Our local TV magazine TV Choice has this week published my humorous crime short story 'Lucky with Cars'. Here it is. [I'm not a fan of their habit of eschewing paragraph indents; I suppose it saves space.] Click on it and you can read it...
story is featured in my paperback and e-book I Celebrate Myself (Collected stories volume 4) which contains 24
previously published tales.
A new 5-star review for the first documented mission of Tana Standish, psychic spy.
Standish, now 38, was an orphan Jewish girl trying to escape Warsaw by
sneaking on a ship with her brother. Her brother is killed trying to
find food on the ship. She was also caught later but before she is
killed a British submarine torpedoes the ship. The survivors included
the young girl. MI6 learns that she has psychic abilities, and when she
grows up they train her as an espionage agent. She doesn’t really read
minds, but receives impressions, and can detect danger, hostile and
friendly elements, as well as pick up hidden names. She is also studying
remote viewing in connection to her abilities.
"Mission Prague is not her first assignment, but it is the first published tale about this psychic spy... "This
is a brand new British espionage thriller set in the Cold War, and Tana
Standish is a great new action heroine to be watched.
"The novel is
topnotch, though the author goes off on tangents a bit too much in order
to tie the story and real people into real events. Still, if you are
looking for a great new series, try this author out.
"You’ll like Tana
Standish, the psychic spy. Highly recommended."
Thank you, Virginia E. Johnson!
Mission: Prague Available from Amazon as a paperback and e-book here
William Boyd’s 2012 novel Waiting for Sunrise was
published a year before his James Bond outing, Solo. Both involve spies – as did
Restless (2006); having said that, this is not a spy novel nor is it a
The book begins and ends with
second person narrative, a literary device, as if the reader is personally
viewing the scene through the director’s eyes. The bulk of the novel is third
person point of view. However, there are also sections in the first person, ‘Autobiographical
Investigations’ by the main protagonist.
Lysander Rief, an actor son
of a deceased famous thespian, is undergoing therapy in Vienna in 1913; part of
the treatment is for Rief to write down in a journal his ‘autobiographical
investigations’. His problem is of the psychosexual kind. He meets the
intriguing and beautiful Hettie Bull who miraculously solves his problem and
then involves him in a scandal. He escapes the opprobrium with the aid of a
couple of Foreign Office types – who then later call on him to return the
favour. We’re halfway through the book before Rief is recruited as a spy. The
method of his infiltration is contrived, to say the least, yet it does give us
a powerful insight into aspects of trench warfare.: ‘star shells and distant
artillery, the throat-clearing expectoration of machine-gun fire…’ (p227)
Later, when Rief returns to
London, he is in the midst of a bombing raid by zeppelins, and these scenes are
intense and dramatic. His time in London is devoted to rooting out a suspected mole. Again, the ending was contrived and a bit of a damp squib, which is a
pity, because the writing and observational detail persisted in creating the
impulse to keep turning the pages.
On the whole, Boyd is very
good at description, painting a scene, and his character studies create realistic
players. He is a pleasure to read. Rief's ex-girlfriend is appearing in a play, The Reluctant Hero. Now employed as a
spy, he ‘felt envious, experiencing a sudden urge to rejoin my old life, to be
back on stage, acting, pretending. Then it struck me that this was precisely
what I was about to do. Even the title of her play was suddenly apt. It rather
sobered me.’ (p214)
Good writers utilise the
skills of their main characters; Rief’s acting isn’t simply a career label to
stick onto him. ‘He was feeling surprisingly tense but was acting very calm,
and he thanked his profession once again for the trained ability to feign this
sort of ease and confidence even when he was suffering from its opposite.’
(p348) Excellent stuff.
Possibly the first appearance
of the book title in the text is when Rief is stuck in no man’s land:
best course of action was to stay put and wait until sunrise. Then he might know
what to do next.’ (p231)Followed by: ‘… he
tossed and fidgeted, punched and turned his pillows, opened and closed the
windows of his room, waiting for sunrise.’ (p322)And, the penultimate: ‘… he smoked a
cigarette, waiting for sunrise. Sunrise and clarity, he thought – at last, at
last.’ (p407) Finally, to hammer it home, ‘… and I hoped that sunrise that day
would bring understanding and clarity with it – or at least clearer vision. And
I thought I had it…’ (p419)
But of course we know that some
sunrises occur in fog and then there’s no defined clarity; particularly where
spies and double-agents are concerned…
A gripping, atmospheric
novel, though flawed.
A very minor quibble. Rief’s ‘autobiographical
investigations’ relate some conversations in this manner:
ME: I still have the ring…
BLANCHE: What are you trying
And yet another shows:
MUNRO: Not clever enough…
LYSANDER: I admit…
Here, it should have been
consistent with other examples, and show ME not LYSANDER.
My review of Restless can be found here and of Solohere
My comments on point of view
can be found in Write a Western in 30Days (pp56-67), such as: ‘Second person narrative has its advocates, but it
generally smacks of a literary device and doesn’t make easy reading,
particularly when at novel length or in genre fiction. Here, the writer is
speaking directly to the reader, even addressing him as “you”, as if he existed
in the narrator’s world.’ (p58)
Amazon 5-star review for Mission: Khyber 'First, the
detailed descriptions of Afghanistan; I felt as if I’d actually been
there. Also, the fascinating history of the area I found illuminating. I
liked the way the author further developed his character, psychic spy
Tana Standish. In the first two novels she seemed almost invincible.
Here, she is more vulnerable, and therefore more rounded. The one
negative aspect for me was that I found the descriptions of the weaponry
a bit challenging to follow, having never picked up a gun in my life,
and some of the military manoeuvres left me a bit bewildered. But that
was part of the book’s authenticity: the attention to precision was
admirable, and the general atmosphere reminded me of John le Carré’s
work. I highly recommend it: clearly the work of an experienced writer.'
Thank you, Maureen Elizabeth Moss Available from Amazon as a paperback or e-book here
Recently, there has been some controversy regarding a suggestion for a
blue plaque for Admiral Sir Hugh Francis Paget Sinclair (1873-1939).
However, English Heritage apparently ruled that he was not ‘historically
significant’ enough to be recognised with a blue plaque at his official London
residence in Queen Anne’s Gate, which was linked by a secret tunnel to MI6 HQ.If you’ve been reading the news over the last
few months, you’ll be aware that certain individuals in English Heritage have
lost the plot, and this could be construed as another example of their arrant
Sinclair certainly achieved a lot.
He joined the Royal Navy aged 13 and entered the Naval Intelligence Division at
the outset of the First World War. By 1919 he had become the Director of Naval
Intelligence. In 1923, he took over from Sir Mansfield Cumming as the director
of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, aka MI6).
As early as 1919 he was concerned
about the influence of Bolshevism, but in the main his concerns were ignored.
By 1936 he discovered that the Gestapo had infiltrated several SIS stations; at
about this time Lieutenant Colonel Sir
Claude Edward Marjoribanks Dansey set up Z Organisation, intent on working
independently from the compromised SIS.
Sinclair was asked in
December 1938 to prepare a dossier on Adolf Hitler, for the attention of the
Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister. The dossier received short shrift as it was believed
that it did not gel with Britain's policy of appeasement. Sinclair had described
Hitler as possessing the characteristics of ‘fanaticism, mysticism,
ruthlessness, cunning, vanity, moods of exaltation and depression, fits of
bitter and self-righteous resentment; and what can only be termed a streak of
madness; but with it all there is a great tenacity of purpose, which has often
been combined with extraordinary clarity of vision’ (Foreign Office files)
In 1938, with war looming, Sinclair
set up Section D, dedicated to sabotage and in the spring of
1938, using £6,000 of his own money, he bought Bletchley Park
to be a wartime intelligence station. He died of cancer in 1939 so did not see
the fruits of the code-breaking group at Bletchley that shortened the war.
When writing my first Tana Standish
novel, Mission: Prague, one of my
characters, the head of International Enterprises (‘Interprises’), an adjunct
of SIS, was loosely based on both Sinclair and Dansey: Sir Gerald Hazzard, born
1909. His entry in Who’s who reads:
Winchester and Magdalen College, Oxford; Recreations, yacht-racing, crosswords
and chess; ‘attached to Foreign Office, 1939-present’ which is polite British
jargon for working in the SIS [the ‘present’ was 1975-1978]. However, his
physical stature was based on my first civilian boss after leaving school…
Hazzard’s recruitment of psychic
Tana Standish is related in Mission:
was Sir Gerald’s high-pitched warning to her as she boarded the train
at Waterloo ten years ago, destined for the Fort, one of MI6’s training establishments, an old Napoleonic
stone-walled edifice on the Gosport peninsula on the south coast of Hampshire.
Standing beside the middle-aged yet cadaverous man had
been her grey-haired mother, bravely trying to fight back tears.
“Mum, I’m a big girl now, you
“Twenty-eight last May, dear, I know.” Her mother smiled back. “But I’m worried about what Gerald’s letting you get into. It’s dangerous.”
“She’ll be all right,
Vera, my dear,”
Sir Gerald piped. “In fact, I actually pity the instructors!”
The totally inappropriate falsetto voice of Sir Gerald
had taken some getting used to, as had his emaciated appearance. There seemed
to be little flesh on his face. Tana had seen survivors from the concentration
camps and the facial features of the majority had been drawn, almost
corpse-like, the skull’s bone structure
clearly visible. She knew for a fact that Sir Gerald dined well and often, yet
his head and, judging by how his clothes hung on his gaunt frame, his body too
closely resembled some unfortunate who had endured a Nazi death-camp.
Sir Gerald had been like an uncle to her since Hugh
Standish died in her childhood yet, officially, he only came into her life when
she was twenty-eight, ostensibly to recruit her into his fledgling
Ten years ago. When she’d qualified for the Intelligence Officers’ New Entry Course.
The day had been bleak and wind-swept as she hurried
from the draughty Portsmouth Harbour railway station to the pontoon where she
caught the little steam craft Ferry Prince, which seemed to be overloaded
with commuters, among them Royal Navy sailors in square rig hanging onto their
white hats. Halfway across the harbour, she saw one sailor lose his hat
overboard and the young man swore, no doubt fearing that he’d be on a charge when he turned up at his submarine
base, HMS Dolphin. Away on their left, she noticed the distinctive
ten-storey tall tower, rumoured to have been built by German prisoners-of-war.
Below it were the motley brick buildings of Fort Blockhouse, the submarine
base, with two menacing black boats moored alongside.
On the Gosport side she’d been met by a Ministry of Defence driver in dark serge who had
commented disparagingly on the weather then bundled her suitcase into the back
of the highly-polished Rover.
The journey seemed circuitous – the driver explained that there was a crossing called
Pneumonia Bridge over the creek but it was only capable of taking pedestrians
and cyclists, not cars. “One day they might
get round to building a proper road, I suppose,” he moaned, “but
it’ll be after I’m
drawing my pension, I shouldn’t wonder!”
Eventually, they turned onto Anglesey Road, part of
the district of Alverstoke where many retired admirals were supposed to live,
and this led down to the coast road and Stokes Bay, which offered a sweeping panoramic
view of the Solent and the Isle of Wight.
Turning left, they passed several fenced-off military
Further along still, beyond the narrow hedge-bordered
coast road, she knew, were the high brick walls of the submarine base and the Royal
Navy’s Hospital Haslar. However, after a short drive
they turned off to the right onto what appeared to be an unadopted road with a
sign on their left indicating,
FORT MONCKTON ONLY.
NO UNAUTHORISED VEHICLES
They passed this and the 15 mph sign and headed
towards an unprepossessing collection of brick buildings partially concealed by
an overgrowth of brambles and weeds, all behind barbed wire.
Their car crossed over a drawbridge and it seemed they
were expected as Fort Monckton’s ponderous studded
steel doors swung wide on well-oiled rails and hinges.
I lived in Alverstoke for many years and often passed the secret Fort Monckton...
Then, in the sequel, Mission: Tehran, we learn more about
Hazzard’s acquisition of the British SIS psychic HQ, Fenner House, motivated in
part by the logic of Dansey:
The Georgian mansion was built in 1810 and had a
chequered existence before being bought by Sir Gerald Hazzard in 1958 to
establish the Psychic Institute. As a top intelligence officer in the MI6 hierarchy,
he was following in the footsteps of two chiefs of the secret service –
Mansfield Cumming, who often supplemented the fledgling secret service from his
own pocket, and Admiral Sinclair, who bought Bletchley Park himself because he
couldn’t get any funding.
Unofficially Sir Gerald had been interested in psychic
research since encountering Tana as a child. However, abiding by Vera
Standish’s wishes, he didn’t officially announce his friendship and interest
Two years earlier ‘C’ had been Dick White and with his
connivance, Sir Gerald had created his own particular offshoot of MI6,
International Enterprises, in February, shortly after Philby flew out of Beirut
for exile in Moscow. In July 1963 Sir Gerald actually set Fenner House aside for
the sole use of Interprises, retaining the Psychic Institute as a convenient
cover. His brief was to recruit agents who didn’t belong to any ‘old school’ –
and he scoured the armed forces to that end. Inevitably, there were exceptions
and he head-hunted Tana in 1965.
Changes to the interior structure of Fenner House were
kept secret: the large bedroom at the west rear end was converted into a
conference room and encased in a Faraday cage to prevent electronic
eavesdropping. The upstairs closets and changing rooms on the north side had
been converted into two separate rooms – the psychic training laboratory and
the Communications Centre and a door from the latter opened into Sir Gerald’s
bed-sitting room at the northeast corner which he occupied whenever he was
The servants’ quarters on the ground floor at the
north side were knocked into two rooms – becoming the Gym – with its first-aid
annex – and the Armoury.
Sitting cross-legged in the centre of the Gymnasium’s
dojo, Tana maintained the yogic Sukhasana position, her arms limp and the backs
of her hands resting on her bare feet. She wore a black leotard and her hair
swept back in a tight bun.
This easy pose for meditation was suitable for her
purposes. (Mission: Tehran, pp
Available on Amazon as a paperback
and e-book here
Available on Amazon as a paperback
and e-book here
Available on Amazon as a paperback
and e-book here
What a treasure trove Scott Harris and Paul Bishop have
If you’re a fan of westerns – movies, TV or in print (paper
and electronic) – then you’ll absolutely love this book. If you’re curious
about what all the fuss is about regarding westerns, this will explain it. If
you’ve never read a western, then this book will show you what you’re missing.
The driving concept is original – offering recommended
western titles, one per week for a year’s worth of reading. There are quite a
few ‘best of’ book recommendation books around; one of my favourites being
Anthony Burgess’ Ninety-Nine Novels – the
Best in English Since 1939 (1984). Naturally, some of the titles were
contentious; it was his personal choice, however.With 52
Weeks the compilers haven’t fallen into the ‘best’ trap, and they’re aided
by quite an illustrious bunch of other authors and readers who have added their
own favourites to the selection.
Ranging alphabetically from .44 by H.A. De Rosso to The
Wolfer by Loren Estleman, there’s something for everyone, both male and
female reader, here.
Naturally, there is a good number of ‘classics’ – The Mark of Zorro (1919), Hondo (1953), The Day the Cowboys Quit (1971), The Big Country (1957), Old
Yeller (1956), Riders of the Purple
Sage (1912, The Searchers (1954),
Shane (1949), The Shootist (1975),True Grit (1968), Valdez is Coming (1970) and The
Virginian (1902) to more modern offerings dating as recently as 2015. While
I’ve read most of the above, the beauty of this book is that it introduces new
authors and books to consider for that always growing 'to be read’ list.
A double-page spread is devoted to each book , comprising
Book Facts (a teasing narrative without spoilers), Author Facts, and
interesting pieces in Beyond the Facts and Fun Facts, the latter two sections
sometimes providing anecdotal information, or details about the movies spawned
by the book. In addition, there’s a favourite quote; a good idea, though
sometimes I felt that the quotation wasn’t too meaningful! Many of the featured
authors have produced hundreds of books (in several genres); prolific
journeymen to be admired for their output.
Each double page is lavishly coloured with two or three covers/movie
I was surprised that Max Brand didn’t appear; his The Trail to San Triste is one of my
favourites. Three books highlighted, while interesting in their own right, are
not novels but non-fiction works. I’d have liked to have seen a Contents page,
a copyright page and dates of authors’ births and (where appropriate) deaths;
yes, I could obtain that latter information by Googling, but so could the
compilers. But these are minor quibbles.
This book is definitely a labour of love by all concerned,
including the editor Nerissa Stacey and the designer Kari Kurti: a
Nik Morton also writes as Ross Morton and a few other names besides... Ex Royal Navy, Ex IT, Expat living in Spain. Editor and writer. 'I write short stories, articles and novels. I also draw cartoons and illustrate comics and stories and magazine covers. To date I have 27 books published or soon-to-be published... I'm married to Jennifer, a linguist and musician who also writes. We have a daughter Hannah, son-in-law Farhad (Harry) a grandson Darius and a granddaughter Suri - who live in Spain too.