Tag Archives: thriller

FIVE GUNS BLAZING: an extract

I’m delighted to post an extract from the beginning of Emma Rose Millar’s FIVE GUNS BLAZING. It’s a thrilling adventure that includes pirates, slavery, crime and love (but not particularly in that order).

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“You have been brought before me again, Mrs Beedham!” The magistrate looked at my mother over his spectacles. She must have considered him an idiot if she thought that a flash of her ample cleavage and of her fine eyes would win her any favour. He took the monocle from his breast pocket.

“Theft of a handkerchief, soliciting, affray, the attempted theft of a lady’s purse.”

Her lips twisted at the corner into a little smile, which she quickly straightened, but she looked almost pleased with herself as the charges were read out. I could picture her clear as day, proudly emptying her stolen trinkets out onto our mattress, all shiny and gleaming in the dipping glow of the rush-lights, as a child might present a parent with a painting or piece of needlework. My mother’s eye was as keen as a magpie’s for anything sparkly; she could pick out at ease the glint of a cufflink or a hairpin in the dullest of crowds and would glide her way after it, completely unseen. Later, she would stand back to admire the baubles and bits of finery with her hands on her hips and a look of satisfaction in her eyes, then quickly her face would fall as if she had suddenly noticed they were tarnished or broken and she would snatch them back and wrap them away in her cloth.

Hers was the first case of the day; the beak had seen her at least three times before. Needless to say, my mother was well acquainted with the good magistrates of Holborn; such was her fondness for relieving wealthy ladies and gentlemen of their belongings; handkerchiefs, pocket watches and so on. The magistrate thumbed through a pile of papers on his desk, a history of her sordid misdemeanours, seemingly oblivious to the swelling underclass packing his courtroom, with their poor diction and their sticky fingers. The public gallery was full of them: undesirables and reprobates, sweating, scratching. There were women employed at their needlework, old men dozing, and a girl with some younger children who spread a muslin cloth upon her lap, then proceeded to break up a meat pie and divide it between them. And of course there was me, Laetitia Beedham, the accused’s daughter who had weaved my way through the tangle of legs and crouched behind a man who I imagined might have been a farmer, or gamekeeper. He stood solidly in front of me, cleaning the dirt from underneath his fingernails with a blade.

“Oh, don’t hang me, sir, I beg of you!”

The court seemed suddenly excited by her outburst. It was all entertainment to them; the law after all is only theatre; it did not matter much if one was hanged or not, it was all part of the drama.

“I only did it for my daughter, who was sick and in need of medicine. My husband’s dead, sir, what is a woman to do?”

I felt a blush burning from my collarbone to my temples, and someone laughed and shouted, “She’s a liar, sir! The girl is the bastard child of two thieves!”

There were gasps and then the magistrate, with his grey brows knitted together and an air of concern upon his countenance, asked, “Where is she now?”

My mother caught my eye for the briefest of moments. “I don’t know,” she sighed, dabbing her cheek with a cotton handkerchief. “We’re all alone and friendless in the world. She’s begging, most probably, on the streets of Holborn, unless someone’s cruelly snatched her and is taking advantage of her as we speak.” She fell into sobs and covered her face though still managing to peep through her fingers at the exasperated gentleman. “I can’t bear to think of what callousness may have befallen her now she has not the protection of her mother! London’s nothing more than a cess pit, simmering with the most ruthless, the most merciless…the…the…”

“See that the girl is rounded up,” said the magistrate to the constable, who quickly jumped to attention, “and repair them to the Florence Street Workhouse so that they might be fed and clothed and instructed in the ways of Christian honesty.” His words hit me like a fist in my chest and I began forging a path back through the jostling crowd, whose whoops and cries had me quite disorientated.

The whole building resonated with a tremendous holler: “Stop that girl!” Then another, and another until the echoes melded together and swelled out in riotous harmony. “A shilling to the man who takes her!”

A woman snatched at my dress. “Come here, you little wretch,” but I wriggled free from her, seeing the door before me and the yellow light from the world outside. Then just as I thought I could make a dash for it, the constable swiped his stick against the back of my knees, taking my legs right from under me. A loud “huzzah” went up from the crowd and I lay on the floor with my cheek pressed against the constable’s boot. “Vipers,” my mother called them. She would have more respect for them had they been paid; everybody had to earn a living, after all. These men did it for the love of it; they were dazzled by the power they had over others, that was all she could think.

“It is clear that you do not have the means to provide for yourself, madam,” the magistrate continued. He banged his hammer against the gavel, and a stout looking man wearing a waistcoat pulled me roughly to my feet. “You will regard this as a kindness, Mrs Beedham, in years to come; do not let me see you here again. I shall not be so lenient next time.”

To find out what happens to Laetitia and Mrs Beedham click on the cover image above or click here.

Alternatively – go to Smashwords

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Nik Morton: Protagonist in jeopardy

I’m pleased to welcome Nik Morton today with an insightful guest blog about character and point of view. He offers us an extract from his latest novel, The Tehran Text, to illustrate his point, too.

Nik is a very experienced author with twenty books to his name. He is also an editor, illustrator and Ex Royal Navy. His Tana Standish ‘Psychic Spy’ novels are published by Crooked Cat: so far we have The Prague Papers and The Tehran Text, with more to come. They are spy thrillers in the style of Ian Fleming and Len Deighton, but with an extra twist. You’ll be shaken and stirred.  Click on the links or book covers to purchase these exciting novels.

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Thanks for inviting me, Jeff. If I may, I’d like to talk about place and point of view in genre fiction.

NikThe mantra is to ‘show’ rather than ‘tell’ when writing. The reason being that by simply telling the reader, the reader isn’t involved, isn’t close to the characters.  If the reader views everything through a protagonist’s eyes – as in ‘show’ – then we tend to immerse ourselves more in the character.

Of course it isn’t always possible to show everything through a particular protagonist’s eyes – sometimes you have to resort to the omniscient point of view, much in the way that a film director will track in a scene until homing in on the character of interest. At that point, we become involved with the actor and less so the scene. This can apply in certain scene shifts in a novel, too.  Here’s an example from The Tehran Text (Crooked Cat Publishing) which is set in 1978:


Tehran Text

Kazakhstan

Special Psychiatric Hospital No.121, Kzyl-Orda in Kazakhstan was situated within the confines of the prison and a white brick wall surrounded it, topped with rows of barbed wire. Armed guards were perched in their watchtowers, their automatic weapons always loaded.

These hospitals were under the control of the Ministry of Internal Affairs – the MVD – rather than the Ministry of Health. The MVD’s responsibilities were wide-ranging – uncovering and investigating certain categories of crime, apprehending criminals, supervising the internal passport system, maintaining public order, combating public drunkenness, supervising parolees, managing prisons and labour camps, providing fire protection and controlling traffic.

Doctor Wolf Schneider wasn’t a psychiatrist working for the MVD but a reluctant patient, his seventeen square metre cell shared with five others. He looked older than sixty-four, partly due to the left side of his face being one great red weal from an electric burn sustained three years ago. His thyroidal eyes glared, the stare more pronounced due to thick-lensed spectacles held together with surgical tape.

Outside the cell and along the corridor was the toilet, a cesspit comprising four holes in the ground and two taps. After a few days in the place, he stopped noticing the constant pervading smell of faeces and urine. He had no idea how long he’d been here. Memory played tricks – drugs, beatings and perpetual light didn’t help, either. This was the third SPH he had been to, since they attempted to fix his body after the disaster at Dobranice.

Criticism of the system would often condemn you to such a prison. Or failure. This was the humane side of the Soviet. Think yourself lucky, Schneider told himself. In Stalin’s and the Führer’s day, it was the firing squad. Now, if you failed, you needed psychiatric help.

“Prisoner DBR-14!” shouted a guard outside and thudded a fist twice on the metal door. The sound reverberated in the cell and everyone gasped.

Schneider flinched, more used to feeling those fists against his puny flesh.

“Prisoner DBR-14!” the guard repeated. Keys jangled and turned in the lock.

That’s me, Schneider realised. “Yes, I am here!” he shouted, though it came out like a plaintive squeak. Idiots! Where else would I be?

As the door swung wide, the other patients edged away along the wall, vying with each other to melt into the two corners furthest from the entrance.

The Ukrainian was as big as an ox and with as much intelligence, thought Schneider. All the more reason to fear him; it was an effort to control his bladder at sight of the man. The unshaven orderly stood, piggy eyes darting from one patient to the other, seeming to relish the discomfort his very presence caused. “You have a visitor, Prisoner DBR-14!” he sneered.

He was about to say, “Me?” when he bit his tongue. Only speak if asked to.

Shoulders hunched, bald head gleaming in the constant illumination from the strip light above, Schneider hobbled forward. The replacement kneecaps on both his legs might have worked adequately in normal living conditions, but here they simply seized up and now every step was agony.

The orderly almost filled the cell’s doorway so Schneider had to squeeze past and received the full blast of the man’s bad breath and rancid body odour.

The door clanged shut behind him with a deafening clamour and then he was thrust to the left, along the corridor. “Get a move on, you don’t want to keep your visitor waiting!” snarled his guard, painfully thumping his palm into the small of Schneider’s back.

Keeping his head bowed, Schneider shambled forward, trying to ignore the repetitive impatient smack of the orderly’s wooden stick against his boot.

Visitors usually meant trouble. The inquiry board investigating the Dobranice incident had grilled him repeatedly in Chernyakhovsk in the Kaliningrad region; he’d lost three teeth that time. This brute behind him had claimed four more. Now when he spoke – which was rarely, just to hear his own voice most times – it was with a whistling sound.

His body shuddered as he was pushed into a familiar room – the interrogation chamber.

Seated at the solitary desk was a Lieutenant of the GRU – a woman with copper-coloured hair cut short in layers. Her grey-mottled combat fatigues seemed anaemic, quite dull in contrast to her reddish-brown complexion. Thin lips peeled from a cruel mouth and revealed yellow teeth. If that was a smile, he didn’t think he was going to enjoy this interview. Then again, he could rarely recall a pleasant one.

“Come, comrade doctor,” she said in a husky voice. “Please sit. We have much to talk about.”

Hesitantly, he shuffled to the empty wooden ladder-backed chair bolted to the floor.

“My name is Lidiya Aksakov,” she said.

He looked into almond-shaped eyes coloured a weathered nut brown. Eyes that held no warmth. In those heady far-off days of the Third Reich he’d known several Nazi women with eyes like that. Even he had steered clear of them. “I am Wolf Schneider,” he began then flinched as he heard a movement behind. He screwed up his eyes, expecting the blow from the orderly’s stick, but it never came. Out of the corner of his eye, he risked a look and noticed that the woman Aksakov had raised a peremptory hand.

“Prisoner DBR-14 may use his name while we talk,” she explained firmly.

Schneider released a sigh of relief as he heard the guard return to the door. He felt moisture pricking the corners of his eyes but managed to control himself. Then her next words seemed to increase the rate of his heartbeat and pulse and inflamed the ugly red weal; it began to throb.

“I want you to tell me all about Tana Standish,” she said.

* * *

Tehran ebookThe scene ends on an ominous note or two. Firstly, if we’ve read The Prague Papers, we’ll recognise Schneider from that episode in psychic spy Tana Standish’s life (1975); and secondly, we will be fearful for the British spy because we don’t know what Aksakov is up to, though knowing it can’t bode well for Tana.

Ideally, the reader will be intrigued by the presence of Aksakov and want to learn more (this is only the beginning of chapter 3, after all). Later, the relationship between Schneider and Aksakov will evolve, though an air of menace will never be far off.

And in the time-honoured way we scene shift to somewhere else, and another protagonist in jeopardy.

Tana books1 and 2
THE PRAGUE PAPERS

Amazon UK here

Amazon COM here

 

THE TEHRAN TEXT

Amazon UK here

Amazon COM here

Prague Papers1 - Copy (2)

Daithi Kavanagh: Guest Blog & Giveaway

Welcome to fellow Tirgearr author, Daithi Kavanagh, whose new thriller, ‘The Gun’, is out now. Not only does Daithi highlight some of the background to his own writing life, but also offers us an extract and a free giveaway at the end! Please follow the buy links to purchase a copy. Over to you, Daithi…

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Inspiration

My wife Caroline and I have been married for eighteen years. She is the person who has inspired me to believe in myself. When I started to play music as a hobby  I wanted to try and make a living from it and Caroline was behind me all the way. I was working as a Builders Labourer at the time and as I was getting older was finding it more and more difficult physically to do the work. I had always played music and sang and I found the courage and belief in myself (with Caroline’s backing) to look for work playing music.

I eventually found work and gradually built up the business. It gives me great satisfaction to know that I was able to contribute to the support of my family by doing something that I loved.

In the same way when I decided to write ‘The Gun’ Caroline was there pushing me along. I would write in long hand in my kids old school copy books, dictate it to her and she would type it up. She sent my book off to every publisher she could find and eventually I was contacted by Tirgearr Publishing who have been a great support to me.

Now she is my secretary and is doing all of the behind the scenes work in promoting ‘The Gun’. I can honestly say that if she  hadn’t been behind me as much as she was that ‘The Gun’ might not have come to the fore so quickly. It would have taken me about 10 years to type it up for starters! I am now learning to type (albeit very slowly) while I am doing a degree in Irish Culture and Heritage Studies. I have just completed my second book in The Tadhg Sullivan Series called The Brotherhood and have started on the  third book. I am actually typing the third one myself which is a challenge for me and a relief to Caroline I’m sure!

My writing space is varied. Due to my hectic life style I tend to write wherever I can but as I said earlier my preferred space for writing is in bed. Here I get the best of all worlds. I get comfort, inspiration, imagination and the odd cup of tea from Caroline! There is nothing i like more than to wake up and have nothing to do but write. This alas is not always possible but when it is, it’s  great. I wake up, head downstairs for breakfast. While eating I usually get the news on the internet, then head back to bed.

Long may my writing career continue for me and my family. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to write and to Tirgearr Publishing for giving me that opportunity.

The Gun

Book Blurb

Garda Detective Tadhg Sullivan leads a special unit that investigates politically motivated crime. A man known only as The Deerstalker is a cancer who has infected the Irish political system.

Sullivan teams up with journalist Helen Carty, and together they try tracking down the mysterious killer. Carty adds to Sullivan’s problems, when he finds himself falling in love with her. And further complicating things, he starts losing trust in his partner, Detective Pat Carter, who appears to be on the side of the Garda Commissioner, who Sullivan is rapidly falling out with.

Sullivan’s case is further thrown into confusion when a copycat killer, Tommy Walsh, is shot dead by the CIA. When the CIA discovers that they’ve killed the wrong person, the two agents involved–Simon, who has become disillusioned by his time stationed in the Middle East, and Joey, a psychopath who confuses zealotry with patriotism–are also in pursuit of The Deerstalker.

Sullivan finds himself in a race against time, if he is to arrest The Deerstalker before the CIA take him out, and use his death as a pawn in a political game of chess.

Who will win out in the end?

Buy links

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00NU8MDTA/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B00NU8MDTA&linkCode=as2&tag=lucyfelt-20&linkId=SMT3D7VGVKSDFY72

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00NU8MDTA/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1634&creative=19450&creativeASIN=B00NU8MDTA&linkCode=as2&tag=lucyfelthouse-21&linkId=FHMA2UNOYPQ7XB24

http://www.tirgearrpublishing.com/authors/Kavanagh_Daithi/the-gun.htm

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/480887?ref=cw1985

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/gun-tadhg-sullivan-mystery/id924662452

http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/the-gun-a-tadhg-sullivan-mystery-book-1

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-gun-daithi-kavanagh/1120426981

The Gun

Excerpt

He stared at the gun lying on the bed.  It was in his possession for nearly half his life and he’d never known what to do with it.  The funny thing was, he’d always hated guns and yet, here he was.

He heard his wife moving around downstairs and knew that very soon she would call him for a cup of tea.  He had to get the gun back into its hiding place.

He thought back to the first time he’d seen it.  A late night knock at the door and a man from down the street had handed the gun and ammunition to him, wrapped in fertiliser bags.

“What the hell is this?” he’d blurted out.

“It’s a gun,” the man had said showing no expression.

“What are you giving it to me for?” he’d whispered, not wanting his family to hear them.”

“Because I trust you,” he’d replied.

“What the hell do you mean, you trust me? You hardly know me! And all I know about you is that you’re mixed up in the IRA.  I have a family and I don’t give a damn about the North.  Now please get away from my door and take that thing with you.”

The man had stared at him, but all calm had disappeared from his features.  Then he spoke through gritted teeth.

“Now listen to me.  The guards are going to be here shortly.  Something serious happened tonight and now you’re mixed up in it, whether you like it or not.  If you don’t take the gun from me now, when the guards arrive here and see us together, I’ll implicate you.  Even if they don’t believe me, it will mean that you’ll have to stand up in Court and give evidence against me. Do you want that for your family?   It would be much easier for you to stick the gun in the boot of your car drive off somewhere and hide it.  But you’d better make your mind up fast, before they drive up and arrest us both.”

He often wondered why he’d taken it.  Was it because he’d had sympathy for the man?  He didn’t think so.  Maybe it was the fear of being implicated, or like the man had said, being branded an informer.  He wasn’t sure, but whatever the reason, it seemed like providence.

BIOdaithi kavanagh

I am 56 years old and I live with my wife and two teenage children in Trinity, Wexford. Up to 2012 when the recession hit Ireland I was making my living as a musician. I then went back to adult education and completed my Leaving Certificate in 2014. I am now studying for a degree in Culture and Heritage Studies at Wexford Campus.

While I was studying for I began writing ‘The Gun’ which is the first book in The Tadhg Sullivan Series.  I have just completed the second book in the series.

I play guitar and sing in many of the pubs in my hometown of Wexford where I am often joined by my two children Ella and Rory who play fiddle and flute.

In my spare time (which I do not have a lot of) I like to walk my two dogs with my wife Caroline.

Links

www.daithikavanagh.blogspot.com

www.facebook.com/carolinekavanagh.543

www.facebook.com/pages/The-Gun-by-Daithi-Kavanagh

www.twitter.com/Daithik3

www.tirgearrpublishing.com/authors/kavanaghdaithi

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GIVEAWAY!

Please follow this link for the GIVEAWAY…

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/8b9ec5be97/

 

 

 

 

 

Nik Morton: Author Interview and Extract from ‘Prague Papers’

NikI’m delighted to welcome fellow Crooked Cat author,  Nik Morton, to my blog. With fifty years writing experience and many books to his name, Nik is a brilliant writer of pacy, action-packed and fascinatingly researched books. He’s here to discuss his latest spy novel, The Prague Papers. There’s also an extract and links at the end. I’ll hand straight over to Nik who will tell you more…

The Prague Papers transports the reader to a relatively exotic locale and period and is fast-paced and highly visual. Running through the series of Tana Standish chronicles are several leitmotifs: each story begins with a Prologue about the handing over of a secret manuscript; each tale starts with a victim in the sights of a weapon. Astute readers will appreciate that Tana experiences flash-forward images of future threats, which are played out in the respective sequels. Intentionally, the blurring of fact and fiction occurs and each tale ends with a news report, often hidden away in the middle of a newspaper: bland paragraphs that hide a lot of international tension and chicanery. Many of the subsidiary characters appear again in the follow-up, The Tehran Text. The end of each adventure plugs the first chapter of the next; for example, the first chapter of The Khyber Chronicle is already appended to The Tehran Text. Tana’s Khyber mission takes place in Afghanistan in 1979/80 and the follow-up to that is in Argentina/Falklands in 1982); all echoing real events in recent history.

The readership

These Tana Standish books will appeal to readers of Jack Higgins, John Le Carré and Ian Fleming or any reader who enjoys The Manchurian Candidate and Modesty Blaise capers. The books also offer the serious side to Ronson’s The Men Who Stare at Goats.

Prague Papers1 - Copy (2)

What are the main ideas or themes in The Prague Papers?

For years I’d been interested in psychic research and read a great deal about it. When I learned that in the 1970s governments actively pursued this for potential use against enemy states, I linked up the idea with a spy organisation I’d created in the 1960s in my first two (unpublished) novels. The theme is the survival of the human spirit even when oppression is the norm. The heroine epitomises this, from her fifth birthday in 1942 to 1975, with this latest mission.

 Exciting stuff. So why is the setting so important?

We have all lived in interesting times, and I feel that the Cold War period still has many more stories to tell. Reappraising that time some forty years later, there’s scope for inserting the grey as well as the heroic. I’d researched Czechoslovakia a great deal and found myself sympathising with the people. Freedom was something to fight for, to work towards in 1975; it took another eighteen years for it to be a reality, when the country was split in two. The Tana Standish series reflects the history we’ve lived through and shows how events in the past can influence the ‘now’.

Tell us more about Tana and some of the other characters.

Tana Standish is a spy working for an organisation linked to but not part of MI6. The organisation came into being in an attempt at avoiding the constant Soviet leaks. She is a psychic with a photographic memory; she’s not superhuman, though, as her abilities cannot always be turned on and off at will. Laco is an old friend and ex-lover who is head of an underground cell in Prague. Sadly, being a friend of Tana can prove fatal. There are echoes from her past, in the guise of Ilyichev; some years back, she crippled him when he was spying in Northern Ireland. And there are echoes from her future – in each book, she gets tantalising glimpses of an event or situation she will be involved in, often puzzling, often threatening. Tana’s dilemma is to survive capture and brainwashing.

Why did you write this novel?

I always wanted to write about characters who could cross the globe on their adventures. Having an interest in the history of espionage, I felt that it seemed logical to write about a period I’d lived through and understood. The psychic elements are provided in a realistic setting; that’s the hard part, making science fiction believable. Certainly, Tana has evolved into a strong character who can easily tread the murky byways of recent history.

 How do you go about writing a novel? Is it a simple or complex process?

I’ve been writing novels intermittently for fifty years, though I’ve only had novels published for the last seven! It depends on the original impetus – is it an idea, a character, an event? Now, I tend to plot the full story – not in any great detail – just so I know where I’m going.

This is easier (and harder) for the Tana books because she is tied to real historical events; easier, because I have a route; harder, because I’ve got to make the action fit the real timeline.

A stand-alone novel is relatively easy, once the plot-plan is devised.

A series requires certain characters to reappear; also there’s some foreshadowing into future books, and back-references with perhaps fresh revelations on past events. A spreadsheet is useful for keeping track of characters and where they appear, too; for example, The Khyber Chronicle already has 43 named characters and has some way to go!

What advice do you have for less experienced writers?

Be your harshest critic. Write the whole book; don’t dally with the first part, trying to get it right. Move forward. Get it down on the page, get it done.

Once it’s ‘finished’, then you can go over it to find the inconsistencies, the word repetitions, the logic lapses, the contradictory timelines, and the spelling and grammar mistakes.

Self-edit, self-edit and just to be sure, self-edit. You’ll never achieve perfection, but strive to that end.

Put it aside for a few days and read it with fresh eyes. You’ll still find mistakes. Correct them. Then, when you feel you can’t improve it any more or may even be in danger of destroying those flashes of spontaneity, prepare a pristine copy along the guidelines of your target – publisher, editor et al – and send it off with the synopsis and anything else that is required. In short, don’t rush it. You only have one chance to create a good first impression.

What are you working on currently?

I’ve got three books on the go. 1) To Be King is the sequel to a co-written fantasy quest Wings of the Overlord. This series has been evolving for over forty years; Gordon created the fantasy world and paints the broad plot strokes: I write the book, adding sub-plots as appropriate. 2) Cataclysm is the second sequel to Catalyst, which is due from Crooked Cat on 11 December. Catalyst is the first in the ‘Avenging Cat’ series, about another female protagonist, Catherine Vibrissae, who is set on destroying the global organisation Cerberus and its head, Loupe Malefice. Her adventures take her to Spain, Morocco and China. 3) The Khyber Chronicle, the third in the Tana Standish series, set in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion. Happily, they’re all different enough so that I don’t get confused!

What would your perfect day be?

Excluding family, I’ll answer this from a writing perspective: the perfect day would be when I saw one of my books on film! Well, we can all dream, Jeff!

I certainly share that dream, Nik. Name a book or a film that means a lot to you.

Having over 4,000 books and several hundred films on the shelves, that’s a tall order, so I’ll duck the question. My blog has a list of favourite books, and it’s quite a list. (Nik’s blog).

 If you could leave a message to the world, what would it be?

I guess embedded in most of my books is the message that ‘good triumphs over evil’, so I’d let the books speak for me.

All the best with your many different projects, Nik. Sounds like you’re busy, but finding great success now. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you.

 Prague Papers1 - Copy

 

Extract from Chapter 2: Tana

Perversely, it was good to be back after seven eventful years – dangerous and secret years in far-flung places like Karachi, Tehran, Elba, Gibraltar, Hong Kong and Mombasa. Caution and deceit were second nature to her, she reminded herself and grinned. Yes, I feel quite at home again.

The sound of the heels of her calf-hugging black boots added to the general hubbub in the echoing terminal. Tana moved through the wide glass-partitioned entrance then lowered her travelling-case on the steps and checked her watch.

The British Airways flight had been a couple of minutes early – a favourable tail wind. She’d allowed for a much longer delay in customs, so now she had at least ten minutes to wait before Laco arrived with transport to take her the seventeen kilometres into the city.

The very air seemed grossly oppressive – and it wasn’t the weather.

At least the rain had stopped, although the grey heavens stayed overcast. From the aircraft, she’d seen the lights shining between the rows of Charles Bridge’s Baroque statues, while the Vltava, edged with rain-sodden trees, reflected the city’s winking night-lights and numerous turreted spires and domes. A beautiful city that seemed to benefit from Communist neglect; it lacked modern hoardings, neon advertisements and garish shops and she felt it was probably better for it.

After all these years it was easy enough for her to keep in check her distaste for the Soviets and their system, which had seemed to get even more corrupt. Odd, but Sir Gerald had openly regretted Kruschev being deposed the year before she joined Interprises – “Not as shifty as Brezhnev. We thought we had a chance to work with the Russians,” he’d said. “Now, after over a decade of Brezhnev, I’m not so sure any more.”

She really felt for the oppressed Czechs and Russians; they were regularly lied to and deprived of so much; all so that the Soviet hierarchy could live well. Where there was oppression, there was fear, betrayal and personal danger.

Still, so far she had no reason to doubt Merrick’s assessment was accurate. “Minimal risk,” he’d said. “A straightforward repair and rebuild assignment. I thought you’d enjoy it; a return to see old friends.” Then he’d added, with a lecherous smirk, “Laco Valchik’s still in charge, he picked up the pieces and got Torrence out. A close call, by all accounts.”

As soon as she’d heard about Torrence, Tana had contacted Enid Shorthouse, the Interprises filing clerk in the basement Library. Enid had been with Sir Gerald since the beginning in 1963 and, it seemed, had a memory second only to Tana’s. She knew all the Interprises field agents and their traits. Her filing system was separate to the Ops Officer’s and that’s the way she liked it. Idiosyncratic. Only she could find anything. She was supposed to provide documentation and information backup for the agents in the field. But Enid took her job too seriously to limit herself, so whatever she could find out she put in her files – on paper and in her memory.

“You know, Enid,” Tana had remarked, “all Moscow Centre has to do is to kidnap you. Interprises might as well fold up then.”

Chuckling, Enid leaned on the enquiries counter, drooping breasts encased in a My Weekly pattern blue-green bobbled cardigan, well past its best. She lifted her spectacles from her pointed nose and rested them among the permed curls of her blue-rinsed hair. “You’re the only agent who knows the full extent of my knowledge, my dear.” She winked. “The Ruskies’d have to be psychic to know, really.”

Tana grinned. “Let’s hope so. Now, what can you tell me about Reginald Torrence?”

“Torrence!” Enid’s normally kindly features suddenly transformed, lines pronounced around her glaring eggshell blue eyes. “He’s a buffoon. I don’t know why Sir Gerald allowed him to stay after he bungled Izmir.” She calmed down, waving a hand airily. “Fine, he’s good in the classroom, knows the theory, but his people-skills are nothing to write home about, I can tell you.”

Tana wondered why Merrick had sent in that buffoon, as Enid called him. Apparently, he bungled the whole operation from the word go. All he had to do was consolidate the underground faction, obtain any useful information, and then return with technical requirements they might have. Instead, he blew it, the whole fabric torn at the seams, one cell disrupted, others in hiding and fearing the worst.

At least Torrence got out – thanks to Laco and his network’s survivors.

Was it Torrence’s fault or was there a mole in Laco’s organisation?

But Tana knew there was another quite unthinkable possibility.

She still puzzled over what happened to Toker in Istanbul last month – and Enid hadn’t been any help, either, save saying that Dudley Toker had been a real professional and a gentleman as far as she was concerned. “I tell you truly, Tana, I really miss his wonderful smile and chivalrous airs. Not much gallantry about since the Sixties.”

A chilly sensation down the nape of her neck returned Tana abruptly to the present.

The man was obviously watching her. Hatless, close-cropped black hair, greying at the edges. Stout, short, a broken bent nose, flaring nostrils. He was so blatantly an agent of the StB, their political security police, no doubt sent from his rat-hole in Bartolemejská where they’d taken over the old convent and eighteenth century church of Saint Bartholomew. One day, maybe the church and convent would echo to hymns and psalms again instead of the plaintive cries of tormented citizens. But she wouldn’t hold her breath.

All StB agents wore civilian clothes, yet they might as well have displayed placards with neon lights. It was a combination of their unrelaxed poses, their strained unawareness and something indefinable, almost as though they smelled of decay and corruption.

On the other hand, he could be KGB – they were little better, confident in their superiority and their ability to instil fear into the populace. And if so, then she was probably blown before she started.

She was aware that in the last six months Interprises had lost two other experienced agents, besides Toker. Cornelius in Helsinki and Segal in Berlin. Her thoughts naturally turned to the existence of a mole inside Interprises. Sir Gerald had created Interprises twelve years ago, specifically because MI6 seemed riddled with Soviet double agents.

Only a week earlier, James Fisk had obtained authorisation for Tana to experiment with a new probing technique on the staff of Interprises. It had risks to her mental well-being, he warned, but she said she was willing to try. The technique used a prototype bio-feedback system combined with remote viewing. Then this mission cropped up. Bad timing, really. Still, when she got back, they’d set it up and with any luck it just might help identify the mole, if there was one.

As the watcher’s black rodent-like eyes momentarily latched onto hers, Tana’s brain echoed with a loud throaty scream, a woman in extreme agony:

Completely naked, the woman was strapped to a chair, her skin blemished with electrode-burns, lathered in glistening sweat, trembling violently.

The stark moment passed. Tana didn’t superficially react at all; the mental image had been too swift. But her pulse and heart rate quickened.

The sensation was not wholly alien to her; it was akin to previous bouts of precognition. But it was also possible that it could have been a captured impression from the watcher’s sewer-like mind. He looked old enough to be an apprentice during Stalin’s time. Probably reliving his stimulatingly vile memories.

A sibilant hiss of tires on the wet tarmac caught her attention.

Prague Papers1

 

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