Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Meet Paul Dark

My first novel, Free Agent, is published by Penguin in paperback in the United States today (with a jacket design by Gray318). It's the first in a trilogy of spy thrillers set in 1969 featuring British agent Paul Dark. The Guardian wrote that 'deep knowledge of espionage and classic spy novels informs this excellent debut', The Irish Independent called it 'an action-packed novel very much of the John le Carré school, with an intriguing and unusual premise', while The Daily Telegraph picked it as one of their Thrillers of the year for 2009, as well as one of their 50 Summer Reads. The hardback was also well received in the US, with The Chicago Sun-Times writing that the 'tightly coiled plot recalls the paranoia of Len Deighton's early works and the tension of Adam Hall's Quiller novels'. Publishers Weekly gave it the following starred review:
'Set in London and Nigeria during the latter’s 1969 civil war with flashbacks to the months after WWII, Duns’s terrific debut will draw inevitable comparisons to early John le Carré, though the lead character, turncoat British Secret Service agent Paul Dark, is a complete original... Seldom has a thriller plot taken more unseen turns as Paul searches for the truth about his past and the reality of his present. Readers will eagerly await the sequel.'
It was also favourably reviewed by The Austin American-Statesman, The Modesto Bee and BookPage, and praised by William Boyd, David Morrell, Eric Van Lustbader, Gayle Lynds, Christopher Reich, Charles Cumming and Jeff Abbott. The BBC have bought the television rights to the trilogy. The Penguin paperback is now available to buy at all good book stores, as the saying goes, and you can even sample it beforehand to see if it sounds like your glass of Becherovka, by reading the first chapter at Penguin's site here.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Angels, demons and serial killers

Steven Savile is an acclaimed horror, fantasy and thriller-writer with around half a million sales to his name. He’s also a friend, and we often meet up in Stockholm to chew the fat over coffees and blueberry muffins. I’ve only read one of Steve’s many novels so far (though I intend to rectify that): Silver. This is a slam-bang action thriller about an off-the-books international counter-intelligence team trying to stop a terror plot by religious disciples of Judas Iscariot. Yes, you read that last bit right. It’s a rollicking thriller in the vein of Lee Child, but it’s also very well researched and rather scary.

That came out in January, and Steve is now working on the sequel (titled Gold, naturally), as well as a slew of other projects, as he tends to do. Last time we had coffee he told me about one of these that has just come to fruition. His first novel, which he wrote at the age of 19, has been out of print since 2000. Steve wrote it on obsolete floppy disks, but managed to find someone who could recapture all the information from them. Reading it through again, he decided he was rather proud of it, and he has now published a digital edition for just 99 cents (until August 1), with some haunting artwork.

Here's a brief synopsis:
'Gabriel Rush takes a photograph of a beautiful sad-faced hooker in a downtown bar and is stunned by what he sees when the picture is developed. At first he thinks it is a flaw in the photograph, but then he recognizes it for what it is, the mark of the Trinity Killer. It is the same mark that scars the faces of mutilated corpses that are turning up all over New York City. Racing to warn the woman, Gabriel instead finds himself haunted by visions and fighting against time to save his future, the woman he loves, his friends, and – when the killer’s identity is finally revealed – his own sanity.'

And here's Steve with a brief explanation of the novel's genesis and what it means to him. 

The Last Angel
By Steven Savile

In my final year at university I knew I wanted to be a novelist, just knew, and sat down at the typewriter intending to prove it.

I wrote the first draft of The Angel of Pain (which became The Secret Life of Colors and eventually The Last Angel) late at night. I had it in my head that a 'scary' novel would benefit from the whole heart of darkness creation. Thomas Harris had just released The Silence of the Lambs, and I'd just watched Angel Heart in the uni cinema and couldn't shake the idea that it'd be fun to write Silence meets Angel Heart, so that's what I set about doing. Looking back now, I am immensely pleased with the result. It was long-listed for the Best Debut Novel for the Bram Stoker Awards and the British Fantasy Society Awards, sold out its short print run in a matter of days, and has been out of print for a decade.

The Kindle gives it a fresh lease of life, but I've resisted the temptation to tinker, leaving it as the 'young me' wrote it. I can still remember writing the end. I had maybe 500 words to do when I started the day, but those 500 words were the hardest of my life and left me physically shaking and sweating and just flat out beat. I lay on the floor in the lounge, to all intents and purposes unconscious, but it didn't matter. I'd done it – I'd written my first novel. It went out to 10 agents the next day and within a week had offers of representation from eight of them. It then went out to publishers and, well, from there that's where the story of my 'overnight success' begins.

The Last Angel is available at Crossroad Press, Smashwords, and Amazon.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Favourite thrillers: Meg Gardiner on Seven Days In May

London-based American thriller-writer Meg Gardiner is the author of the best-selling Evan Delaney and Jo Beckett series, and counts among her very vocal fans one Stephen King, who in 2007 wrote a whole column advocating her talents, calling her ‘as good as Michael Connelly and far better than Janet Evanovich’. Her first novel, China Lake, won an Edgar. Her eighth novel, The Liar’s Lullaby, is published this week. On July 25, she will be hosting the panel James Bond, Eat Your Heart Out at the Harrogate crime writers’ festival, featuring Jo Nesbø, Zoë Sharp, Sean Black and me.

Here she is on one of her favourite thrillers.

Seven Days in May by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W Bailey

By Meg Gardiner

Seven Days in May hooked me when I was young, and hasn’t let go. It was the first political thriller I ever read, the story of an attempted military coup against the U.S. government. I saw the movie on TV when I was a kid—the excellent film starring Kirk Douglas, scripted by Rod Serling. It chilled me, just grabbed me around the throat. Then I found the novel, by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey. The book gave me the chance to spend more time with the story, so I couldn’t wait. I dived in and didn’t surface till I’d finished it. (Yes, I was a goofy, academic tweener, who read political thrillers beneath the boy-band posters on my bedroom wall.)

Written during the height of the Cold War, Seven Days in May tells the story of the impending coup, led by a charismatic general, and the desperate attempt by the President and loyal military officers to stop it. As the clock ticks down, the tension ratchets up. It’s relentless. The stakes couldn’t be higher: first the end of constitutional democracy in the United States, then nuclear Armageddon. Because, if the coup succeeds, the U.S. will fall into the hands of men who think they can win an all-out thermonuclear war with the Soviets.

The book contains not one single gunfight, not one car chase, but the suspense is amazing. The villains are calculating, self-righteous, and utterly ruthless: people whose fear and arrogance combine to justify their lust for power. The heroes are flawed but noble. They fight back while trying to hold onto their honor—because preserving the Constitution is deeply honorable, and worth risking their freedom and their lives for.

For a junior thriller reader, it was nailbiting, inspiring stuff.

It still is. Think I’ll go dig it out and read it again.

For more information about Meg Gardiner, visit http://www.meggardiner.com

Friday, June 18, 2010

Favourite thrillers: Tom Cain on Wilbur Smith

Today's guest post is by Tom Cain, the pseudonym of an award-winning journalist with 25 years experience working for Fleet Street newspapers, as well as major magazines in Britain and the US. He is also the author of a series of thrillers featuring Samuel Carver, ‘a good man who makes bad things happen to bad people’: The Accident Man, which was shortlisted for the Theakston Peculier Thriller of the Year, and three sequels, The Survivor (published as No Survivors in the US and twice nominated for a Barry Award), Assassin and Dictator. The series has been optioned by 20th Century Fox.

Without further ado, then, here is Tom on one of his favourite thrillers.

The Leopard Hunts in Darkness by Wilbur Smith

By Tom Cain

In 1985, I was commissioned by the Sunday Times Magazine to write a story about an improbable European Cup-Winners Cup tie between the mighty Real Madrid and the minnows of Bangor Town. This necessitated an incredibly long train journey to the far north-west of Wales. By the time the train had got to Crewe I’d finished the book I’d brought with me, so I dashed onto the platform, sprinted to the bookstall and bought the first vaguely interesting-looking thing I could see: The Leopard Hunts in Darkness by Wilbur Smith.

I’d never read any of Smith’s stuff before and so had not experienced his style of unashamedly traditional swashbuckling adventure. This one was set in Zimbabwe and as I recall culminated in a brilliant, extended chase sequence across what felt like half of southern Africa that kept me completely gripped through the journey to Bangor and quite a lot of the way back. The Sunday Times piece never ran, but that book got me reading Wilbur Smith and really made me think what fun it would be to try to write books of similar scope and excitement. Almost twenty years later I finally started work on what would become my first thriller, The Accident Man. Of course, I have a host of influences, from Ian Fleming to 24, but the sheer, visceral pleasure I derived from the experience of reading The Leopard Hunts in Darkness is something I still try very hard to give my readers today. And now the wheel has come full circle. My latest book, Dictator, is set, in part, in a fictional country called Malemba, located north of South Africa, west of Mozambique… and not a million miles from Zimbabwe.

Tom Cain’s latest Sam Carver thriller, Dictator, will be published in August by Bantam Press, £12.99.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Favourite thrillers: Matt Hilton on David Morrell

Free Agent was selected by the Daily Telegraph as one of its thrillers of the year for 2009. Also on the list were:

Dead Spy Running by Jon Stock
Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child
Innocence by David Hosp
Trust Me by Peter Leonard
The Last Child by John Hart
The Dying Light by Henry Porter
Dead On Time by Meghnad Desai
Lockdown by Sean Black
Dead Men’s Dust and Judgement and Wrath by Matt Hilton

Sean Black posted here on Tuesday on his favourite thriller, and today it’s the turn of Matt Hilton. A former policeman, Matt burst onto the scene last year with Dead Men’s Dust, a tough and fast-paced thriller that introduced former counter-intelligence officer Joe Hunter. He has since published two sequels to it, Judgement and Wrath and Slash and Burn, with the fourth book, Cut and Run, out in August. Here he is on one of his favourite thrillers.

The Brotherhood of the Rose by David Morrell

By Matt Hilton

Mention David Morrell and a name that immediately springs to mind is that of his most famous literary creation, John Rambo. Now, while First Blood was a landmark novel and firmly set the bar for any author writing in the thriller genre, not to mention earning David Morrell the title of ‘The Father of Modern Thriller Fiction’, it isn’t the book that has influenced me so much as another of his.

For me, Morrell’s The Brotherhood of the Rose (1984) is a book that all other action thrillers should be judged by, particularly those dealing with espionage, assassins and hidden government agencies. The story sounds clichéd these days, but that’s because so many other authors have used elements from Morrell’s book, and in its day it was a first. As an author writing in a similar field, I feel that I owe a lot to The Brotherhood of the Rose insofar as I have borrowed the idea of a hidden assassination bureau to give back-story to my own character of Joe Hunter. The Brotherhood of the Rose introduced me to the kind of thriller fiction I’d been longing to read, but had never found before, and as such, all these years later remains one of my favourite books in the field.

In short, The Brotherhood of the Rose is built upon a pact of secrecy among various intelligence agencies, and they run a network of safe houses throughout the world (The Abelard Sanction) wherein agents are forbidden from taking action against each other. Members of the brotherhood each cultivate and train loyal assassins from a tender age, and the book concentrates on two orphans, Saul and Chris, who discover a conspiracy of murder and are targeted for death by their ‘father’, Elliot. When Chris is killed, Saul seeks revenge on the man he loved as a father and in the act contravenes the ‘Abelard Sanction’ and the stage is set for a thrilling chase and counter-attack that sees Saul going up against the most deadly killers the security agencies can send against him.

Two further books formed a loose trilogy, The Fraternity of the Stone and The League of Night and Fog, and David Morrell even revisited Saul’s character to pen the short story The Abelard Sanction for inclusion in 2006’s bestselling anthology Thriller: stories to keep you up all night (Mira Books).

A TV mini-series starring Robert Mitchum (Elliot), Peter Strauss (Saul) and David Morse (Chris) aired in 1989, and I’ve heard recent whisperings about a new Hollywood treatment of the book. I can’t wait.

Matt Hilton is author the Joe Hunter thrillers. See http://www.matthiltonbooks.com/ for more information.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Favourite thillers: Sean Black on Gregg Hurwitz

The Debrief has now been going for three months, and I thought it was time to stretch its scope a little. So today I proudly present the first in a series of guest posts by thriller-writers on their favourite thrillers. Kicking us off is Scottish writer Sean Black, whose debut Lockdown, published in hardback last year, introduced ex-military bodyguard Ryan Lock. The Daily Telegraph picked it as one of their thrillers of the year, while The Daily Mail wrote that Lock confronts ‘one of the finest female villains since Ian Fleming’s Rosa Klebb with a style that would bring a smile to the face of his spiritual father – Lee Child’s Jack Reacher’. High praise, indeed! Sean and I will be appearing together on the panel ‘James Bond, Eat Your Heart Out’ at the Harrogate Crime Writers’ Festival on Sunday, July 25 (details here).

And now, without further ado, here’s Sean on one of his favourite thrillers.

The Kill Clause by Greg Hurwitz

By Sean Black

Sentence for sentence, paragraph for paragraph, chapter for chapter, Gregg Hurwitz is one of, if not the, greatest thriller writer working today. The first book of Gregg’s that I read was The Kill Clause, the first in a quadrilogy featuring US Marshal Tim Rackley. A profound meditation on violence and vigilantism, these four books somehow manage to transcend the blurb hype emblazoned across the covers of so many titles.

Gregg manages to combine prose which forcefully rebuts those who claim that thrillers can never compete with the wordsmanship of literary fiction, and a masterful control of narrative with an often coruscating examination of both classic and contemporary themes. There are no chinks in this writer’s armour. He is, to my mind at least, the complete package.

Since the Rackley series, Gregg has moved on to write a number of self-contained Hitchcockian thrillers. The latest, which is entitled Or She Dies in the UK (They’re Watching in the US) is a great place to start reading the man that esteemed US critic David Montgomery dubbed ‘the best thriller writer you’ve never heard of’. If you’ve read this far, then you no longer have that excuse.

Sean Black is the author of the Ryan Lock series of thrillers. The first book in the series, Lockdown, is published in paperback by Bantam on the 24th of June. The sequel, Deadlock, will be released in hardback by Bantam/Transworld on the 22nd of July. See http://www.seanblackbooks.com/ for more.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Bourne Yesterday

It’s a familiar scene: a secret agent falls into the sea but manages to survive, with just one problem – he can’t remember who he is. Spy novelist Jeremy Duns takes a look at the surprising antecedents for Jason Bourne in some vintage British thrillers

‘He has a stolid face and solid musculature, which we know because he goes topless more than his leading ladies do. He has vigorous skirmishes on roofs, in cars and in hotel rooms. He takes as severe a beating – and shows as much emotion – as a crash-test dummy. He’s a government spy whom his government wants dead, and he’s mourning the violent death of his girlfriend. He so resembles another famous agent that you half-expect him to say, “The name is Bourne. Jason Bourne.”’
So ran Time’s review of the 2008 James Bond film Quantum of Solace (1). It was one of several that felt that the film was imitative of or influenced by the Jason Bourne films starring Matt Damon. The three films in the series to date, The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, have grossed around one billion dollars globally, and are loosely based on the novels of the same name by Robert Ludlum, primarily The Bourne Identity. That novel features a man who is shot and falls into the sea, but manages to survive and make it to dry land. His former colleagues presume him dead, but he recovers, with one crucial setback: he has lost his memory, and has no idea that he is in fact a ruthless secret agent. On discovering his identity in a Swiss bank, he is stunned: ‘My name’s Bourne. Jason Bourne...’ (2)

The book was a worldwide best-seller on publication in 1980, as were its two sequels, and a new writer, Eric Van Lustbader, has written five more novels featuring the character since Ludlum’s death in 2001. The films took the central premise of Ludlum’s novel and fashioned new plots around it, reinvigorating the spy genre in the process. But that premise, of a secret agent on a mission presumed dead at sea, surviving, but discovering he has amnesia, has a surprising legacy of its own – and its most immediate precursor is Ian Fleming.

In the closing scenes of Fleming’s 1964 novel You Only Live Twice, James Bond is on a mission in Japan under cover as a local fisherman when he is hit on the head and plunges into the sea. He survives, but loses his memory:
‘When Kissy saw the figure, black-winged in its kimono, crash down into the sea, she sensed that it was her man, and she covered the two hundred yards from the base of the wall as fast as she had ever swum in her life. The tremendous impact with the water had at first knocked all the wind out of Bond, but the will to live, so nearly extinguished by the searing pain in his head, was revived by the new but recognizable enemy of the sea and, when Kissy got to him, he was struggling to free himself from the kimono.
At first he thought she was Blofeld and tried to strike out at her.
“It’s Kissy,” she said urgently, “Kissy Suzuki! Don’t you remember?”
He didn’t. He had no recollection of anything in the world but the face of his enemy and of the desperate urge to smash it. But his strength was going and finally, cursing feebly, he allowed her to manhandle him out of the kimono and paid heed to the voice that pleaded with him.
“Now follow me, Taro-san. When you get tired I will pull you with me. We are all trained in such rescue work.”
But, when she started off, Bond didn’t follow her. Instead he swam feebly round and round like a wounded animal, in ever-increasing circles. She almost wept. What had happened to him? What had they done to him at the Castle of Death? Finally she stopped him and talked softly to him and he docilely allowed her to put her arms under his armpits and, with his head cradled between her breasts, she set off with the traditional backward leg-stroke.
It was an amazing swim for a girl – half a mile with currents to contend with and only the moon and an occasional glance over her shoulder to give her a bearing, but she achieved it and finally hauled Bond out of the water in her little cove and collapsed on the flat stones beside him.
She was awoken by a groan from Bond. He had been quietly sick and now sat with his head in his hands, looking blankly out to sea with the glazed eyes of a sleepwalker. When Kissy put an arm round his shoulders, he turned vaguely towards her. “Who are you? How did I get here? What is this place?” He examined her more carefully. “You’re very pretty.”’ (3)
Bond comes to believe that he is his cover identity, Taro Todoroki. But his amnesia has a very unusual side-effect: he has become a complete innocent in matters of the flesh, having apparently forgotten ‘how to perform the act of love’. This is soon remedied, and Bond finally regains a glimmer of memory triggered by seeing the word ‘Vladivostok’. The novel ends with him leaving setting off for the Soviet Union, unaware that he is heading straight into enemy territory.

Robert Ludlum was a fan of Ian Fleming. In 1992, he wrote the following in an article for Entertainment Weekly on the 30th anniversary of the Bond films:
‘Fleming was a contemporary nexus, a vital connection, as well as a necessary contribution, that forced my generation of suspense writers to look deeper into the intrigues — political, geopolitical, and international — than we might have before he arrived in print. Fleming was a bridge over critical waters: He romanticized terrible inequities by obliterating them. But by doing so, he led those who followed him, followed in the wake of the extraordinary promotion and acceptance worldwide of the novels and the movies and eventually the videocassettes, to make those genuine inequities and intrigues perhaps — only perhaps — a touch more literary (a pretentious term, and certainly arguable).’ (4)
Ludlum certainly followed Fleming in The Bourne Identity. The opening and premise of the novel were both clearly inspired by the ending of You Only Live Twice: another writer’s musing on the idea of what might happen if James Bond forgot who he was. Fleming himself didn’t follow it up particularly satisfactorily; his next and last novel, The Man With The Golden Gun, opens with Bond returning to London. As he recaps to M what has happened to him since we last saw him, his journey between Japan and the Soviet Union is not explored:
‘“I'm afraid there's a lot I still can't remember, sir. I got a bang on the head” – he touched his right temple – “somewhere along the line on that job you sent me to do in Japan. Then there's a blank until I got picked up by the police on the waterfront at Vladivostok. No idea how I got there. They roughed me up a bit and in the process I must have got another bang on the head because suddenly I remembered who I was and that I wasn't a Japanese fisherman which was what I thought I was.” (5)
Bond has in fact been brainwashed by the Soviets and sent to London to kill M. When this fails, he is swiftly un-brainwashed and sent on a new mission, and his amnesia is never mentioned again. It seems Robert Ludlum felt that there was more mileage to be had from the premise, and spun out a new story along the lines of what a James Bond who had lost his memory might have gone through between leaving Japan and ending up on the waterfront at Vladivostok. Ludlum made his character an American agent and gave him some different characteristics from Bond, but the core idea is the same, and both Jason Bourne’s initials and the wording of his discovery of his identity make the homage to Fleming clear.

But, ironically, it seems that Ian Fleming’s idea for James Bond to lose his memory may also have had its roots in previous thrillers. In Dennis Wheatley’s novel Faked Passports, published in June 1940, British secret agent Gregory Sallust travels to Petsamo where, after taking a hit to the back of his head with a spent bullet, he finds he has lost his memory:
‘“Petsamo?” Gregory murmured vaguely. “Petsamo? Where’s that?”
“Wake up, man!” Freddie laughed. “It’s the Finnish port in the Arctic circle.”

A look dawned in Gregory’s eyes that none of them had ever seen before; a frightened, hunted look. “But, but–” he stammered, “the Arctic! What am I doing up in the Arctic?”

They all stood there in silence for a moment regarding him anxiously until, in a very small voice, Erika said suddenly:

“You do know me, darling, don’t you?”

“Of course I do,” he laughed uneasily. “As though I could forget your lovely face in a million years! But wait a minute – that’s very queer – I can’t remember your name.”

“I’m Erika,” she said softly.

“Erika,” he repeated. “That’s a pretty name, isn’t it – and marvellously suitable...”’ (6)
And just as In You Only Live Twice, amnesia has a very unusual effect on his sex life, as Erika laments:
‘In those hectic days they had spent in Munich and Berlin together early in November they had been the most passionate lovers. When they had met again in Helsinki his absence from her had seemed only to have increased his eagerness; but their opportunities for love-making had been lamentably few. Then his injury at Petsamo had changed his mentality in that respect as in all others. On waking on their first morning in the trapper’s house he had accepted quite naturally that he was in love with her, but it had been an entirely different kind of love. He was tender and thoughtful for her and followed her every movement with almost dog-like devotion, but he did not seem to know even the first steps in physical love-making any more.’ (7)
This is soon remedied, and Sallust regains his memory and completes his mission. It is likely that Fleming had read this novel: Wheatley was an acquaintance, and also a friend and close colleague of his brother Peter, who modelled the protagonist of his novel The Sixth Column on him. Wheatley was also one of Britain’s best-selling thriller-writers, and Fleming was a thriller aficionado. In addition, both the central plot premise of From Russia, With Love and many of the biographical details of James Bond in You Only Live Twice were influenced by another Wheatley novel, Come Into My Parlour. (8)

In Faked Passports, as in You Only Live Twice, the device of a secret agent contracting amnesia is more of an intriguing incident than a driving engine of the plot. Not so in Pray Silence by Manning Coles, published in October 1940, just six months after Faked Passports.

Coles was the pseudonym of two writers, Adelaide Manning and Cyril Coles. Their first novel, Drink to Yesterday, was published in March 1940 to great success (the jacket of the 1947 edition proclaimed it ‘The thriller that made Manning Coles famous in a day’). Drink To Yesterday is set in the First World War, and ends with British secret agent Tommy Hambledon being hit on the head and shoved into the sea while undercover as a German. His colleagues in London presume he has drowned. Pray Silence reveals he did not, but was washed ashore, discovered, and nursed back to health. Unfortunately, he has also forgotten who he is. He is presumed to be German, and presumes so himself. As ‘Klaus Lehmann’, he rises to become Deputy Chief of Police in Berlin until in 1933, gazing into the flames of the Reichstag fire, he suddenly remembers his true identity and resolves to get back in touch with London and defeat the Nazis:
‘“I am Hambledon, an agent of British Intelligence. Bill, where is Bill?”

There was a crash and a roar of flame as one of the floors fell in, and Hambledon looked up. That was the Reichstag burning. “Good God,” he thought, “and now I am a member of the Reichstag. It’s enough to make anybody feel faint, it is indeed.”’ (9)
Despite its quaintness and implausibility, Pray Silence is a beautifully constructed, witty and thoughtful spy thriller, and a real masterpiece of the genre. It led to twenty-four sequels. Tommy Hambledon doesn’t have a sex life to speak of, so we’re not told of the effect of his amnesia on it, but it seems clear that Fleming also read this novel, and combined the details of both it and Faked Passports to come up with a new twist on the idea. Amnesia is a staple plot device of thrillers, and it has taken many forms: doctors with amnesia, murderers with amnesia, and so on. But You Only Live Twice has four correspondences with Faked Passports: in both novels, a British secret agent is struck on the head, recovers to find he has amnesia, with the unusual side-effect that he has forgotten how to have sex. And it has six precise correspondences with Pray Silence: in both, a British secret agent on a mission under cover as a foreigner plunges into the sea, survives to discover he has amnesia, then believes he is the nationality of his cover identity, and is meanwhile presumed dead by his colleagues back home. Taken together, there are eight correspondences between You Only Live Twice and these two novels:

A British secret agent;
under cover as a foreigner;
is struck on the head; 
plunges into the sea;
recovers but finds he has amnesia;
which has the side-effect that he also forgets how to have sex;
He believes he is the nationality of his cover identity;
and is presumed dead by his colleagues.

This many correspondences seem unlikely to be coincidence, especially as Ian Fleming was both a keen thriller-reader and, as a journalist and former intelligence officer, something of a magpie. In his book on Operation Mincemeat, Ben Macintyre quotes a document written in September 1939 that, although signed by the Director of Naval Intelligence, Admiral John Godfrey, bore the hallmarks of having been written by Fleming, who was his personal assistant. The ‘Trout Memo’ was circulated to other wartime intelligence chiefs, and was a list of ideas for deceiving the Germans. Number 28 on the list was headed ‘A Suggestion (not a very nice one)’:
‘The following suggestion is used in a book by Basil Thomson: a corpse dressed as an airman, with despatches in his pockets, could be dropped on the coast, supposedly from a parachute that had failed. I understand there is no difficulty in obtaining corpses at the Naval Hospital, but, of course, it would have to be a fresh one.’
The idea stemmed from Thomson’s 1937 novel The Milliners’ Hat Mystery (10). Fleming was also interested in the fictional potential of amnesia: it featured in two of his other novels. The villain of Casino Royale was a displaced person at the end of the Second World War who feigned amnesia until being transferred to Strasbourg and adopting the name ‘Le Chiffre’. And in Moonraker, renowned British industrialist Hugo Drax is revealed to be the villainous Graf Hugo von der Drache, a former Nazi commando who in the latter stages of the war is captured while wearing a British uniform. Like Le Chiffre, he also pretends to have amnesia; he is nursed back to health as a missing British soldier by the name of Hugo Drax. This is somewhat similar to Pray Silence: Hambledon is the hero and genuinely has amnesia, but he is also nursed back to health by his enemies after being mistaken for one of them, and rebuilds his new life under a false identity he has adopted.

Pray Silence and Faked Passports were published just six months apart, and even in the fast-moving publishing schedule of the war it seems unlikely that they influenced each other. It is more likely that some earlier source triggered the thought in the minds of Dennis Wheatley and ‘Manning Coles’ that led to both their novels featuring British secret agents losing their memory: perhaps an earlier novel (although I haven’t found any), or a news item about a soldier returning from war with amnesia, or something similar. In Pray Silence, the idea has a pleasing neatness to it: what if a secret agent were under cover on a mission, somehow lost their memory, and ended up believing that they were their cover identity? In Faked Passports, the idea is a strangely ineffective digression that misses the idea’s potential: Gregory Sallust is not under cover and so does not believe he is anyone else.

We may never know where the idea originally sprung from, but the ripples of it can be traced from 1940 onwards. It seems likely that Ian Fleming read both these novels and refashioned the concept into a new mixture to his own taste, featuring James Bond in Japan. Some sixteen years later, the chain continued with Robert Ludlum presenting a fresh twist on the idea. It has taken on several more forms since, from the film The Long Kiss Goodnight to the graphic novel series XIII.

Ludlum has had his own followers, and the recent Bond films have certainly taken inspiration from the Bourne films, bringing the story full circle. The influence of Ian Fleming’s novels, and the vintage British thrillers that influenced them, continue to live on in surprising ways.

1. Quantum of Solace: Bourne-Again Bond by Richard Corliss, Time , November 13, 2008.
2. p61, The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum, Granada, 1980.
3. pp181-182, You Only Live Twice by Ian Fleming, Pan, 1966.
4. James at 30 by Robert Ludlum, in Entertainment Weekly, Issue #123 June 19, 1992.
5. p21, The Man With The Golden Gun by Ian Fleming, Pan, 1967.
6. pp249-250, Faked Passports by Dennis Wheatley, Arrow, 1966.
7.p404, Faked Passports.
8. For more on this, see The Secret Origins of James Bond.
9. p40, Pray Silence by Manning Coles, Hodder & Stoughton, 1953.
10. pp6-7, Operation Mincemeat, Ben Macintyre, Bloomsbury, 2010.