About eighteen months ago, at a lunch meeting with my publishers, and agent, David Headley, I was asked if I’d ever thought of writing a character to alternate with my main one, ex-MI5 officer, Harry Tate (RED STATION, TRACERS, RETRIBUTION, and DECEPTION, with the fifth, EXECUTION, on the boil).
“Of course I have – and could,” I said, fingers crossed beneath the table. Well, in these uncertain times, it pays to be positive. Besides, I like a challenge. I’d also written three books 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.
The change became a desire to try something darker, with more edge, yet still with the up-to-the-minute themes that I’ve used in the Harry Tates.
On the way home from the meeting, I thought about something I’d been sub-consciously toying with: a book involving Somali pirates. But 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 all. Oh, and I had a character name: Marc Portman. It was there and wouldn’t go away, so I took that as a good omen.
Truth is, I still 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 that beckons; neither did I fancy a high-tech all-out war approach to fighting pirates. I needed 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 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 go badly wrong, and find a way out for their colleagues, even at risk of life or limb. 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, and with the addition of more current threats from enemies interested in catching and using members of British Intelligence (SIS) for propaganda purposes. Back in the Cold War, successes or failures on both sides were often muted or even covered up altogether; 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.
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.
I certainly had a lot of fun writing it.
Here’s the synopsis:
He’s a professional shadow. A watcher who provides protection in potentially hostile situations. He works in the background, stays off the record. Often the people he’s guarding have no idea he’s there. Some know him as Portman.
When two British intelligence agents are dispatched 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 hires American deep cover specialist Marc Portman to protect them.
Heading for the wild, lawless land on the Kenyan/Somali border, Portman soon realizes that the British Intelligence Services have been double-crossed. Can he survive long enough to keep his charges alive and prevent a catastrophe?
Adrian Magson is the author of 16 crime/thriller novels and many short stories and articles. His latest novels are EXECUTION (Severn House – May 2013), 5th in the Harry Tate spy series, and DEATH AT THE CLOS DU LAC (Allison &Busby), 4th in the Inspector Lucas Rocco series. A regular reviewer for Shots Magazine, he writes the ‘Beginners’ and ‘New Author’ pages for Writing Magazine, and is the author of ‘Write On! – The Writer’s Help Book’ (Accent Press).
To learn more about Adrian, please visit his website.