Outside the Box by GRAHAM HURLEY

Written by Graham Hurley

Katastrophe, Book Seven in my Spoils of War series, will be bursting into the nation’s bookshops any moment now, published by Head of Zeus.  That’s a cause for personal celebration but the whole series owes its very existence to a wet Wednesday evening nearly ten years ago. I’d just published my sixteenth cri-fi novel and I’d been asked for ideas for the next tome. And so I went to the pub, had a think, then ordered that second pint and returned to my corner table to stare numbly at my laptop. 

A decade and a half into crime writing, you were wise to carry a reserve stock of ideas for exactly an occasion like this but the harder I thought about rogue D/Is and that tease of a homicide that never quite makes sense, the more I knew that the 16-title love affair was over. One more early morning visit to the Custody Centre, one more tussle with a stroppy defence brief, and I’d probably be sectioned.  Some nutter in the corner with a lap-top and an empty glass? Phone the men in blue.

But this solved nothing.  I had a fridge to fill, and a family to feed, and so I decided to bin crime fiction and return to an older passion: the Second World War. As a late Forties kid, I’d grown up on a diet of Nicholas Monserrat and Paul Brickhill. Years later, as a TV documentary film maker, I began to specialise in anniversary movies: Dunkirk, Singapore, Dieppe, D-Day and the grinding advance towards the German frontier.  Wherever men had shed blood there was a film to be made.

That autumn, unusually, I didn’t write another cri-fi. Instead we decamped in our ancient van and wandered around Galicia in north west Spain, and one sunny afternoon found us in the remote fishing village of O Barqueiro. We downed a couple of beers on the waterside and then I noticed a plaque in the harbour wall. Here, towards the end of the war, a German U-boat had been bombed and sunk a mile or so offshore. Local fishermen had saved most of the crew but 14 German sailors had died.

That incident stayed with me over the days to come, sparking all the usual questions: what was it doing here, so close inshore? Who was aboard? Where was it headed? And how – exactly – did it fit into a six-year war revving up for the final curtain?

By the time we made it back to the UK , I had the whole story.  Part of it takes place in Galicia; the rest unrolls in Los Alamos, the top secret facility in New Mexico where Allied scientists were racing to build an atomic bomb. I spent months on background reading, wrote it uncommissioned (a gigantic punt that felt wholly right), called it Finisterre,  and presented it to my agent. I knew Oii Munson would suss at once that I’d strayed off the cri-fi reservation but I didn’t care. WW2 was the biggest crime scene ever, I suggested. We need to think – and write – outside the box.

Thankfully, Oli liked the first draft, and so did Nic Cheetham, CEO of Head of Zeus.  We bonded over a longish lunch and Nic began to speculate about which character from Finisterre might anchor an entire series. Stefan Portisch, the young U-boat Commander whose affection for the Third Reich has soured?  Or Hector Gomez, an ex-FBI agent now running security at Los Alamos?

These were questions I’d half-expected, but I was determined to avoid another series trap. Sixteen cri-fis had taught me a great deal about the pros and cons of living with a single protagonist for more than a decade and – once again – I was trying to think outside the box.  So how about a series that roams over that huge WW2 canvas unconstrained by either chronology or a single stand-out lead? How about an ongoing set of novels with room for a repertoire of characters, both fictional and historic, who come and go book-by-book, shouldering as much of the narrative as required? No central character. No careful trudge from year to year. Just the glorious freedom for yours truly to settle on stories that seem promising?

Nic Cheetham at first had his doubts but then I came up with one of those happy phrases – ‘soft linkage’ – and after that we were off and running.

It worked. Finisterre was short-listed for the Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Award, and the books that followed – addressing everything from the torching of Hamburg to the darkness surrounding Rudolf Hess’s solo flight to Scotland in 1941 – attracted decent reviews and a devoted readership. In all these books, either downstage or in the wings, lurk figures from a rich variety of intelligence services – MI5, MI6, the Abwehr, the CIA – names and faces that become increasingly familiar to readers who stick with the series, now dubbed The Spoils of War.

Katastrophe, book seven, takes place in the glowing embers of the Third Reich as the war stumbles to its end. The glue that has held the Allies together is beginning to melt ahead of a contested peace , and two of the series major characters find themselves in the ruins of Berlin, still at the mercy of their Soviet captors.  As ever, the devil’s brew is richly promising and the book has been a pleasure to write.

Jeopardy. Betrayal. Sacrifice. Slaughter. Even the remote possibility of survival. Just another moment in a global conflagration that never stops astonishing me. Welcome to the world of Katastrophe....the very latest in my Spoils of War series.

Katastrophe by Graham Hurley

published by Head of Zeus on 7th July 2022 at £20 Hbk

Photo Credit: Contributed





Graham Hurley

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