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Wednesday, 24 June 2015


Welcome To The World Of The Self-Published

I've now reached the stage where I feel it’s time to analyse what I've done over the last few years. I don't intend to write any more - not because I've run out of ideas but because I've run out of energy. Believe me, that's what you need to write. To misapply Edison's alleged comment on genius, writing is '1% inspiration & 99% perspiration'.

Although I’ve dabbled with writing, especially short stories, most of my life, it wasn’t until 1992 that I really got stuck in. It started as yet another short story, expanded into a novel and finished up as a trilogy called ‘The Wanderer’. It’s about a Saxon, falsely accused of killing King Edward in 979 at Corfe who flees into exile and travels throughout the Viking world for the next twenty years. As I could only tackle it now and then it took me 16 years to bring it to the publication stage. I had to do extensive research and the results I included in detailed End Notes so the reader, if they wished, could learn about ‘the facts’. This later horrified one reviewer as near sacrilege for a novel. It also didn’t help when it came to interesting potential publishers.

These days for 99.9% of would-be writers there’s a major barrier called the Publishing Industry. They’re keen on certain books by certain people but otherwise you can, more or less, forget about getting anything published. Fortunately this situation is being drastically changed by e-books and companies like Amazon.

I wasted months emailing many publishing houses, going through all the hoops required to actually submit my work, & found that 90%+ couldn't even bother to send an email acknowledgement. So, after looking at ‘Vanity Publishing’ and not being too impressed, I decided to self-publish. It’s not difficult & you’ll find there’s a lot of very helpful people out there. I arranged for the printing, the purchase of 10 ISBN’s etc.etc. The one factor I did little about was marketing - a BIG mistake.

Even so, having enjoyed the whole experience, I got out a half-written novel on Henry VIII and his wives. I expanded it, added the End Notes and passed through the SELF-publishing process again. I made one major mistake. As it’s all about CHANGE – wives, Ministers, religion, laws – I took a legal term meaning roughly ‘Change What Must Be Changed’ and called it ‘Mutatis Mutandis’. With hindsight, NOT a crowd puller.

So I switched to e-books, because I don’t like seeing unsold books lying around, and that’s what this series of blogs is MAINLY going to be about. Details of all my books can be found at

See you next time,

Bob Hyslop

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Behind the Text 2 FIRST THOUGHTS

How did I get here?


Firstly, please don't take what follows as a guide on HOW to write thrillers. In many ways it demonstrates how NOT to do it. I've made mistakes, plenty of them, but I'll try to describe them honestly. I've written to please myself - so the product, at least, has pleased / amused one person - and sometimes brought surprises.

All my books are listed at Wait a minute. Who or What is/are cuthanbooks? Quite simply it’s me. Last time I said I’d obtained ISBNs but for that I needed a unique Publisher Name. As my hero is a tenth century Saxon fugitive I picked on the Old English /Anglo-Saxon word for ‘bring forth’ (which could = ‘publish’) & so I became cuthan books – and that is a UNIQUE name

However, this series of blogs isn’t really about what I've written in print  - but if anybody's got any questions or comments on them, just fire away.

These blogs are about 16 thrillers set in the period 1954-73. Here is one of  the covers I've  used.

As a group they are the ‘Jonas Forbes Saga’ & I'll start  by answering a few basic questions such as WHAT, WHO, WHY & HOW.

WHAT : The series is about an ‘Enquiry Agent’ usually hired by the UK government to sort out problems which require ‘no comebacks’. They're set all over the world & employ extensive historical research to TRY and get the facts right. The opposition may be foreign governments, spies or just plain 'nasties'. They’re written light-heartedly, almost as a spoof perhaps, although they do contain adult material.

WHO: The hero is JONAS FORBES – really a combination of ‘The Saint’ and James Bond and definitely NOT myself, unless my alter-ego is having fun jerking my chain. Sometimes real historical characters appear (& usually the background is a real historical situation). However, the stories are peopled by a whole range of characters – some using traits of real personalities (including myself) but others are just conjured out of......Perhaps a psychiatrist might complete that sentence in some cases.

WHY: After publishing my 4 books in print  I’d certainly been bitten by the writing bug. These thrillers are the result. I set them in that period because the first story was written nearly 40 years ago and set in 1965. When I decided to release it as an e-book it had become HISTORICAL Fiction so I had to do a lot of research even though I'd lived through (& taught the history of) that period. 

They were written chiefly to please myself & often the stories run away into dark corners I hadn’t planned. They’re out there just in case somebody might get a few hours entertainment by reading them. They’ve been released through Amazon Kindle, Google & Smashwords. The price (May 2015) is 0.99$ each.

HOW: Really a big thank you to organisations & people who’ve helped with the e-books. So here are some in the order I encountered them - the last three are where to find my e-books:  for advice on ISBNs  & much more besides for transforming my work into the various formats needed for e-books   : for so much advice re’ formatting e-books & publishing my work   : for help with publishing

That’s enough for now. I’ll get into the real business next time but if you have any questions  I’ll do my best to answer them.

Bob Hyslop

Monday, 22 June 2015

Behind the Text 3 A FALSE START

Meet Jonas Forbes
Jonas Forbes first made his appearance in ‘And Death Will Have His Day’ in 1977. I decided to write a spoof on the ‘sex & violence’ novels of the day. As my characters ‘borrowed’ traits from friends, colleagues & students at Chichester College where I was a lecturer, you can understand why it had to be VERY secret. Of course, I dedicated the tale ‘For all friends and acquaintances who have stimulated my imagination’. Even so, I added the ryder: ‘In no way is this a tale of fact nor could they ever be part of it.’ Only a couple of people knew the book existed and nobody ever read a page.

Where did the name ‘Jonas Forbes’ come from? To star in this ‘epic’ I needed somebody with a very different name from those familiar to my particular circle  – more glamorous, so more exciting and, perhaps more ‘American’. I picked on ‘Jonas Forbes’ but since I’ve been using the internet I’ve discovered several people with that combination so they have my full apologies for taking their name in vain!

Jonas himself was loosely based on three of my favourite characters in the thriller genre: ‘The Saint’ by Leslie Charteris, James Bond by Ian Fleming and Philip Marlowe by Raymond Chandler. So respectively, he had a tendency to bend if not break the law, a distinct eye for the ladies and a run-down office.

The plot is set in 1965 with a conspiracy to initiate race riots throughout the UK and, in the chaos, make a fortune. It opens with an assassination but of the wrong man. Jonas is hired to protect a politician who’s obviously the intended target. There follows a catalogue of murder, violence and mayhem liberally spiced with sex and cynical one-liners until the ‘ungodly’ (to use a Charteris term) are routed. The police inevitably appear too late to do anything but clear up the mess. I should add here that Detective Chief Inspector John Wyatt, the long-suffering partner / stooge of Jonas possesses a lot of my own traits.

In 1983 I thought I’d try to have it published under the pen-name of ‘James Marston’ & approached a literary agent. He was impressed by the book but felt it needed to be ‘brought up-to-date’. So Jonas acquired a smarter office, with a computer, photo-copier & other contemporary gadgetry. This meant retyping the whole book on my Remington typewriter. He thanked me for my efforts and then said he preferred the original. By then the original had been all covered by comments, amendments etc., so I gave up and shoved the manuscript away in a drawer

In my next Post, ‘Phoenix’, I’ll deal with what happened next and the problems that’s caused me.


Bob Hyslop

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Behind the Text 4 PHOENIX

Long Live Internet Publishing

Last time I described how the first Jonas Forbes thriller was written way back in 1977 and then abandoned. It lay nestled in a drawer awaiting resurrection for 30 years.

Go forward to 2009 and I decided to launch the original as an e-book, toning down some of the original ‘sex & violence’ and fitting it more firmly into 1965. It was to be part of a series for which I'd produced short plot outlines – over time the series became extended & the plot lines amazingly distorted when 1 actually started writing. Three characters appear in virtually all the thrillers – Jonas Forbes, Vanessa Holmes nee Clarke & John Wyatt. The first story actually written finished up as 11/16 and that meant problems, especially as the others were not written sequentially.

If you go down this particular ‘primrose path’, it doesn’t quite lead to ‘destruction’ but here are some of the pitfalls I fell into & how to climb out, perhaps:

One character married twice so don’t get the wrong spouse in any book.

 One character married and had 3 daughters. Get the details correct.

 People’s abilities change with the years.  Get the details correct.

Careers develop. John Wyatt (aka me!) moves from Detective Sergeant to Detective Chief Superintendent between 1956 & 1973 so make sure he’s at the right level. I think I may have over-promoted the man!

 The same character may appear in several books (e.g. Tim Ripley or Lt. Boykov) but beware of all the above problems.

 Societies, including institutions, politics, personalities and history, change over time so don’t get muddled.

So how might you limit the effect of problems like the above?

Work sequentially. If I’d started the series in 1965 Jonas would have had a much shorter career & I‘d  have had far less fun with the research. So I rejected what’s usually the wise policy.

Keep DETAILED analyses of key characters. I ‘know’ where Jonas went to school (more than 10 years in front of myself at a school in Croydon), his early jobs, his physique, habits & preferences etc.

Produce a list of characters in each book including EXACTLY where they’re described & key events. They MIGHT reappear further along the line & this is essential for checking details..

Keep notes on details of the settings. In my case, for example, it included accounts of sections, leaders etc. of both the KGB & GRU Soviet security systems over the period.

Note down minor details to drop into the narrative. In my case, these included Che Guevara’s command of English, the 1958 French railway system in 1958, Mafia terminology, phrases in a variety of languages & UK TV in 1959. The internet has made such research (exciting in itself) all much easier.

I seem to have gone on for far too long. Next time, I’ll look at the first book chronologically in the ‘Jonas Forbes Saga’ and how it DOESN’T fit in with the others.
N. B. In this Blog individual books in passing may be identified as BOOK 7 etc.
which link to lists in every book.


Bob Hyslop

Friday, 19 June 2015

‘Behind the Text’ 5 ‘STAY-ALIVE RUNS AWAY’

‘Behind the Text’ Part 5.  ‘STAY-ALIVE RUNS AWAY’

Never Will You Outrun The Legs Of Trouble


Stay-Alive Runs Away’ is Book 13  in the publication order of the16 books  in the ‘Jonas Forbes Saga’ and stands apart from the rest.

It’s the FIRST in the sequence, being set in 1954 Kenya during the Mau Mau Emergency.

It’s set before Jonas Forbes became an ‘Enquiry Agent’ . Here he’s a Sub-Inspector in the colonial police.

Neither of the other two main characters in the series (John Wyatt & Vanessa Holmes) appear.

Here Jonas Forbes is a HUNTER whereas in most of the other books he is normally the HUNTED or, at best, an IRREGULAR fighting for Justice with questionable methods. Why? Because the protagonist OUTSIDE authority adds to the tension.
 Murigo ‘Stay-Alive’ Johnson is a very unhappy Askari because he’s ill-fitted for the job & he’s bullied. He witnesses an atrocity carried out by his unit & later learns a dangerous secret. Under pressure to reveal all, he runs away but is hunted down by a patrol led by Jonas. But the story certainly doesn’t end there!

Jonas is another outsider. As a soldier in the Korean War he fitted in. With peace (1953) he left the army & joined the Kenyan Police but soon found that to be a mistake. This book covers his entire career as a policeman!
Both Mau Mau insurgents and colonial forces include men who’d be villains wherever they might inflict themselves upon the world. Both sides mistreat / abuse /exploit the ‘non-combatants’, just adding to the misery in a Kenya moving towards nationhood at a speed unacceptable to extremists.

This isn't a pleasant book to read (nor to write!) & it’s certainly not an encouraging one. I found myself exploring unwelcome sides of human nature. Both the villains & their victims experience justice of some kind. But that isn’t the fate of Stay-Alive Johnson. I’ve researched Mau Mau & consider it caused far more misery to the native population than to the colonial masters – often because of the unjust repercussions its activities provoked from the authorities. Don’t expect a clear-cut picture of a struggle for independence. As in so many other parts of the world extremists on both sides load misery, barbarity and suffering on the long-suffering majority.
A few real-life figures appear but I’ve tried to invent examples from the whole range of humanity – differing in race, faith, wealth, occupation, but mostly experience. I leave it to the Reader to set their own ‘red-line’ for acceptable behaviour. I found mine all too often being smudged by events & so difficult to define. As in the other books, characters & situations ran away with me. I hope they do with the Reader.

Next time I’ll look at home-based action where, perhaps, judgements appear easier to make.

Bob Hyslop




Thursday, 18 June 2015

‘Behind The Text’ 6 ’DARE CALL IT TREASON’

‘Behind The Text’_6_’DARE CALL IT TREASON’

Watch your back - and your heart!


’Dare Call It Treason’  - Book 2 in the series - was written as the first of the ‘modern’ Jonas Forbes thrillers & is set in 1956 Portsmouth during the visit of the Soviet leaders, Khrushchev & Bulganin. Khrushchev has just denounced Stalin & is the target for reactionary plotters on his ship. I must admit it has one of the duller openings  but that's  necessary to convey the shock made by Khrushchev's speech at the 20th Party Congress. But please hang on in there because it's action NOT words which dominates this book.

Enter THE lady, Lieutenant Natalya Alexeyevna Rykov (aka 'Natasha'). In a matter of hours, she so ravishes the womaniser, Jonas Forbes, that for him she remains THE WOMAN for life( see Post 23). I should add the REAL Natasha was an INTOURIST Guide on my visit to the Soviet Union in 1965.

In this thriller Jonas meets Vanessa Clarke, an ally within the corridors of Whitehall, and newly-promoted Detective Inspector John Wyatt, destined to be a lifelong friend & critic. They appear in most of the sequels.

Jonas is hired to protect the Soviet leaders but the struggle is not so much against the plotters as their ruthless ‘employee’ who becomes a threat to both Jonas & the plotters themselves. The Soviet investigation is hampered by rivalry between the Soviet Security Systems known as the GRU & the KGB – which existed in reality.
Factual figures are few – notably ‘Buster’ Crabbe who disappeared during the visit – but there are some fictional creations who’ll appear in later books such as the odious Jeremy Smith, the pragmatic GRU Major Komarovsky and the deadly Yelena Valentina Arentsky. Others I had to abandon as the plot ran away with me. I’d have liked to have seen more of KGB Agent Derzhaven and corrupt émigré, Sergei Ivanovich Petrovsky, &, of course, the murderous, János Beneŝ.  However, as I write chiefly for personal pleasure, matters sometimes get out of hand.

After this outing I think Whitehall should have been warned off Jonas Forbes. He breaks the rules, twists instructions, creates carnage & provides a bad example: but he delivers the goods, especially as, in this case, when it becomes a personal matter.
As you may have realised, this must be one of my personal favourites, probably because of my interest in the Soviet Union. You may be able to assess how much has changed (or not) since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Anyway, I hope you too will enjoy this work of fiction.

Next time, out of the frying pan into the fire – or, at least, the desert.

Bob Hyslop

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

‘Behind the Text’ 7 ‘SCRAMBLING SOUTH'

‘Behind the Text’ Part 7.  ‘SCRAMBLING SOUTH

‘Then Fancies Flee Away’ (Bunyan)

Scrambling South' (Book 3 in the series) is a story of isolation in which Jonas Forbes has to battle as much against the effects of the environment as his enemies.  The MacGuffin (to use Hitchcock’s term for what motivates the characters) is a list of Israeli agents hidden in the Karnak Temple in Luxor, Egypt. The time is just after the Suez fiasco in 1956. However, the MacGuffin soon fades into the background as Jonas strives to get the prize ‘home’, while both the Egyptian Secret Police (Mukhabarat) and the Israeli Mossad try to stop him. The original escape route is abandoned as Jonas heads south. His subsequent adventures involve tourists, the Ghagar (or gypsies), smugglers, bandits, kidnappers, the SAS and a clapped-out bus. The action takes place against the physically challenging background of the Nubian Desert but even more the dread of being abandoned.

Here Jonas discovers hostility within Whitehall but also the loyalty of his friends in their attempt to rescue an agent gone missing. There are examples of generosity & greed, of kindness & treachery, of friendship & enmity. Help can come from the strangest sources, like the GRU, but also the expected can turn out to be...... unexpected.
I was drawn to this setting as a frustrated Egyptologist seeking an escape among familiar haunts. The Nubian desert impressed me years ago – and even more by what I’ve read about it and its inhabitants. The balancing act between Egypt and Israel, with their shadowy support from the West or the East, proved to be an irresistible subject. I developed a group of Israeli kastas that I just had to use in a later book (Book 8). I also developed a need to release somehow the enmity of the ‘Nameless One’ so that it could no longer be hidden. Then there was the range of passengers on the Port Sudan to Atbara rattling train, appearing suddenly complete with foibles, prejudices and ambition – only to tumble out again into oblivion.

There’s a lot there for the reader to savour.

Next time a change of continent & climate but even nastier villains.

Bob Hyslop

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

‘Behind the Text’ 8 ‘CUBAN RUMMY’

‘Behind the Text’_8_ ‘CUBAN RUMMY’
Sucked into the maelstrom


Cuban Rummy’ was published in 2012,  Book 4 in sequential order, and set in 1957 Cuba, where the government is being challenged by Marxist rebels under Fidel Castro. It has a strong opening (in which a man is facing a shotgun on a cliff-top & doesn’t know why) and a gentle final paragraph. In the 60,000 words in between the Reader will encounter some of the nastiest villains in the whole ‘Jonas Forbes Saga’, a diplomat more concerned with medieval Spanish poetry than doing his job and a colleague resorting to out-dated American patois. Then there are two female rivals over Jonas Forbes (though he isn’t really the lucky fellow he believes), the CIA alarmed at the potential overthrow of an ally but uncertain whether he deserves support, and mass hysteria over a series of child murders.

1957 was a crucial year in Cuban history because Fidel Castro landed with a boatful of followers – including Ché Guevara who graces these pages - and Batista’s army missed their only chance of stamping him out. It was a year in which the USA, having seen the USSR set a big footprint in Egypt, woke up to the fear that Communism might find a similar centre in the Americas. It was a year in which the UK in creating an independent Ghana underscored its steady retreat from world power & its diplomats were treated accordingly.
An unsavoury record in Whitehall records continues to undermine Jonas Forbes, even though the chief source of such malicious rumours has been forced into early retirement. However, Jonas Forbes has acquired the services of Vanessa Clarke as his ‘Girl Friday’, although she'd scream at such a term as well as often later regretting her decision to abandon her Whitehall career.

What appeals to me on reading this thriller – remembering that I wrote it chiefly for my own enjoyment? Jonas again leaves his brain in his trousers but this time far longer than any logical thinking would warrant. He’s interviewed by two contrasting historical figures – Meyer Lansky, ‘the Mob’s Accountant’ & entrepreneur, and Ché Guevara, rebel and future martyr for the cause. Then there’s the hunt for the corpse of a murder victim uncovered & then hidden away again. A lighter moment is how DI Wyatt’s patience gets stretched by both the UK Embassy staff & Col. Raul Cortez, the notorious Intelligence Officer.
Having been kidnapped in ‘Scrambling South’ Jonas repeats the experience, although it’s much more pleasurable this time thanks to Conchita Mendoza y Lobos. Again he upsets Embassy staff, so clearly believes that is to be his role in life.

This thriller might be upsetting for ‘those of a delicate disposition'. And if you’re puzzled by my title, believe me it’s well justified on several levels.

Next, the much more savoury plot of Jonas being hunted across Europe by the Mafia.

Bob Hyslop 

Monday, 15 June 2015

‘Behind the Text’ 9. ’The Awkward Package’

‘Behind the Text’ Part 9. ’The Awkward Package’

They seek him here, they seek him there

’The Awkward Package’ (2010) - Book 5 in the series - taxes the ingenuity of Jonas Forbes to its maximum. The novel is set in 1958 Western Europe. The plot is simple: Jonas is hired to escort Prince Abdullah bin Hassan, the cousin of Feisal, the murdered King of Iraq, from Rome to London. There are two problems: the Mafia has accepted a contract on the head of Prince Abdullah and the Prince, spoilt & mean-spirited, is so uncooperative as to be labelled by Jonas ‘the Awkward Package’.

An initial attack in Tuscany is foiled when Jonas gets the drop on the 3 Mafiosi, killing them all. This so terrifies the Prince he's cowered for some time but the spell is broken when they fall in with an attractive blonde, Sandra.  The Mafia want revenge & are prepared to pass the contract on to the Unione Corse or anybody able to kill the Prince AND his protector. So the chase is on, using the railway systems of western Europe and more. Jonas finds both help and hindrance in good supply and the thriller delivers almost continuous action.
Vanessa Clarke, the' General Factotum' for the Jonas Forbes ‘Enquiry Agent’,  is called in to help, joining them in Switzerland and proving herself a life-saver – literally! Another point in her favour is soon becoming just as irritating to the Prince as her boss. DI Wyatt manages to help in the background, largely by pulling strings, despite language problems.

In this story the reader may link my use of short episodes (even more than usual) involving scene-switches to provide several cliff-hangers with writers such as Jeffrey Deever & James Patterson. Both are strong favourites of mine and I found that style the only way of dealing with such a fast-paced story. For me one of the major delights of writing this book was the research required. Perhaps the organisation of the Mafia may be ready to hand but not the1958 structure of the French DST or the timetables for the railway system of Italy, Switzerland or France.

Again one of the pleasures for myself, as a READER, involves the minor characters: the rejected wife of the Prince; Marcello De Luca, a bullying Mafioso; Alphonse Mainteneau, the courteous stranger; and a parade of awkward bureaucrats and truculent gangsters.

Does Jonas successfully deliver the package? Let’s just say that later he’d claim a 100% career success rate with a straight face.

Next time religion and terrorism – but in 1959.

Bob Hyslop

Saturday, 13 June 2015

'Behind The Text’ 10 'REZA-SHARPE’

Behind The Text’ Part 10_’REZA-SHARPE’

When ideas run riot and ideals become lost.

'Reza-Sharpe’ (2013) - Book 6 in the series - is not a tale of a 20th century Sweeny Todd, although the Chapter Headings might encourage that idea. The title blends the names of two leading characters, who actually never meet, but have a common link in Jalal Qazwini, an assassin and chief villain in the book. He remains throughout the novel an enigma – Jack SHARPE thinks Jalal’s done his worst by undermining Jack’s MI5 career and REZA Karimidad, a SAVAK agent, thinks he has him under control. Both are wrong and suffer in consequence.
The story is set in 1959 London during a visit by the Iranian Shah whom Jonas Forbes is hired to protect. Unfortunately more than one type of enemy is out to kill the ruler of Iran – religious fanatic, nationalist extremist or Soviet agent. The Reader may find it difficult to identify as to where Jalal himself fits in, as well as others lining up for the job.

For my research the interest in writing this thriller didn’t come from the usual geographic / historical background but the ideological underpinning of the characters’ behaviour – notably the disputed attitude within Islam towards the status and expected behaviour of women.  In fact two women have key parts in the story, despite largely remaining unsure what that part is. At the end one moves out and beyond what’s happened: the other clings to a shattered background, unable or unwilling to go anywhere else.
In this novel exist bigotry, treachery, cruelty countered by loyalty, bravery and love. It’s a story of ideologies in conflict – and yet really it comes down to the personalities of the ‘movers & shakers’ themselves. Some will be manipulated while others will pull the strings, seemingly without any consistent idea of attachment or belief.

In the end, as admitted by the protagonist, the real hero is Jack Sharpe, under-valued and under-estimated as he so often is. An unassuming man lost in a world on which he has more effect than expected. Here’s his public persona: ‘Jack Sharpe was of medium height, with mid-brown hair (receding), a pale face with pale eyes and rather small ears. His fingers were podgy, like his general figure, and his general manner fluctuated between miserable - sad - maudlin-contemplative - miserable.  His dress was simple. He wore a grey suit (creased) with excessively wide legs; his shirt was a dull grey, with blue stripes and topped by a paper-collar; his tie was blue or green (both dull) with a red stripe (dull); his shoes were brown, with an air of weariness. In sum, the clothes backed up the man - a dull no-hoper in the jungle of life.’ The Reader may well discover, in this case, how little ‘clothes maketh the man’.

Next time parallel storylines & parallel temptations liven up a tale of political intrigue.

Bob Hyslop

Friday, 12 June 2015

Behind The Text’ 11 ‘Dragon-Spit’

Behind The Text’ Part 11_’DRAGON-SPIT’
When East meets West expect..........


‘Dragon-Spit’ was published in 2010, a few months after our visit to China. It's the seventh novel chronologically  in the 'Jonas Forbes Saga' and is set in London over 1960-1.

The historical background is quite deceptively simple. In China, Mao Zedong is facing failure over the Great Leap Forward and humiliation from Krushchev’s USSR. In the UK the Labour Party has suffered a third electoral defeat in 1959 and its leadership is challenged by Leftist Trade Unions & CND (demanding unilateral nuclear disarmament). If Mao can infiltrate UK politics and Communists seize control of the Labour Party he might undermine US global strategy and outdo Soviet international strategy.

Jonas Forbes is hired to ferret out  the Chinese agents involved and prevent the takeover of HM Opposition. In the guise of a student at King’s College, London he falls for a Chinese girl (with unforeseen complications), infiltrates the CND Aldermaston March (clashing with Tong ‘hatchet-men’) and becomes a man on the run. In China meanwhile, Wu Tao, who'd revealed the plot to the West, also goes on the run, heading for safety in Taiwan. Although the Chinese plot, based in the London Embassy, soon starts to unwind due to internal disputes, the danger is by no means over.
I was actually at King’s College when this story is set & I’ve used memories to create some of the characters & scenarios in this thriller; I was also on the CND March in 1961 with the same effect. However, in neither instance was I aware of anything like the fantasy I conjure up. Alas reality is usually so much duller than fiction! Some of the Chinese characters (e.g. Chu Wei & Sun Xue) receive traits from perhaps unexpected sources in my memory.

As regular readers might expect Jonas is very soon hanging on in there by the skin of his teeth, with the effective help of the newly married Vanessa Holmes nee Clarke and DCI John Wyatt. He upsets some bureaucrats and gets help from an unexpected source. His emotional life takes a tumble revealing a savagery within him usually suppressed. Meanwhile in China Wu Tao meets both good luck and bad in his flight to safety.

I had great fun writing the novel. For me, China and the Chinese remain a fascinating enigma.

Next time, hunting throughout Uruguay a Will 'o the Wisp from the past.

Bob Hyslop

Thursday, 11 June 2015

'Behind The Text’ 12 'Find Bormann’

Behind The Text’ Part 12_’Find Bormann’

The man who never was?


Find Bormann’ was published in 2013 and is Book 8 in the 'Jonas Forbes Saga'. It's set in Uruguay in 1962. Note the heading I’ve  given to this Post, ‘The man who never was ?’. For nearly 50 years the hunt has been on for Reichsleiter Martin Bormann (Hitler’s Secretary and, by 1945, the second most powerful man in the Third Reich). There is no indisputable proof he was ever found – alive or dead. Even during his ‘recorded life’ (1900-45) there was never enough evidence to build up a convincing portrait of a real man.

This novel is set soon after the execution of Adolf Eichmann, abducted in Argentina in 1961 and taken to Israel for trial. Rumour is saying Bormann’s alive in Uruguay and it’s really about a race between several hunting packs for a wanted war criminal. A Mossad ‘abduction squad’ leaves Israel to bring him for trial. An SS ‘protection squad’ is dispatched by ‘Gestapo’ Mueller from Brazil to bring him to safety. Meanwhile Jonas Forbes is sent by the UK Foreign Office to recover from Bormann ‘embarrassing evidence’ of activities by certain individuals during the late thirties. In Montevideo he falls in with a young girl, also searching for Bormann for more personal reasons. Jonas quickly teams up with Ilse Buch, neither trusting the other but growing closer together as they head into the unknown.

Of course, as so often in the past, Jonas disappears from view leaving his ‘Girl Friday’, Vanessa, to experience a nightmarish psychic experience brought on by anxiety while his ‘friendly copper’ (DCI John Wyatt) is fighting an attempt to abandon Jonas & close down the mission. Why? Let’s quote John Wyatt’s admission: ‘. He's killed one man in Montevideo defending a girl. He and the girl travelled north and they've disappeared but - and this is the really juicy part to pass on to whoever's working your strings - before they went missing they were linked in some way with the sudden death of a rich old guy who was flogging girls to brothels and with the extermination of a bunch of gauchos.....’ That wouldn’t encourage HMG to carry on, would it - but what about a Reader?

However, the Uruguayan police are drawn in by murder and the CIA suddenly decide to intrude on what has started to look like curtains for Jonas Forbes In fact, Jonas is pushed to the side in the final climax and, for once, himself has the job of picking up the pieces.

This novel’s a fast-moving piece of hokum which, while never really straying much beyond the bounds of possibility, certainly frays those borders.

Next a home-grown scandal with several historical figures making a fictional bow.

Bob Hyslop

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

'Behind The Text’ 13 'Well He Would Wouldn’t He?’

Behind The Text’ Part 13_’Well He Would Wouldn’t He?’

Naughty but Nice - or Nasty?


Well He Would Wouldn’t He? was published in 2010 and is the ninth chronological novel in the 'Jonas Forbes Saga'. Its background is what was styled ‘The Scandal of the Century’ – though there are several other contenders for that honour. In 1963 Stephen Ward’s amoral household of young girls and middle-aged men became an object of public scrutiny, largely due to hysteria in the press. John Profumo, UK Minister for War, was forced to resign when his relationship with Christine Keeler became considered a possible security leak.

Jonas Forbes is hired to protect both Stephen & Christine from an unknown assassin who sends threats in Biblical language. He infiltrates undercover the circle of Stephen Ward, acquiring suspicious looks from the men & interested glances from the girls. He also acquires the unwelcome attentions of a West Indian gang, making this tale one in which he’s pushed to the edge. Indeed his surroundings change dramatically in the course of a chapter or so – from being chained up in a London sewer to giving evidence in an Old Bailey trial to being inducted into the creation of a zombie. Not quite the usual round for an ‘Enquiry Agent’.

This novel is largely peopled by real characters and firmly based on evidence from the Profumo Affair. Only the world of the Simpson brothers is wholly fictional with Anansi one of the nastiest characters I ever created. I draw some conclusions which may be questioned – the roles of DCI Herbert & John Lewis in the whole business, for example – but hope  my plot lies on a credible branch line to the real-life scandal surrounding Stephen Ward. Perhaps I’ve been hard on some members of the Law ( as practised by Sir Archie Pellow Marshall etc.), Politics (e.g. George Wigg) and the Civil Service (especially the fictional Sir Justin Hartington-Case). Perhaps I’ve been too condescending to the demi-monde surrounding Ward where some of the real-life characters acquired a fame/notoriety and some were to meet questionable ends. The Establishment panicked and this novel explores a world in which the innocent (even of the ‘murkier’ kind) are too often the victims while other less noble souls take the glory. Finger-pointing and pleas of innocence were still much in evidence – as well as some of my characters! - during the 50th anniversary to rake over the 1963 scandal.     .

I should stress this novel includes a number of GOOD characters – Zechariah Taylor, Julissa Brown, Ivy Jenkins, James Burge (real person) etc. – but too often they become victims. Personally I’d add Stephen Ward (and some of the likes of Ronna Ricardo) to that group but perhaps you’d disagree. If you want to dip a toe into the seamier side of 1960’s ‘swinging London’, including stuff bordering on the insane, you might enjoy this thriller.

Next time,  a trip 'behind enemy lines' in the shadowy world of espionage.

Bob Hyslop


Tuesday, 9 June 2015

'Behind The Text’ 14 ’Lies Hunt In Packs’

Behind The Text’ Part 14_’Lies Hunt In Packs’

 'Deceive the deceivers' (Ovid)


Lies Hunt In Packs? was published in 2013 and is the tenth chronological novel in the 'Jonas Forbes Saga'. Its background is the USSR and Finland in 1964. I spent the 1964 summer in Finland and visited the USSR the following year, so memories lie somewhere behind some of this thriller.
The plot appears quite straightforward. Jonas Forbes is hired to smuggle a dissident academic from Moscow to Helsinki, despite the efforts of the KGB.

But appearances can be deceptive. The mission is instigated by PRIVATE influential contacts outside Whitehall & really provoked by a manipulative Russian emigré. The dissident, Svetlana Ivanova Petrova, an expert on English 19th century History, feels betrayed by those she trusted but easily slips from detention – as does her liberal husband who embarks on his own drive for freedom. From the start the KGB know about Jonas & his mission: their problem is catching him. Jonas’s ability to elude pursuit (really last seen in Book 5) confuses his charge as well as the KGB. Even so, he's largely helped by confusion within the KGB where Major Golovkin’s efforts are almost undermined by his superior, Colonel Tolstoy. As the fugitives near safety this confusion becomes almost hysterical. Meanwhile, Dmitri  Petrov, Svetlana’s husband, slowly makes his way to Finland.

The KGB hunt is dominated by Lt. Valentina Boykov, working for Col. Tolstoy & shrugging off control by her immediate superior. There are heroes among the dissidents such as Dr. Semyenov the organiser and the inventive Tatiana Danilovsky & her  son, Boris – but also traitors.

Much of the tension stems stems from the ‘Perils of Pauline’ approach – disaster avoided by ‘deus ex machina’ ( as theorists might say) – but sometimes the god may be nodding off!  In Finland both confusion and enlightenment come with the reunion of fugitive husband & wife. But then...... the story isn’t over yet.

This is a novel of deception – characters cheating each other, chasers being misled & fugitives betrayed. In fact, it’s a novel in which some characters ‘break away’ from their creator. Golovkin arouses more sympathy than I originally planned and Dmitri Petrov’s struggles to battle through to Finland perhaps merit less compassion. DS John Wyatt is actually distracted by a personal tragedy, required for the story-line in later novels in the series. However, he still manages to be more ‘effective’ than originally planned. Jonas is duped at a crucial point or is he? The original intention was for him to fall ‘hook, line & sinker’– but I couldn’t quite do it so I changed that intention with: ‘Within seconds she was mounting him with an ardour that was returned. Is it possible for a woman to rape a man? Perhaps, but there has to be some degree of cooperation and with Jonas the floodgates opened. Afterwards she repeated her account of the shooting and he said he believed her. She believed him but he didn't believe himself. It didn't matter. Why should he reject pleasure offered on a plate?’ So is the deceiver being deceived or simply the man gulling himself.
In the end, I hope, the Reader has been led up SOME of the proverbial garden path!

Next, the first tale reborn in a web of treachery.

Bob Hyslop

Monday, 8 June 2015

'Behind The Text’ 15 ’And Death Will Have His Day’

Behind The Text’ Part 15_’And Death Will Have His Day’
‘...Sent Before My Time Into This Breathing World, Scarce Half Made Up...’

And Death Will Have His Day’ was published in 2010 and is  the 11th chronological novel  in the      Jonas Forbes Saga’. In fact, as explained in Behind the Text’ Part 3  ‘ A FALSE START’, it was written in 1977and the e-book is a rewrite.
This thriller is set in 1965 London and is the original spoof toned down. Jonas Forbes is in his prime – and this ‘error’ has caused considerable problems with producing 10 ‘prequels’! Also the portrayal of Jonas Forbes really fits the above title (borrowed from Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’) an my creative powers have battled with the consequences.
Tom Cardew, a radical politician, is under threat and, unlike in virtually all the other novels, Jonas is NOT hired by a branch of HMG. Anne Demas draws Jonas into a world where, from the start, he comes under threat. In fact, the immediate abduction of Vanessa Holmes, his ‘Girl Friday’, prevents getting immediately down to earning his fee but, at the same, supplies him with an entry into a plot involving a race war.
As I said in Post 3 most of the characters owed features to certain friends & acquaintances at the time. This meant my main effort was in characterisation although the plot seems to rumble along at a good pace. In this novel the influence of Raymond Chandler is clear: in later works he's replaced by either Leslie Charteris or Ian Fleming. In some ways, DCI John Wyatt behaves like Chandler’s Captain Cronjager but, from the start, he and Jonas are far more of a team than the Californian couple. Wyatt is certainly not like the Saint’s stooge, Claude Eustace Teal. Some of the minor characters (Freddy Talbot, Marty and especially Red) might have been at home in 30’s California but of the female possibilities (Anne Demas, Jane or Thelma) only Anne has the makings of a femme fatale like Vivian Sternwood while Thelma possesses a  core harder than found in Fleming. I should add here that Vanessa is far more complex than Miss Moneypenny.
Because this is a private contract there is an absence of bureaucrats for my waspish pen to mock. Fools there may be (Paul Taillard & Tom Cardew are two examples) but they aren’t ‘institutional’ fools. Plato may be one of more ruthless villains I’ve created but his cruelty is largely hidden from the Reader, if not the fear he evokes. Callisto may match him in ruthlessness but not in the power to terrorise.
Obviously, in a series of 16 books, similarities must betray themselves.. Here Bill, mild-mannered but dangerous, is later recreated in ‘Californian Nightmare’ as Ernest Henry Jones. The climax here is paralleled to a certain extent in that book and, surely consciously, more closely in ‘Endgame At Watergate’. I leave it to readers to find other examples, perhaps suppressed by my own subconscious.

Next time, Jonas steps in on his own account for once.

Bob Hyslop

Saturday, 6 June 2015

'Behind The Text’ 16 ’Family Business’

 'Behind The Text’ Part 16_’Family Business’

‘Do good to you & yours, and then to others if you can.’ (Italian Proverb)


Family Business' was published in 2013 and  the 12th chronological novel in the 'Jonas Forbes Saga'. It's set in 1966 England but is rather different from most of the others in the series. Jonas Forbes is hired by nobody but intervenes on behalf of his sister when her husband is badly injured by the Morrison gang. For much of the book Jonas is on the run – from BOTH the British police and the gang. Most of the action takes place away from urban surroundings. Jonas’s normal helpers, Vanessa Holmes & John Wyatt prove of limited use – Vanessa is hidden away for her own safety and John Wyatt is restricted by his official responsibilities.
The Morrison gang are linked to the Richardsons (notorious in the 1960’s UK along with the Kray twins) and their plan to conceal their finances is ruined by the dishonesty of one solicitor and the honesty of another, who happens to be the brother-in-law of Jonas Forbes. It soon becomes a battle between Jonas and the gang in which both innocent and guilty suffer.

As we lived near Tunbridge Wells during the late ‘60’s, where the opening sequences occur, and had close relatives living near Petworth & Upperton, I found no problem in hiding Jonas away. I’ve tried to reproduce local attitudes etc. from memory when the area was ‘unsophisticated’ 25 years before the internet was developed. Various features – prices, transport, interests and living conditions – have changed far more than may be initially believed; here memory comes to the aid (& hindrance?) of research. I’d like to apologise here & now for my embarrassing attempt to reproduce a Scots accent & dialect. It was an attempt to fill out the character of Fraser Morrison.

This novel contains several nasty scenes – e.g. the questioning of Daniel Longcroft and the abuse of  his wife, Cecile  – necessary because of the effect they reveal. Madness takes over Cecile as the rather unpleasant personality she possessed is ground into nothing. But there are other forms. Hilda Frost worshipping her boss to the point of self-delusion and, by that route, resorting to such sadism as to bring about a collapse in her own mental state through remorse. Max Morrison, so cocksure and yet so terrified of his father that his highly-strung personality can swing so easily between kindness & cruelty that  arrogance brings about his destruction.
Minor characters, I hope, are more than stereotypes – the police (DCI Nicholson & Sergeant Wilkes), the locals (David Simmonds & his Jonas-worshipping family – and the resentful Harry Benbow) and the typists (Susan & Janet, varying in the measure of charity they can muster for others).

This thriller’s end lurches towards disillusion, despair and the other ‘d’s associated with the darker side of life. The winners merely survive – John Fairbrother remains crippled, neither Cecile nor Hilda are the women they were and Vanessa’s marriage to Simon Holmes persists, or just about.

Next time, Jonas learns a lot - but not quite all that's needed.

Bob Hyslop


Friday, 5 June 2015

'Behind The Text’ 17 'HAVOK goes to Moscow’

To Russia with.......ROCK!
HAVOK Goes To Moscow’ was published in 2014 and is the 13th chronological book in the 'Jonas Forbes Saga' and has several interesting features. It’s set in 1967 and the plot revolves around the tour of a UK Rock Band behind the Iron Curtain. So what’s so interesting about that?

Most of the novel takes place on a coach journey from London to Moscow. I did exactly that journey (and on to Leningrad) in 1965 on a trip organised by London University after a year length course on the USSR. However, I was NOT a member of a rock group!

This is the only novel in the series in which Jonas Forbes has more than one job to do. Normally he’s given a job with a cover story – often paper-thin. Here he's being paid to protect one member of the rock group whom somebody is trying to kill. At the same time he's delivering valuable data to members of the active opposition in the USSR.

Just to add to the fun the KGB know from the start that on the coach is an agent for MI6. They don’t know who or why but Jonas Forbes has crossed their path before, and at very close quarters. Will they blow his cover and he’ll have to dodge capture as he did in 1964?
The chief characters are members of a rock group anticipating the early-70’s penetration by western bands into the USSR. In 1965 I heard ‘Satisfaction’ by the Rolling Stones and other similar material being played in a Leningrad store  so I know there was an appetite for such items that HAVOK play in concert, and I’m sure the public reaction is what would have happened.

Much of the detail (e.g. the operations of ORBIS & INTOURIST,  the currency touts – and even the embarrassing collapse of a frontier barrier) stem from a journal I kept at the time.
Of course, this is a work of FICTION after all. In VICE I’ve created one of the more odious characters in the series and, I hope, among the various members of the security system trying to stem ‘decadent influence’ a variety of enigmatic types. This is one of the few novels in which the ‘Girl Friday’ par excellence, Vanessa Holmes, is right there in the action. Of course, it also contains the usual mixture of fudge, disdain and sheer opposition which make up the OFFICIAL attitude towards that ‘rogue male’ called Jonas Forbes.

I hope you enjoy this tale of ‘capitalist decadence’ penetrating virgin territory.

Next time, we switch to the source of 'decadent capitalism' in 1968 and an assassin for hire.

Bob Hyslop

Thursday, 4 June 2015

'Behind The Text’ 18 ’Californian Nightmare’

Behind The Text’ Part 18_’Californian Nightmare’

Crossing The Pond


Californian Nightmare’ was published in 2011 and is the 14th chronological book  in the 'Jonas Forbes Saga'. The plot focuses on the threatened assassination of a would-be Presidential contender in 1968 but it really deals with the export of a battle between Jonas Forbes and the Carter gang which starts in London. It is very much a tale of individuals proving themselves – or not, as the case might be.

This thriller has its quota of twists and turns – for example, an apparently key character appears, grabs a central role and then suddenly is removed. Honestly, Reader, I didn’t plan it that way. In this case a product of Private Education & Whitehall was becoming too much of a challenge for Jonas – so he had to go. Occasionally characters just seem to take over. One, more familiar from the cinema screen, drops in with clear intention of running the story-line but is quickly dispatched to the side-lines. Remember I really write to entertain myself and, like many readers, I might ask, ‘Why doesn’t the author.....?’ So I do.
Of equal importance to Jonas, as the hunter, is his quarry, Lennie Denton, the assassin. For once, he  gets the lady and Jonas is left to play ‘catch-up’. Lennie has a tough time making his mark among his American employers but wins through, especially with Mandy Faber. Without him back home, the Carter gang, after the demise of ‘Crazy’ Charlie appear simply waiting for the Law to lock them away.
There’s the usual doyen of the bureaucratic class, in the form of Sir Charles Beardsley-Simpson, to  resent the employment of Jonas Forbes with VIRTUALLY all the venom of the late Sir Jeremy Smith. However, the surprise packages are the meteoric involvement of Steven Bradford-White  and, even more, the crucial activity of a humble secretary. Whitehall, for once, is not peopled by ineffective spectators as in previous books.
In the end, although this appears to have been the mixture much as before, but with a transatlantic twist, there’s a drastic transformation in the ‘romantic stakes’ for the ’ brave knight’ who’s been the subject of the series. This change WAS planned as Simon Holmes had certainly become simply an awkward bystander – but was he ever anything else? So the question remains, how will the ‘fair lady’ respond’? Watch this space.

Next, from the ridiculous to the sublime, searching for a needle in a haystack of civil war.

Bob Hyslop

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

'Behind The Text’ 19 ’So Few Come Out’

Behind The Text’ Part 19_’So Few Come Out’

‘in blood stepp'd in so far’ (Shakespeare: ‘Macbeth’

So Few Come Out' was published in 2014 and is the 15th chronological novel  in the ‘Jonas Forbes Saga’. The title comes from a rhyme from a couple of centuries ago bewailing the high attrition rate of European venturers in West African areas surrounding the Bay of Benin. When the Reader reaches the end of this gory tale they might think it refers to the destruction of the characters.
Jonas Forbes is persuaded to hunt for a surgeon lost in the midst of the Biafran War in 1969 Nigeria. The young man is the son of Reverend Joshua Obasi. However, it’s not easy to get into the middle of a civil war (and, even more importantly, out again!). The UK Foreign Office cooperate, provided he assesses for them the situation as peace approaches – in this they will  definitely be short-changed.

The action shifts between Jonas, blundering his way around in a particularly nasty conflict to the despair of Vanessa (now his wife) along with others in London, and various units on the Federal & Biafran sides, especially the guerrilla leader, Shaidan, terrifying the opponents of the dying Republic of Biafra. Both sides engage in war crimes and it’s largely the civilians who suffer. Shrugged off by UK diplomatic staff ( such as Seymour Dudley and Jerome Milligan) Jonas plunges into the unknown with his usual enthusiasm and almost immediately finds himself a prisoner of the Federal forces and then of Shaidan himself. DS John Wyatt employs contacts to find Jonas but is always one step behind. Towards the end Jonas shows strange signs of ‘sympathy’ / ‘weakness’. Could these be the effect of being married to Vanessa? You may find the answer on Book 16.
This book deals with one of the tragedies of the 20th century but there are some admirable characters: Private Dialo, so sick of the war that he deserts; Sgt. Athie, who saves a child from the miseries of war but then hunts down Dialo because those are his orders; Superintendent Kemdirim helps a policeman from afar, out of solidarity; Algana Alabi, a victim of war; and Dr. Jide Igbokwe who suffers for answering to his vocation. However, such are out-numbered by those for whom war releases the vilest behaviour and those who watch the world disintegrate and do...... not enough to stop it.
This is one of the more depressing novels in the series. Why did I write it? I can’t answer that except to say I just had to. Researching this book showed how little some survivors still want to admit what happened, especially if they might be held responsible. Could the like happen today? Take a look around. I think it’s already here.

Next, the end of the line - in Fact and Fiction

Bob Hyslop


Tuesday, 2 June 2015

'Behind The Text’ 20 ’Endgame At Watergate’

Behind The Text’ Part 20_’Endgame At Watergate’

Fun & Games In ‘The Last Chance Saloon’

Endgame At Watergate’ was published in 2015 and is the 16th chronological novel  in the ‘Jonas Forbes Saga’. The Reader may note that its opening reflects that of ‘Cuban Rummy’ and its closure may evoke memories of ‘And Death Will Have His Day’. There are reasons for this but they certainly aren’t there as carbon copies!
Jonas Forbes is hired to investigate the murder of a UK diplomat and quickly becomes embroiled with the Mafia. The novel is set in 1973 Washington, absorbed in the Watergate Scandal which was to cause the downfall of President Nixon the following year. The Mafia were certainly involved but here I've intruded a fictional ‘Gibellina famiglia’ (especially Vespasianu & Cettina), supposedly linked to the Factual group run by Santo Trafficante Jnr. Jonas’s usual support (Vanessa & John Wyatt) can only worry from afar about events as Jonas once again has to go on the run. This time, however, he retains some contact with the MPD ( Detectives Hamilton & Estevan) and the FBI (Special Agents Bosquet & Domenici). Fortunately that contact is limited as Jonas goes deeper into hiding collecting evidence. For once he actually reports his findings promptly to the authorities.

My title suggested employing chess as a commentary on the action. In practice it was of limited use because, although there were a pair of Knights, a pair of Bishops and a mass of Pawns, there was no King to be checkmated – unless he was sitting in the White House. I’ll leave the Reader to identify who was what in the book. I enjoyed the activities of such minor characters as Magda Wallenstein, Amos Anderson and Dr Titus Archer Peacock. Even the ‘wise-guys’ such as Miceli Vultaggio, Adrianu Cascio & Gesu Poma proved entertaining; because, for both you & me, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? I should add the ‘surprise guest’ on the last couple of pages who’d carry the Reader back to the 2ndand 7th chronological novels in the series if they wish.
The factual background was carefully researched, both political and criminal, and, I must admit, it easily outdoes the Profumo Affaire (see Book 9) as ‘the scandal of the century’. I must apologise for any errors in handling what is sometimes confusing evidence of the Watergate Scandal (and, indeed, the structure & activities of the Mafia)  and stress  this remains a work of FICTION.

Next, a look at some villains - always the mainstay of a thriller.

Bob Hyslop