Wednesday 30 April 2014


A previous post highlighted an up and coming event on my calendar - Traitors, Conspirators and Secrets...
Last night was the big night!

Well last night I carted myself off to Leighton Buzzard Library to spend an hour and a half in the company of Rory Clements, Aly Monroe and William Ryan. Thankfully a few more locals were equally minded to pop along and hear what they had to say. Whilst the numbers attending weren’t massive, around the low-20’s, I think everyone in the audience enjoyed the evening.

All three gave a little bit of an introduction to their books and series characters and expanded upon their writing and research, with a bit of personal background detail, before taking some audience questions at the end. There was an opportunity to buy a copy of their latest books and have them signed, whilst engaging in a bit more chat on a one to one basis.

Rory’s books which I’m unfamiliar with are set in Elizabethan times. His main character is the fictional, John Shakespeare, brother of William. Shakespeare is an agent of the state; the chief intelligencer in Walsingham’s spy network. He deal with plots and schemes and conspiracies and threats to Elizabeth 1. The books are populated by historical figures such as Raleigh, Drake, Walsingham and Mary Queen of Scots to mention a few. Issues covered - torture, repression of Catholics, Spain and the Inquisition, persecution of Protestants abroad. Four hundred years on and we’re still fighting religious wars and dealing with terrorism and debating the merits/legality/benefits of employing torture tactics.

Clements was interesting to listen to and if stuck with him in a lift for about 10 hours, I reckon it would be time well spent. I was almost sold on giving one of his books a try, but he just didn’t quite get over the line with me. I wouldn’t rule out trying one in the future and whilst my historical-espionage reading bent currently has me wanting to read WW2 – Cold War stuff, if I decide to delve back much deeper in time – he’ll be the man to take the journey with. Currently he has written 7 in the series, but they are all standalones and can be read in any order, which is good to know.

Aly Monroe has written 4 Peter Cotton books. Cotton is a British intelligence agent at the back end of WW2 and in the post war period, where Britain’s influence on the world stage has started to decline and where former allies are assuming the mantle of enemy. Monroe’s first three books have been set in Cadiz - Spain, Washington and London. The fourth and latest, Black Bear involves truth-drugs, memory and hallucinations with Cotton waking up in a Manhattan hospital after being injected.

Monroe has led an interesting life. She’s spent large periods of time in Spain so knows the setting for her debut novel – The Maze of Cadiz. Part of her research has included speaking with a former Spanish agent who had been knowingly experimented on with drugs. An amusing anecdote she related, was her engagement as a voice-over double for Margot/Penelope Keith. Apparently the services of Tom/Richard Briers had been secured, but there was insufficient left-over in the budget for the real deal. Step forward – Miss Monroe. Her passion for her character and writing was self-evident, but again I think Britain’s declining status as a world player in the post-colonial days isn’t a subject that interests me terrifically. Whilst the Cotton books have an over-riding story arc, these too can be read in isolation. I have The Maze Of Cadiz on the shelf and once I have read that will decide whether or not to dig deeper into Cotton’s world.

William Ryan was for me at least the most engaging and interesting of the three to be honest. He’s a former lawyer turned writer, but we won’t hold that against him. He’s previously worked on screenplays before turning his hand to novels. Ryan’s books are set in 30’s Russia and feature Captain Korolev, an inspector with Moscow’s CID. Ryan became interested in Stalinist Russia after a bit of research for a film project on Isaac Babel. Babel was a Russian author and emigrant, based in Paris in the late 30’s, who subsequently returned to Moscow where he was executed by the state (probably). Apologies to William if I have misconstrued or misremembered his initial inspiration for his books. He can sue me (I’m still not totally past that lawyer thing).

Stalinist Russia, purges, surveillance, NKVD – the precursor to the KGB, suspicion, mistrust, paranoia, propaganda, murder and investigation in this kind of society – what’s not to like? Added to the fact that he’s Irish and attended the same university as my dad (I think) – Trinity College in Dublin and speaks in an open, engaging manner with an Irish brogue that could charm the knickers off a nun. (With the exception obviously of my aunt who is in fact a retired nun.) If I had to pick one of the three as a drinking companion down the pub, with no slight intended towards the other two authors – he’s the man.

Questions over – and no I didn’t ask any myself. I kind of wanted to, but am not one for drawing attention to myself in a crowd, irrespective of size. I ponied up for the third Korolev/Ryan book – The Twelfth Department, which the author was kind enough to dedicate and sign for me. I did manage to make a wee bit of idle chit-chat (again not my strong point) and asked him in a rambling kind of manner if he felt compelled to write at an increasing length with each passing book. Thankfully, he claims that his books seem to be getting shorter. I will be putting this to the test sometime soon.

Photos(?) – again a blank. I kind of toyed with the idea of taking/requesting a selfie with Mr Ryan, but lacked the cojones to open my mush. Similarly I would have liked a happy snap of the three authors sat at the front in the spotlight, but bottled it. Apologies! (Note to self, get one of those Dale Carnegie self-help books – How to Win Friends and Influence People or something regarding Public Speaking/Self-Confidence….. something else to sit on the pile unread!)

Overall an interesting and entertaining evening for myself. Hopefully the three authors felt similarly disposed after giving up their time. Thanks to all three.         
Bibliographies for all three authors are as follows:
Rory Clements
John Shakespeare series
1. Martyr (2009)
2. Revenger (2010)
3. Prince (2011)
4. Traitor (2012)
5. The Heretics (2013)
5.5. The Man in the Snow (2012)
6. The Queen's Man (2014)

Aly Monroe
Peter Cotton series
1. The Maze of Cadiz (2008)
2. Washington Shadow (2009)
3. Icelight (2011)
4. Black Bear (2013)
Redeemable (2013)

William Ryan
Captain Alexei Dimitrevich Korolev series
1. The Holy Thief (2010)
2. The Bloody Meadow (2011)
     aka The Darkening Field
3. The Twelfth Department (2013)



  1. Col, thanks for the round-up of the writers' event and the list of novels. The work of all three authors sounds interesting though I'd be particularly keen to read Rory Clements for (historical) war and espionage and William Ryan for the Stalinist Russia setting. I wonder if his Captain Korolev is anything like Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko, Moscow chief investigator. Glad you'd a good time, Col. I ought to visit similar events and workshops in my neck of the woods.

    1. Prashant cheers - you need to try Clements then and report back!
      With the exception of Renko - who I haven't read about for years, my reading experiences of Russia are limited. I do have some Tom Rob Smith to read and Semyonov's Seventeen Moments of Spring to get to. The Ryan books definitely have an appeal. I'll do a mental comparison once I have enjoyed one.

    2. Col, thanks for sending two more new authors my way! I've read about Russia mostly in espionage fiction of the second-half of the 20th century and one that I think I've mentioned here once (twice?) before, namely "The Red Gods" by Donald Lindquist (just in case you forgot!). A fast-paced thriller about an audacious Soviet plot to nuclear-bomb America. The late Welsh author Craig Thomas also wrote some good, albeit conservative, spy thrillers. Elsewhere, Pasternak's "Doctor Zhivago" had me floored; the translated prose was scintillating.

    3. I must admit I have forgotten about the Lindquist - I'll make a note of it. Craig Thomas I may have one of his books, but probably not this one. Only seen Zhivago on TV - and perhaps felt it was over-long so became disengaged from it. My better half loves the film though. If the film's long - I kind of dread the length of the book.

    4. Col, the film was true to the novel but I absolutely loved the book in spite of the rather dark and depressing setting. You can read the Lindquist novel in one sitting; not exactly the kind you need to lose sleep over.

    5. I'll look it up, but I'm trying to swear off more books at the minute, not that one more will make a lot of difference.

  2. Col - What a great evening! I'm glad you got the chance to go. And I really hope you'll enjoy the books. I have to admit I'm biased - I like Ryan's Korolev series very much. I hope you will too.

    1. Margot cheers. I will keep my eye out for more events of this ilk at my library. Hopefully it was sufficiently supported for them to warrant putting on more of the same, but I'm unsure TBH.
      A hat-tip towards Ryan - good news! Looking forward to 1, 2 and number 3.

  3. Well it sounds like a good night out - good for the library for organizing it. I reckon I could manage to try a book by any of those. I'm pretty sure I've read one of the Clements already. Look forward to hearing about the Ryan - I do keep hearing good things about him.

    1. I bet there plenty of scope for clothes in Elizabethan times and also 30's Moscow - what were the down-trodden proletariat dressing in?

  4. Col, I am envious. I would love to listen to those authors. I don't know anything at all about Clements, and that period doesn't really appeal to me in my mystery reading... but you never know. Aly Monroe I have sampled and plan to keep reading. [I think I am repeating everything I said on your first post talking about this event.] Looking forward to trying William Ryan's books.

    What is it that you have against lawyers? I know the general prejudice against them... and I don't know any really. But all the lawyers I have "met" online seem very nice, and authors that are lawyers seem to be good. Although I don't read many legal mysteries.

    1. Tracy, I think they had another author event a week or two previously but I never really considered going as I didn't read the lady. Can't even remember who it was now, which is annoying,

      Nothing really against lawyers - just having a poke and a bit of fun. They're an easy target, like bankers - our society always has to have a group of folk it can aim its frustrations at. It used to be estate agents years ago. I suppose it's better to vent an imaginary fury at a profession rather than blacks, gypsies, gays, muslims, catholics etc.

      They have had bad press in recent years over fees paid out to them relating to long inquiries into Bloody Sunday, which large parts of the British press consider a waste of money and a pandering to Republicans - Sinn Fein. There's probably other examples too.

  5. Nice recap. Thanks for sharing this even with us.

    1. No problem. It was a good excuse to buy another book, not that I ever need one!