and a whole new way of life. But these deserters aren’t just any group of military personnel, worn down by battle, traumatized and sick of fighting; they’re high-value members of elite regiments, with specialized knowledge of Coalition systems, weapons, tactics, communications and planning. And none comes more high-value, Harry is told, than a young woman officer, Lt Vanessa Tan, a former ADC to the British Forces Commander, Afghanistan. Critically, she is said to possess an eidetic (photographic) memory, and foreign governments would pay top dollar for what she carries in her head.

The only problem is, nobody knows where she is. But The Protectory is hot on her trail with a buyer in mind, and they will stop at nothing to make sure they get to her first… even if that means killing anyone who gets in their way.

At first, Harry isn't interested. Then he hears that one of the driving forces behind The Protectory is George Paulton, his former MI5 boss who tried to have him eliminated by a killer called The Hit (see ‘Red Station’).

It’s enough to get Harry on the trail of Lt Tan and ultimately, The Protectory and Paulton. But he isn’t the only one after the renegade MI5 boss; Clare Jardine, a former MI6 (SIS) operative and fellow inmate of Red Station, who has a lethal interest in cute knives, also has a score to settle. And she doesn’t want Harry to get in her way, either…

~~~~~~~~~~
 
I try to use real backdrops for my stories, and this one came about after reading a piece about army deserters, and how they try to find a new life with new documentation; effectively not going ‘off-grid’ so much as finding a new place on it. With the current advances in weapons, IT and communications technology, and the high levels of education and training in today’s military, many army, navy and air force personnel now have hugely saleable skills and knowledge compared with those going AWOL years ago. And any one of these personnel is a potential target for those interested in buying what they know, whether foreign governments, criminal organizations or terrorists.

Trying to imagine myself in the position of a deserter, I asked myself what else do they have to trade in return for a new life, ID, money and the chance to disappear for ever, beyond the reach of the authorities? Not much, is the answer. Few runners do so with a firm plan in mind. But having gone as far as it is possible to go in leaving behind their old life, why not sell what they’ve got… what they know? And for some, what they know is of incredibly high-value, whether in the field of technology, weapons, communications or tactics.


Of course, like every other field, there are different levels of value… and their saleability is rated according to skills and/or knowledge. And for some (governments), the idea of an officer with a photographic memory, who has been exposed to the most secret information possible but who wants to start afresh somewhere new, being on the loose, that is a prize worth buying.

'Deception' (Severn House) - available where paper and e-books gather.


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This is the 3rd Gavin and Palmer book, and one in which I wanted to bring them away from straight crime and in touch with the outer perimeters of the veiled and secretive world of spying. In doing so, I was able to explore a piece of Frank Palmer’s back story as a member of the RMP (Royal Military Police), before he became a PI.
 

The story starts in 1989, when Palmer is a fresh young duty MP on the border between east and west Germany. A man is shot dead trying to cross an empty stretch of non-man’s land. It’s not an unusual occurrence; plenty of people wanted freedom in the west, and were ready to risk everything to get it. But there is something unusual about this dead runner, and about three men who were waiting for him to cross.
 

Palmer and a colleague, Reg Paris, who attend the scene, are ordered to forget about what they saw; orders from on high. But Paris doesn’t like being ordered about by ‘spooks’, and objects.
 
Days later he is killed in an unlikely car accident on the autobahn.
 

Palmer moves on, but he never quite forgets the face of the man who was present at the border killing. A man named Radnor.
 

When, years later, he sees Radnor on the streets of London, the past comes flooding back.
 

But this isn’t the only bit of his – and Riley Gavin’s – past to stage a return. While Palmer is off delving into history, Riley realises that someone is watching her. She doesn’t know who or why, but instinct tells her it’s not good news.
 

What follows next brings them both into contact with deadly gangstas, a would-be hard man named Szulu, and Radnor the former spy, who remembers Palmer and decides he has to be silenced because he knows far too much for his own good.
 

And then there’s the old woman who employs Szulu, the not-quite hard man (who turns up in a later book). She has a score to settle with Riley and Frank, and will use any means she can think of to do it.
 

Sometimes the dead never quite go away…
 
"Magson's settings are immediately recognisable, and therefore more threatening. His strengths are his clean, fluent prose and the ability to plot efficiently. Read 'No Sleep for the Dead'... enjoy it."
Reviewing the Evidence
 
'No Sleep for the Dead' - Gavin & Palmer 3 - available on Kindle

 

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... No Help for the Dying




The second Gavin and Palmer book followed quickly, as I'd already decided to write a follow-on just in case (in case the first one sold and the publishers asked for it - which they did).

The idea for this came from reading newspapers - a ready source of information for most crime writers. I used to live in London, and the sight of people roughing it in the streets was commonplace.  Many are ex-military, finding it hard to adjust for a variety of reasons. What was less common was the youthfulness of some of the people in the doorways or underpasses. They weren't former military - or former anything. They were runaways; kids driven out of a bad home life (or a lack of one), and some who'd been drawn to the bright lights and fallen in with the wrong people - the predators.

Then I read an article about a bogus 'church' in the US that had set itself up as a charity, working with young runaways. They'd send the kids out collecting, take the money and give them a roof over their heads - but not much else besides. The bulk of the money went into their own pockets.

But they were clever; they knew that to these kids, any refuge was better than what they had left behind.

I married the two bits of information, and the result was the Church of Flowing Light, an organisation set up by men to prey on young runaways. But they didn't merely exploit their money-making potential on the street - they targeted kids from 'good' homes, especially homes with money and/or status. The parents of these unfortunates would pay to get them back... or pay to keep silent any secrets the Church had managed to acquire from the runaways. And some had secrets they were only too eager to talk about.

The plot hinged on a young girl named Katie Pyle, who had disappeared years before when Riley Gavin was starting out as a reporter. She had gone so completely that she was presumed dead.
Now Riley hears that her body has been found by the river in London. But she's no longer a girl; she is - or was - a young woman, and has been murdered. The question bothering Riley is, where has she been all these years? And why has she been killed?

Helped by Frank Palmer, who knows a thing or two about finding missing people, Riley starts to untangle Katie's past, bringing her into contact with the mysterious Church of Flowing Light and the lethal Quine, and closer still to the underworld that is London, where its citizens and tourists never venture.

As they soon discover, however, the Church does not want its methods revealed, and will go to extreme lengths to keep them covered. Even if it means killing a nosey reporter and an ex-military cop.

'No Help for the Dying' - the 2nd Gavin & Palmer novel - on Kindle here (UK) here (.com), here (Can), here (De) and others.

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... 'No Peace for the Wicked'

I had tried a number of books before I hit on this one, but each had fallen at not just the first fence but a number of them. It was time for a re-think.

The idea for 'No Peace for the Wicked' came about while travelling to Gibraltar on business. While waiting at the tiny airport, which was little more than a shed with the runway crossing the road and calling for the stopping of traffic whenever a plane landed or took off, I'd had plenty of time to check out the differences between the locals, the tourists, the military (from the large British garrison stationed there) and the local Spanish.

But there was another group I couldn't place. These were five men who stayed apart from everybody else, talking in low tones, and clearly in none of the above categories. For one, they didn't look very friendly, and they seemed to wear a lot of bling - mostly gold chains and rings. One of two also spoke out of the sides of their mouths, and the proximity just up the coast of Spain of the area known as 'Costa del Crime' convinced me that they must be part of the expatriate criminal fraternity from London, a number of whom had been in the press not long before.

The more I thought about it, the more I questioned what would bring these people here, and the more a story began to emerge. Three weeks later, I was pounding away at the first draft of a novel about the rise of a near-defunct criminal gang from London, who hire a group of ex-British army mercenaries to help them rip off and take over a piece of the growing drugs and people smuggling trade from North Africa to Europe. The story runs from England's south coast, to London's gangland, to Spain, then back to London for the grand finale, during which Riley shows she's no decorative doll, there for Palmer to rescue whenever she gets into trouble, because she rescues him by making and using a Molotov cocktail to get him out of a hot spot.

There's violence, death and a great deal of threat in the air, and loyalties are tested severely as Riley finds herself getting just a little too close to the action in search of a story about why a trio of elderly gang members have been executed, and why a woman leader appears to have emerged.

Having studied the crime genre closely written extensively for women's magazines, my instinctive decision was to make the main protagonist a woman - in this case, an investigative reporter named Riley Gavin. With women being by far the predominant buyers of crime fiction, I saw no reason to ignore or annoy this large potential market. But to give balance for the sake of male readers, I brought in a (reluctant) sidekick named Frank Palmer, a former Royal Military Policeman, now a PI.

I immediately found the chemistry between the two lay in dry, sometimes dark humour, and it allowed me to show the differences between them without going into clichĂ© - and without making it a 'hate at first, love later' situation. In fact, Riley has her eyes on another man altogether; she just doesn't want to admit it. As for Frank Palmer, he just doesn't seem interested.

It soon became apparent that this could be the first book in a series, and encouraged by the publishers I began writing the follow-on - 'No Help for the Dying'. I had always preferred reading series novels, anyway, so it made sense to go with what seemed comfortable. And after a few glowing reviews, I was even more convinced about it.

The big thing, though, was that I enjoyed writing about Riley and Frank, and creating the many secondary characters populating the book - or should I say books, because I wrote five in all, and brought some characters back in later novels whenever I needed them.

The Gavin & Palmer series - originally published in paperback, now available on Kindle - and now wearing a bright new cover image - courtesy of Lem at Can Stock Photo Inc.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

'Death on the Rive Nord' - Rocco No 2


As a backdrop to ‘Death on the Marais’, I again refer to the historical atmosphere of France in the early 60s. ‘Death on the Rive Nord’ follows quite naturally, with another powerful influence then being the effects of Algerian/N African immigration to France post-Independence. As with changes to a society, crime comes galloping not very far behind, which is great for crime writers to root around in and plunder for inspiration.


The use of such backdrops makes me sound like a history nerd – which I’m not. ‘Rive Nord’ is not a history book; I merely wanted to anchor the story in events of the time, to give it colour and to use as a springboard for the wider view. The atmosphere of the Algerian situation, such as the threat of bombings by plastique (plastic explosives) was pervasive in daily news broadcasts, but for the greater population life still went on as normal. In the village where we lived, there were usually more important local issues to be considered.

Having been transferred out of his former base in Clichy, Paris, to rural Picardie, Inspector Lucas Rocco is still coming to grips a few months later with many things; country living, country people, the fruit rats in his attic... and the realisation that crime is just as mad, bad and lethal in the countryside as anywhere else. He’s also still expecting to be moved on by his new boss, Commissaire Massin, with whom he has history neither of them wishes to acknowledge publicly.

One of my decisions early on was to avoid Rocco having to deal purely with strictly ‘local’ crime, as much as I wanted to avoid writing about it. Rocco's background - and thus his world view - is wider and deeper, especially with all the changes going on around him. And besides, it gave me greater scope and interest as a writer to throw him into wider issues.
 
In 'Death on the Rive Nord' I decided to bring into his orbit an unexplained stabbing of an illegal immigrant, a frightened victim, and a brutal Algerian crime boss with two ambitions: one was to kill his runaway wife and the other was to take over control of the crime gangs in Paris.

Oh, and a third: as the story develops, he desperately wants to kill  a cop - namely, Lucas Rocco.

This mix allowed me to explore and use Rocco’s background facing ruthless criminals, and his instincts as a cop to protect a vulnerable victim in danger. That this was at the threat of his own life and likely to incur the wrath of Commissaire Massin and the Interior Ministry, who want to bury any racial unrest at any cost before it gets out of hand, is a risk he is prepared to run.
 
The most enjoyable bit, as always, was creating a cast of new characters to back up Rocco's story. There's Samir Farek, the Algerian gangster; Bouhassa the killer (who has an unusual method of topping his boss’s victims); Nicole, Farek’s terrified wife - and Caspar, a burned-out cop haunted by too many years working undercover against the Algerian crime gangs but desperate to prove he still has the couilles to do the job. (That's French for courage, by the way).
 
And underneath it all is the need of emerging businesses to grow, even if they resort to using illegal immigrants as cheap labour to do so.
 
You could say nothing much has changed.

Of course there’s still plenty of room for a supporting cast of characters from ‘Death on the Marais’, such as Claude Lamotte, the garde champĂȘtre, Mme Denis, Rocco's pushy but caring neighbour in Poissons-les-Marais, Detective Desmoulins and, of course, Commissaire Massin, hovering like a spectre behind Rocco’s shoulder.
 
Without them, Rocco might as well be back in Paris . But I rather like the idea of him being a little out of his comfort zone among the cow pats and pastures of rural France.

‘Death on the Rive Nord’ is published in paperback and ebook by Allison & Busby.

My thanks to Crime Time magazine, where part of this first appeared as an interview.




~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

'Tracers'



 



Some might think it is a misnomer to call my Harry Tate thrillers a spy series. Spy fiction has traditionally been about grey men or women in the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) working to acquire strategic information from foreign governments, while the Security Service (MI5) cracks spy rings and prevents those devious Johnnies with foreign accents using underhand methods to steal our secrets.

 

But times have changed. With MI5 and MI6 operating in areas many people would think was outside their remit, spy fiction as a genre now covers a much broader range of activities. A recent example had MI6 officers flying into Libya with a group of SAS/SBS bodyguards. Hardly subtle, arriving in a head-bangingly noisy chopper and tooled up to the armpits, when we all know they should be tiptoeing around using blackmail, honey traps, hard cash or, failing that, electronic wizardry to pick up every word, transmission and picture that they need.

 

Equally, MI5 (Harry Tate's employers in 'Red Station' – the first in the series) once focused on digging out foreign spies here at home, now play a major part in waging the war on terrorism, serious crime and drugs.

 

This is why I made Harry's first 'outing' a foreign one, reflecting MI5's expansion of operations. Unfortunately for Harry, his involvement in a failed international drugs bust caused him to be pitched into a rogue MI5/6 scheme to quietly dispose of officers who were a potential embarrassment, and he was nearly eliminated in Georgia for the sake of official convenience.

 

But what to do with an MI5 officer who can't go back to the office?

 

In 'Tracers', Harry is relegated to working in the public sector. But he’s 'carded' – authorised to carry a weapon and on call should MI5 ever need his services. One might think this would be the last thing he wants after such shoddy treatment, but Harry is loyal to his country, and having that remote contact suits him fine. After all, they'll probably never need him and he’s way down the line of hot-shot operators available. In the meantime he can get on with making a living as a Tracer, along with Rik Ferris, a fellow survivor of 'Red Station', using their skills to find people who have gone missing – usually with large amounts of embezzled money.

 

I didn't want this to be a story of a spy-catcher fallen on hard times and gone to seed. Harry is still the self-motivated man he always was. Hired to track down three separate runaways, he quickly finds two, but they immediately fall victim to a professional 'hit'. The third, described as an Israeli professor suffering serious trauma, turns out to be anything but, and it soon becomes clear to Harry that this whole business has its origins in Iraq, with potential terrorist connections. Tied up with this is a conspiracy by powerful commercial forces in the west to gain control of Iraq's energy resources, and they will eliminate anyone who gets in their way.

 

Thus Harry's world never strays far from his traditional stamping grounds, and he soon finds himself up to his oxters in intrigue and danger, using all his old tradecraft to survive.

 

But there's more to Harry's world than paid work. He hasn't forgotten Paulton, the former MI5 boss who tried to have him eliminated. Paulton is still out there, and Harry has both the skill and the desire to bring him in.

 

All he has to do is find him.

 

'Tracers' - the second Harry Tate thriller - buy it here or here, p/b, h/b and ebook.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Trying different ideas is what many writers like to do. It makes a change, to put it very simply, especially when you’ve been working on a set idea or series for a while (and I’ve been working on two, so I figure I need it double!)

 

 Not that I’m tired of the company of Harry Tate or Lucas Rocco; quite the opposite – I like writing about them. But every now and then you get an idea buzzing in your head and it won’t go away.



 This happened with ‘Smart Moves’ (recently available on Kindle only).

 

It began with a vague idea about a man who’s been trawling along in a situation he secretly suspects is not quite legal; it’s not outwardly criminal, he tells himself, but if he one day received a tap on his shoulder from the law… he probably wouldn’t be too surprised.

 

Jake Foreman is a troubleshooter for a large multi-fingered corporate body, mostly involved in big civil engineering projects in unpleasant locations. It’s Jake’s job to sort out problems, some of which he accomplishes by negotiation; others by the use of money or the delivery of small packages. The really difficult ones he reports in. The one understanding Jake has is that he never asks questions about what happens.

 

Then one day Jake experiences the bad hair day from hell.

 

He’s told he’s no longer needed. Or wanted. And suddenly Jake the troubleshooter has troubles he can’t solve. Because he loses not only his job, but his wife and house, too - all in one day. And basically he’s got to suck it up.

 

So what does a troubleshooter on the shady side of legal do when this happens? He gets himself a into hot water. Which means he’s got to pull himself out.

 

He’s got to get smart.

 

But smart moves for a man who’s been happy not to ask awkward questions are not easy to make. However, he tries… and finds his life is changing much more than he ever imagined.

 The thing about ‘Smart Moves’ is, after writing some 16 books in the crime or spy thriller genre, with a couple of outsiders – one in non-fiction, the other a YS ghost novel – I couldn’t find a recognisable genre box in which to place it. It’s got crime/mystery elements; it’s got Everyman in a quandary elements; it’s got plenty of dry, even dark, humour. And then there’s the sex. Not a huge amount… just enough for Jake to get himself into trouble. But then, it doesn't take much.

 

I guess this should appeal to anyone liking all of the above. Hell, I know there are some out there who like a laugh, and a spot of mystery and danger… and some sexy bits.

 

What about happy endings? Well, for that you’ll have to read on.

 

‘Smart Moves’ – available on Kindle here (US) and here (UK).

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 
 

 

All books begin with a few tentative words, a sentence, a paragraph. And that’s how this book started out.

 

Ten years ago I was asked if I wanted to write a series of articles for the ‘Beginners’ page of Writing Magazine. As a subscriber I knew the magazine well enough, as it was on my list of reading materials for ideas, markets and information about writing.

 

But I’d never seen myself as any kind of expert, and certainly not an authority on the technical side of writing. In fact, I wasn’t sure I could contribute anything useful. I’d sold a great number of short stories and feature articles over the years, as well as comedy for radio, slogans for greetings cards, T-shirts and beer mats, but I hadn’t achieved the one thing I lusted after – a book deal.

 

Consequently, I felt I was lacking in the teaching anyone to suck eggs department.

 

Then the editor suggested I write from experience.

 

Well, I had plenty of that, and with a little forethought (before the ed. changed his mind and approached somebody else), I set about writing down my ideas of how to become a writer. I took the approach that thinking about being a writer - navel-gazing in other words – had never got me anywhere, so my tack was to say, get your pedal on the metal and bum on the seat..  and go for it.

 

In short, my approach was and still is, the only way to become a writer is by writing. Agonising over how to, how long for, how many words and how the hell does one do it is a waste of time. The quickest way to learn is by getting on with it.

 

And the quickest way to be judged is by submitting.

 

So I wrote pieces on the act of writing, rather than the art; of getting ideas, building them, working the words, creating characters, editing (lots of editing), and finding out what one liked doing and what one didn’t. Life’s too short to write stuff you don’t enjoy – and that will usually show on the page.

 

I also wrote about studying the market, seeing what others were doing, mixing with other writers -basically anything that I’d picked up as valuable lessons and had used to further my career as a full-time scribe.

 

And humour. I didn’t want the articles to be dry or crusty – or, Heaven help me, boring. In fact, I was serious about the subject, but I felt it was necessary to get the ideas across with a generous dose of levity. Because if I enjoyed writing the articles, hopefully people would enjoy reading them.

 

And that’s how ‘Write On!’ was built. It began as articles, then several years later, when I saw all the material I had that was still useful, it became a book. I figured it had another life, even long after the pages had passed on in the way magazine pages do. Lots of advice, suggestions, tips and ideas, all of them tried and tested by the management.

 

You don’t have to read the book from cover to cover; just dip into the table of contents and see what’s relevant to you. I hope it helps.

 

Write On! – the Writer’s Help Book’ (Accent Press) – available in paperback and ebook from all good book outlets and here.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


‘Death on the Marais’

After writing a series of five crime novels set in London, and nearing completion of a spy thriller (‘Red Station’), I was already thinking of the next project.

Seeing the popularity of books set in Europe, I thought about trying a French-based cop thriller. Having been partly educated in France and with family there, I thought it might give me an advantage in terms of background and people, and having a feel for the setting.

The first book (in what was to become a series) is ‘Death on the Marais’ (Allison& Busby). The lead character is Inspector Lucas Rocco of the Paris police. But I didn’t want to write about Paris; I wanted to take him out of his comfort zone into an entirely different environment, and one I know reasonably well. This meant transferring him (as part of nationwide ‘policing initiative’ – writers can do stuff like this without passing legislation) to Poissons-les-Marais, a village in Picardie, northern France.

He’s not particularly happy about this, and even less happy when he finds himself reporting to a uniformed Commissaire in the town of Amiens, and that his new boss is Francois Massin, his C.O. during the war in Indochina (France’s own Vietnam). Rocco had witnessed Massin having a breakdown in battle and had been forced to rescue him, something he knows is not going to sit well with either of them.

Quite apart from this awkwardness, Rocco quickly finds this apparently serene backwater is brimming with danger, such as locals who like to recycle old wartime ammunition with hammers for the brass and lead, the sinister local marais - marshland - and the discovery on his first day of a woman’s body in the local British Military cemetery.

When the body disappears from the police morgue just hours later, Rocco follows the trail to a former SOE officer, now a wealthy and connected industrialist, Philippe Bayer-Berbier, who has links to the wartime Resistance. This is when Rocco finds obstacles in his way from the highest authority, and it soon becomes clear that there are people who do not want part of their recent history turned over and will do anything to stop him.

Thus begins his fight against official obstruction, corruption and murder, in an environment where city rules don’t apply. He’s also under constant scrutiny from Massin, who appears intent on finding ways to undermine him.

The research for the series has been interesting. For example, checking which precise models of cars were used in 1963 was important, along with social flavours of the time such as singers and songs. Names like Aznavour, Brel (I know, Belgian but ubiquitous) and Francoise Hardy were easy (had a monster crush on her), but all had to be date-checked carefully to ensure I got it right.

On the technology front, I could forget all about PCs, email, smart phones and the like – which was quite refreshing – but public phones in rural areas were few and far between and I almost had Rocco reaching for his cellphone on more than one occasion. In addition, the use of forensics was nowhere near what it is today, so I drafted in a local doctor to provide that facility.

Historically, the 1960s in France was an interesting time for a backdrop on which to hang the series. Still in shock after Indochina; having just gone through a long period of tension with Algeria gaining Independence; assassination attempts on President de Galle; facing increased immigration from North Africa, and increased trading opportunities from the then Common Market. This, all on top of having to deal with the spread of American and British music polluting young minds - and worse - the French language, was ripe for all manner of ideas to be explored.

‘Death at the Clos du Lac’ (pub. Allison & Busby - Aug 2013), the 4th in the Inspector Lucas Rocco series.
 
Signed h/b copies available from Goldsboro Books: http://www.goldsborobooks.com
 
I hope readers find the books as much fun to read as I’ve found them to write.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Red Station

 Quite simply, I'd always wanted to write a spy novel. Ever since reading Alistair MacLean ('Ice Station Zebra', 'When Eight Bells Toll'), Berkeley Mather ('Snowline', 'The Springers'), James Munro ('The Man Who Sold Death', 'Die Rich, Die Happy') and a host of other espionage thrillers many years ago (although strangely enough only one Ian Fleming - 'Casino Royale'), I'd been bitten by the bug of secrets, action and conspiracies.

I tried a few over the years, gathering rejection slips the way you do, but they were probably too derivative and best used as mulch in the garden. In between I wrote hundreds of short stories (some under a female pseudonym), and the Gavin & Palmer crime series set in London.

When I found myself having completed the fifth in this series ('No Kiss for the Devil'), I decided I wanted a change of pace and story.

It was a couple of years after the shooting of an innocent man in London by armed police, when the Security Service (MI5) and other agencies were on a heightened state of alert for terrorists. This shooting made me wonder what would happen if a Security Service officer was involved... and along came the plot outline for 'Red Station'.

I didn't want to use the real shooting as a jump-off point, so I created Harry Tate, an MI5 officer, who was running a drugs intercept operation on the east coast of England. Something goes horribly wrong and two apparently innocent people and a policeman end up being killed.
It's not Harry's fault, but his MI5 boss, Paulton, decides to get him out of the way of the media, who were hyped up and ready to investigate and uncover the identities of intelligence and security officers in pursuit of a good story. He is posted on a 'no contact' rule to an intelligence outpost (Red Station) in Georgia, eastern Europe, which he discovers is nothing more than a covert dumping ground for burned-out spies and people MI5 and MI6 don't know what to do with.

Furthermore, there seems little chance of him ever being allowed home again, especially when he finds that (a) two other 'leavers' never made it back to England and (b) the Russians are about to flood across the border in support of neighbouring South Ossetia's demand for independence from Georgia. (This, incidentally, happened in real life when I'd just written the chapter where Harry first hears that the Russians are coming, proving that there's very little we can make up). Harry knows that if he and his new colleagues are scooped up, they are going to be used as pawns and may spend years in a Russian prison.

To add to his problems, he finds the Red Station personnel are under surveillance and that there are plans to terminate them all using a British Government assassination team called The Hit.

This is where Harry decides to fight back and return home, come what may. And if you want to know how that turns out, well, the book (and subsequent four in the series) are out there.

I had originally thought of 'Red Station' as a standalone. But when I was asked if I could write a sequel, the answer was simple. I'd had great fun writing and researching it, I'd found myself with a cast of misfits I knew I could use again, and decided that Harry Tate had 'legs' as a series character.

Since then I've had Harry working as a freelance consultant, people-tracer, bodyguard and gun for hire ('Tracers', 'Deception', 'Retribution' and 'Execution', with appearances by two other Red Station survivors to help or hinder his efforts. There are guns, spies, tradecraft, lots of action and some wry humour along the way.
It's given me a lot of enjoyment writing this series and, from the responses I've had, along with a bunch of wonderful reviews, I think readers enjoy it, too.


The Harry Tate series - pub by Severn House
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

The Lost Patrol

  


Living next to a cemetery can have a fairly profound effect on a boy of 11 with a vivid imagination. Living next to a WW1 war cemetery in France even more so.



When I was 9 years old I moved to France with my parents when my father got a job as a gardener with the War Graves Commission, looking after allied cemeteries from two world wars. We ended up living next to a large military cemetery on a hill, miles from anywhere, which meant spending lots of time mooching around trying to find trouble in which to get. Not that easy when all you can see is empty rolling fields… and endless lines of headstones in neat rows, with strict orders to leave alone.



It was actually a lovely place, quiet and serene - if you could appreciate it for what it was. Unfortunately, prompted by boredom, I think my brain eventually slipped into fiction mode, and saw ghosts where there were none, with vague images of battles and trenches and feats of great courage.

 

I retained a memory for years after of shadows moving among the headstones in the evening, of men in WW1 uniform standing chatting, exchanging cigarettes and whiling away their time – of which they had a lot, of course.



This stayed with me, teasing at the edges of my imagination, until I decided to do something about it. That something became ‘The Lost Patrol’, a novel for young adults (and even old adults), about a group of soldiers lost in limbo after being caught in an artillery barrage and vaporised, presumed by their regiment to have deserted.

What might happen to these men if they couldn’t move on, trapped by rumour and dishonour? Could they effect their own transition to a final resting place? And would it work so long the event?

Well, anything’s possible, so I placed a teenage boy, Robbie Greene, on a reluctant holiday in the area and bored out of his brain, as the only person who can see these spirits wandering among the headstones and looking for somebody to help them get away before the ‘Dark Ones’ come for them and drag them down into a place where there is nothing; no Heaven and no hell. He has trouble at first, of course, because ghosts don't exist, do they?

‘The Lost Patrol’ (which has a fair bit of dark humour) is all about coming of age, of finding something deep inside, of courage and fears and facing up to something you really can't believe.
 
But mostly it’s about that thing we all think about from time to time: what if… ?
 
'The Lost Patrol' - available on Kindle.


 

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