Deadly Trust

Author: JJ Cooper
Publisher: Random House – Bantam Books
Published: 2010

A few months a go I reviewed JJ Cooper’s first novel The Interrogator. I made no secret that I really enjoyed it. I am actually hoping some of the readers here – particularly the Bond fans – will take the time to track the book down. I am interested in reader’s opinions on the climax of the story and if they believe there are any similarities between it, and Casino Royale. But that’s a discussion for another day – today I am looking at Cooper’s second book Deadly Trust.

I must admit I had some doubt about a second book by Cooper. Allow me to explain my reasoning. Cooper spent seventeen years in the army prior to writing The Interrogator, and one of the real strengths of that book, was the sense of ‘truth’ or ‘realism’ to the story. It was almost as if Cooper was revealing the secret knowledge that you should not know. This was not necessarily to do with the plot, but the nitty-gritty of intelligence gathering and HUMINT. Therefore, when reading the book, it became difficult to delineate where JJ Cooper ended and the character of Jay Ryan began.

Now I am sure that many of you have heard the old saying that you have your whole life to write your first book, but only a year to write your second. I thought that maybe Cooper had shown us all that he had – told us all his secrets – in his first book. Well, what can I say, I am an idiot. This is not the case at all. Cooper proves that he is a natural story-teller, and certainly has a lot more to give as a writer.

Deadly Trust begins about a year after the events of The Interrogator, which left Jay Ryan pretty badly shot up and even a little bit emotionally scarred. Since then he has been living in Byron Bay – keeping things simple.

The first sign of trouble occurs when he goes to get his car license renewed. Not much could happen in a Road Traffic Authority centre – could it? Well yeah – two gun men burst in and attempt to rob the place. Or so it seems. The strange thing is that they seem to be searching for a particular target. No prizes for guessing who?

The next incident occurs when Ryan is driving home after a late afternoon’s surfing at a local beach. On his way home, a four-wheel-drive vehicle attempts to ram his car into the path of an oncoming bus. After two attempts on his life in one day, Ryan suspects that these incidents are not simply coincidence, but someone is out to get him – but why? He has been living the simple life, out of harm’s way.

Ryan soon makes contact with a Military police officer, Toni Griffin, who is the cousin of Mark Simpson, a fellow Interrogator who served with Ryan in the Middle East. She explains that Simpson has been killed, as have three other interrogators that Ryan served with. What ties all these men together besides the fact that they were all interrogators that served in Afghanistan, is that they were inoculated against a rare and virulent strain of anthrax. It seems that someone is now very interested in Ryan, as the last interrogator and the anti-bodies that he is carrying in his body.

Deadly Trust is a wild ride that had me thumbing the pages well into the night. The story has more twists and turns than the ‘Mad Mouse’ at the fairground. But it is told with energy and pace and with just a hint of dry, laconic Aussie humour.

If I have a criticism of Deadly Trust, it once again takes place, primarily in Queensland – very much the same locations as The Interrogator – and pretty much the home territory for the character of Jay Ryan. In future Ryan adventures, I’d like to see him in less comfortable and familiar surroundings and see how in operates in less hospitable ‘theatres of war’. The news here however, is that it looks like my wish will be granted. In the closing of Deadly Trust, Cooper has set up a scenario in which Ryan can be moved out of his comfort zone – and possibly away from the shores of Australia.

Knowledge of the events in The Interrogator, though not essential, is rather handy. There are a few recurring characters, and more than one allusion to the events that transpired in the first novel. So I’d suggest that you track that down first and give that a shot…you wont be disappointed, and then you can follow it up with Deadly Trust… reading them back to back will not seem like overkill.

In closing, if you’ll forgive me, I want to hop on my soapbox for just a moment. I have heard that several major retailers in Australia are refusing to stock Deadly Trust. Let me stress that Deadly Trust is published by a major publisher – so it cannot be argued that it is a ‘nothing book’. The argument  seems to be that in these tough economic times, these retailers want to stick with ‘safe’ releases from proven (for that – read ‘big name’) authors. Sorry, but how dare they tell me what I want to read! Now I like popular fiction as much as the next guy, and my shelves are stocked with many ‘name’ authors. Prior to reading Deadly Trust, I read multi-million seller, Dean Koontz’s Velocity which I thoroughly enjoyed, but if I had to recommend just one of them to you – it would be Deadly Trust. That’s not to dismiss Koontz, or piss in Cooper’s pocket, and maybe that’s just my proclivity for spy novels shining through. But after all if you are reading this – and Permission to Kill is a spy themed blog – I’d presume that you you enjoy spy stories too.

I guess the thing to take away from this is to buy your books from a book shop and not a department store. I know department stores are cheaper – and we all want to save money – but by shopping at these stores and having your purchases dictated to you, by some pompous clown in purchasing is unwittingly killing the Australian publishing industry (and I am sure this applies equally to some foreign markets). End of rant!

From the blurb:

Former army interrogator Jay Ryan is enjoying the quiet life after leaving the military far behind – or so he thinks. Because old habits die hard and he’s quickly thrust back into the thick of things when a disgruntled scientist, backed by the Australian security industry, develops a weapon of mass destruction – a hybrid strain of Anthrax – to be used to create panic in a population apathetic to crime prevention.

Only one batch of Anthrax inoculations can resist the deadly new strain, and it was given to five military interrogators. One of them was Jay Ryan. When the other four disappear, Ryan is the last interrogator left with the antibodies to defeat the deadly Anthrax strain.

Racing against time and hunted by rogue soldiers, mad scientists and an organisation that operates beyond the law, Ryan digs deep into his past for a chance at a future.

In this heartstopping thriller, Jay Ryan wages a one-man war against enemies both known and unseen. There’s only person he can trust – or can he? Winning the war may have devastating consequences for the last interrogator …

For those who are interested, you can download the first chapter from the Random House website – scroll down to Deadly Trust.

Deadly Trust

The Guns of August

JJ Cooper
JJ Cooper

August promises to be a big month for fans of spy fiction with the release of three highly anticipated spy novels. We’ve already seen the launch (on August 2nd) of Deadly Trust, from Australian author JJ Cooper. The book is the second book in the Jay Ryan series, following on from last year’s debut The Interrogator.

Deadly Trust sees Jay Ryan leaving the army and his life as an interrogator but he’s quickly dragged back into a murky world of secrets, lies and danger when a disgruntled scientist, backed by the Australian security industry, develops a weapon of mass destruction – a hybrid strain of Anthrax.

Jeremy Duns
Jeremy Duns

Next up is Jeremy Duns’ Free Country, the second novel in the Paul Dark trilogy, following on from Free Agent. Those who have had their ears to the ground will have heard that the Dark trilogy was recently optioned by the BBC with plans to turn the stories into a television series.

Blackmailed into serving Moscow, double agent Paul Dark now finds himself a target for  assassination. Desperate to escape his predicament, Dark gambles everything on one last throw of the dice, exposing his Soviet handler to the British. But before long, he finds he has no choice but to go on the run again, and the race is on to stop a deadly conspiracy that dates back to the early years of the Cold War.

Adrian Magson
Adrian Magson

Toward the end of the month, the first book in the Harry Tate series, Red Station, by Adrian Magson hits the shelves.

In Red Station, Harry Tate is a loyal operative for MI5, who does what he’s told, fighting the war against terrorism, drugs and high-level criminal gangs. When two civilians are shot dead during a drugs intercept, he agrees to take an immediate posting to a place called Red Station, to help the agency avoid embarrassing media questions. Red Station is remote and uncomfortable… and it’s a home for washed-out spooks.

What Harry doesn’t know is that the Russians are coming… and that he won’t be coming back.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It is my honour to bring these three authors together for what I will call a ‘virtual symposium’ on spy novels. From my hollowed out volcano, I have grilled them on what makes a good spy novel and have had them analyse the changes, not just to spy stories, but publishing in general. Covering everything from the Cold War to post September 11 terrorism – and from audiobook to eBooks and digital downloads. Adrian, Jeremy and JJ provide unique insights into writing past and present, and share their thoughts on the state of the ‘spy novel’.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

David Foster: Welcome, gentlemen. In the current political and economic climate, what do you believe is more important in a good thriller – ‘realism and truth’ or ‘escapism’?

Jeremy Duns: I think escapism is always the aim of fiction, no matter what the climate – pure realism is for non-fiction. That said, I think fiction sometimes sheds more light on truth than documentary. But readers want to be taken into another world, and one more compelling than their immediate surroundings. Getting the facts right is important, but the story always comes first.

JJ Cooper: Escapism. That’s why I read anyway. A good level of realism goes a long way too otherwise we’d be published in the fantasy section. We write fiction so it doesn’t have to be the truth (although sometimes it turns out that way).

Adrian Magson: Escapism first, but a touch of realism never hurts. Readers like to escape into books whatever the climate, but many also like to identify in some way with the background or characters.

DF: Now almost ten years on, do you feel that the events of September 11 (and the subsequent ‘War on Terror’) are still a relevant backdrop, or topic for a modern spy thriller?

JJC: I recently attended ThrillerFest in New York where around 50 literary agents were ‘pitched’ during a three hour session by writers from around the globe seeking representation. The amount of times I heard the word ‘terrorist’ was amazing (I was there being a nosy author). It seemed to me that the agents were not very keen to hear that word. You could sit in the back of the room and note when the word was used during a pitch by the cringe of the agent – subtle but there nonetheless.

I listened to many of the pitches (always the spy) and a lot were the same story arc, and even settings (Iran was a popular setting this year). Unless you are an established author or can find a different twist to add to the ‘War on Terror’ backdrop, I’d say this is just about out of legs (especially for those trying to break into the industry). September 11 will always be referenced in novels, just shouldn’t be the focus any more.

AM: It’s certainly still relevant, if only because the threat of something similar is still very much with us, and the characters involved are working away behind the scenes on both sides. The way things happened was new in the delivery and scale, but the idea of one tribe, society, group, nation, being attacked by another goes all the way back through history. And what more realistic backdrop for spies to operate than the current one (as recent events have proved).

JD: I don’t really see that any subject becomes irrelevant for a novel. September 11 2001 was clearly a defining day in recent history, and it will be written about for many years to come.

I was at an event in England recently and someone asked Joseph Finder a variation of this question during a panel. He replied that it might take some time for the good fiction to emerge, pointing out that it wasn’t until ten or 15 years after the Vietnam war that the great books and films about it started to come out. I think in the first couple of years after September 11, there was a widespread feeling that thrillers were taboo – not just the idea of thrillers about that event, but all thrillers that featured terrorists or explosions. I remember people saying they never wanted to see another Arnold Schwarzenegger film again. But 24 premiered on November 6 2001, and that and other TV shows and films and novels soon started to address themes that were raised by the events of September 11. I think people have always looked to stories to work through current events and crises – in the Second World War, sales of thrillers went through the roof. People want to know more about it, to analyze it, but they also need reassurance. It’s a way of warding off the monsters under the bed.

DF: What about the ‘Cold War’? It’s twenty years since the Berlin Wall came down. Is there any life left in the Cold War for a good spy novel? Or as a genre convention, do you think it is tapped out?

AM: Again, nothing much has changed. The people, maybe, and which direction the threat is coming from. But what was the Cold War other than a quiet conflict? It’s what we have now, albeit hidden beneath multiple layers of diplomacy, commerce and culture, so in a way the Cold War has never entirely gone away.

JD: As I’m writing spy thrillers set during the Cold War, I obviously feel there’s plenty of life left in it! Again, it took a while for people to see it as a legitimate subject. When the Berlin Wall fell, there were a lot of newspaper editorials about the accompanying death of the spy novel. But, as you say, it’s been two decades since then, and of course the Cold War started earlier. It was a conflict that covered most of the globe, went on for several decades, and threatened the existence of our planet as never before, so I think it’s certainly a worthy subject for thrillers, and it will be for the foreseeable future. In the Sixties and Seventies, writers like Len Deighton, Jack Higgins and Frederick Forsyth turned to the Second World War for their subject matter. I think many writers of my generation may well turn to the Cold War. There’s a lot that wasn’t known at the time that is only just coming to light.

JJC: The ‘Cold War’ was like a big training ground for spies. Skills were honed and techniques developed. A lot of those lessons have no doubt been applied across the globe in current ‘information collection operations’. A lot of great novels have had the ‘Cold War setting’. I think now is the time to revisit the ‘Cold War’ theme – it’s like a sleeping giant just waiting to be awoken. It’ll happen eventually. Either revisit the era as a catalyst for modern day events or set your own modern-day ‘Cold War’. Doesn’t matter how many agreements, treaties, handshakes and smiles occur between countries – spying will always happen. Always has, always will.

DF: Recently we’ve had a very high profile espionage incident in the United States (London and Cyprus), with the arrest of ten alleged Russian spies. With all the media buzz and hype – do current affairs influence or provide inspiration for future stories (or colour one that you may be currently working on)?

JD: Yes, such stories provide inspiration, although perhaps that particular story is too implausible to be used in a thriller. But it really harks back to the Krogers and the Rosenbergs and so on, and is an amazing mix of low-tech, with invisible inks and bag swaps, and hi-tech, with code in Facebook photos and the use of wi-fi.

I think that incident brings home the fact that espionage is going on around us the whole time. I think most people have the feeling that spies don’t really exist, and it’s mainly invented by films and novels. People tend to forget that pretty much every embassy in the world is a spy headquarters, and that every government engages in it to one degree or other.

JJC: Anybody who believes spying is not that common should stick to reading fantasy novels. No doubt a lot more of these stories don’t hit the media. This incident does serve to assist writers when it comes to credibility of spy stories. It gives the public that ‘wow-this-shit-is-still-happening-now’ moment. Hopefully, some of them will then call into the thriller section of the book store next time they are there (and bypass the damn cookbook section).

For me, writing novels is about using experience and imagination. I don’t tend to watch much news but then again inspiration is everywhere and, as an ex-interrogator, I’ve enough imagination to get me through to the next book.

AM: This proves you can’t invent anything! And you only have to watch the media frenzy – and the level of interest from the public – to see that people love this stuff. So, logically, writers will be drawn to mirror or imagine similar events and possibilities. I know I do. The odd thing is, real events such as the ten Russian spies, and the one where British spies were allegedly filmed at work retrieving material from false rocks in Moscow (I almost bought one once, for hiding a spare key in the garden), seem almost bland compared with spy novels – but then, bland doesn’t work in fiction.

DF: In today’s marketplace there seems to be a great emphasis on the ‘pace’ of a story. Which do you feel is more important – ‘characters’, ‘plot’ or ‘pacing’?

JD: You can’t really have one without the other two and have an interesting book, and they are all intertwined. But in the thriller genre, you clearly have to thrill the reader, and that depends on pace. I think there’s not enough emphasis on it, and on what I would call ‘readability’. I don’t want anyone to struggle at any point in my novels, but to read them as fast as they can turn the pages, preferably with a trickle of cold sweat running down their spine. I think if I can do that, the plot and characters have already done their work – unfettered readability is the hardest thing to pull off.

JJC: Pace! You need well-developed characters and a good plot to get the reader through any novel – that’s a given. But, pace is where we can differ. I deliberately write short chapters – around 1,500 words. I’m writing with a particular market in mind. For a while I spent two hours a day on a train commuting to and from work. I’d be reading a good book and come to the end of a chapter. Before moving on I’d see how many stops and then have a mini-internal debate on whether I could finish the next chapter before getting off the train at my stop. Most times I didn’t turn that page and then lose my rhythm. So, I write for those taking public transport and dare them to turn the page – it’s only 7 pages till your next stop.

Those who have read and liked Australian author Matthew Reilly’s novels would agree that pace is more important than plot and characters.

AM: I think good characters will certainly drive a story, but you need a plot for them to operate within. Otherwise it’s like having great actors but no screenplay. If the plot is one which demands a series of fast-moving events, and the characters are there to match, then pace will follow (if it doesn’t, your editor will soon let you know!)

DF: Do you believe there is an advantage in writing a series with re-occurring characters, rather than writing a stand-alone novel?

AM: Yes, I do – for both author and reader. The author doesn’t have to invent new (main) characters each time, but can develop them as they go along (which is more interesting to do), and the reader can become comfortable in knowing what to expect. We all feel at ease with a ‘favourite’, be it food, sports team, music, TV programme or fictional character – anything. It satisfies our expectations. And there’s nothing quite like opening the next in a favoured series to make us feel at home right from the off.

JD: I guess there are advantages and disadvantages to both. I’m writing a trilogy, so it’s not quite a series. The difficulty of continuing with a character over many books is that they all become slight variations of each other, but of course with stand-alones you have to get the reader interested in new characters each time out. I think if readers enjoy a novel they are often interested in the protagonist, and so will be intrigued by further stories featuring them.

JJC: As long as the writer can continue to have their main character/s evolve, then the series gains fans who love the character/s as well as the writer – Jack Reacher is probably as famous, if not more so, than his creator Lee Child. Do you ever read a stand-alone and wish it was a series because you loved the character/s as well as the writing? I may be a little biased though – I haven’t written a stand-alone novel yet!

DF: Research is always an important part of the preparation and writing of any novel. Do you think this is more important when dealing with espionage related topics?

JD: I don’t think it’s necessarily more important – if you were writing medical thrillers or courtroom dramas you’d need to do your homework as well – but I think it can be a more difficult subject to research, simply because it is based on secret information, and of course deception. If you read a memoir by a defector, for example, you have no idea what their agenda might be – they may be exaggerating their own importance or settling old scores. The book could also have been edited by their new masters to give a certain idea. So it’s a bit of a minefield, I find. Just the other day I discovered that something I had read in several places about Britain’s contingency plans in the event of nuclear war appeared to have been disinformation. I was reading a declassified file that showed this – but, of course, the file was declassified by a government, and might itself have been disinformation, or part of a wider operation designed to deceive.

JJC: It’s a shady world where only trained spies know what spies actually do – relatively small readership (but bigger than you think). If you get it right then someone may be knocking on your door. I’m still covered by our Secrecy Act – forever.

I can’t write about actual situations , methods or techniques unless I find them already posted somewhere on the internet (thank you Mr Internet Founder). Besides, if you spend all of your time researching then when are you going to find the time to write. If you are planning to get published in the fiction section, don’t sweat the details too much – just write. Your editor should let you know if something sounds a little far-fetched.

AM: Just as important as any other. There may be certain limits to what we can find out, unless we have an inside track, for example, but that holds true for almost any subject we care to write about. But again, as we recently discovered, making things up about spies and spying can almost lead us to go too far, if only because the reality is shown to be so ordinary. An area of our research which is difficult is that of the character. We probably have an easy answer as to what makes killers and crooks tick – they’re either greedy or plain nut-jobs (okay – simplistic, I know). But what makes a spy tick? What drives them? And the counter-spies? I think that’s the question which drives the fascination for the genre.

DF: One of the things I have noticed that has changed the most in spy novels over years, is the way in which technology has stripped away the whole ‘investigative’ aspect of a spy story. Is this necessarily a bad thing?

AM: Not really, because spy writers can now use the technology to drive the novel in ways they couldn’t do years ago (mobile phones, computers, eavesdropping methods, data transfer and so forth). Most of us have grown up with gadgets of one sort or another, and providing it doesn’t get too heavily-leaden with them, the use of what we have come to identify as the ordinary (you can buy all this stuff over the counter) brings an element of realism – or what our readers might imagine is real – to the story.

JD: No, I don’t think so. It’s just a different thing. I don’t think stories compete with each other quite in this way. I enjoy the hallmarks of spy fiction written during the Cold War, and a lot of the suspense in those novels comes from situations that would be redundant now: a protagonist needing to find a working public call box, for example, or desperately trying to find a map of a city. But technology creates other forms of suspense – the cell-phone has no signal or a GPS system malfunctions. I suspect the thriller-writers of the early 20th century would feel that new forms of technology stripped away crucial elements of the genre as well, but I think it’s more about finding what is suspenseful, whether you use technology or don’t.

JJC: Technology did strip away the art of HUMINT to some degree. We’ve realised the mistake of relying too heavily on technology in recent times. HUMINT collection assets were ‘gutted’ due to technological advances. We should have realised that technology ‘value adds’ to the art of HUMINT and not there to replace it.

DF: Moving on from technology in the story, to technology in how it’s presented – audiobooks were once considered an aid for the visually impaired, but now with the ‘iPod generation’ whole novels (or series for that matter) are able to be easily transported in someone’s pocket. What’s your opinion on audiobooks?

JD: I have nothing against them, but I don’t listen to them myself, because they seem to take too long. I prefer reading at my own pace, with my own interpretation. But a lot of people like them, and I’m happy to have sold the rights to them!

JJC: Only ever listened to one audiobook, sorry. And, thank you very much Chris Ryan for ensuring I never listen to another. I want to hear my voice and that of the authors’ as I’m reading. We’re slowly moving toward generation ‘lazy’ so maybe the market for audiobooks will increase.

AM: Personally, I find I get too distracted after a while – but that’s just me. I love short audio stories, however, because I can listen to them at the gym for the short time I’m there before I fall off the treadmill or need a lung transplant. Maybe I should apply myself more to audio books (and train for longer). For other people, though, I think they’re great.

DF: Continuing with technology – and as it seems rather topical with many authors at the moment, you probably guessed the next question – What’s your opinion on eBooks and digital downloads?

JD: I think there may be more resistance to them among readers than there was for music, but that before too long there will be an ‘iPod moment’, where it becomes much more mainstream than it is now. A lot of people resisted MP3s because they wanted the cover art for their CDs, the lyrics sheet, and the sound quality. But the sound quality improved, the price of players came down, they could store more music, and I don’t think that many people who use their iPods miss the cover art or lyrics sheets of their CDs any more. I think people love physical books more than they did CDs or cassettes or even vinyl, but I think we are moving in the same sort of direction. Still, I think it’s great that people still love reading.

JJC: Although I haven’t got an e-reader yet – I will soon. My book collection is just huge and I’d love to have them all stored on an e-reader, especially for travelling. Kinda makes it hard for an author to do book signings for an e-publication (although I did sign the back of and iPad at ThrillerFest).

AM: I’m absolutely all for it, but with one proviso: authors shouldn’t lose out. Whatever exposure we can get is great, and all the channels we have now can only help increase our audience. But we’re in the early days and there are some potential problems if publishers don’t play fair. A digital novel is the same content as a paper one – but the delivery is not. It’s not as expensive, it doesn’t need storing in a warehouse, and can be delivered without a truck and driver. Sure there will be initial costs for publishers, but these will come down rapidly as the audience grows and the delivery platforms increase.

DF: As a genre, do you think that spy novels and old fashioned thrillers are being squeezed out of the market place by Vampires, Witches and Wizards?

AM: Not at all. Nudged slightly to one side, maybe, in air-time, market coverage and advertising, but not for long. There are already signs that some readers are turning off wizards and vamps, and going for zombies and other creatures instead. But like all trends, they come and go. Not everyone likes spy novels… but there always has been a hard core of readers out there who do. The fact is, when spy novels seemed out of favour a while back, we found other characters and scenarios which were similar enough to suit us just fine. (I use to love westerns – Louis L’Amour, Zane Grey, etc – because to me, they were simply sleuths or spies on horseback).

JD: I think the market is big enough for us all. Vampires are the big thing at the moment, but plenty of people still enjoy this type of thriller. Dan Brown is writing conspiracy thrillers, after all. I think people love a good story, no matter the genre.

JJC: No. As long as something is dragging the punters in the bookstore, than eventually someone will find my lone copy in there. The more books that sell regardless of genre, the better off all of us are in terms of writers and readers alike.

DF: What are you reading right now? Are there any authors (living or dead) that you would name as influences?

JD: At the moment I’m reading a lot of research for my third novel, but I just finished Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I’m influenced by a lot of writers, but Len Deighton and Elleston Trevor are perhaps the biggest.

JJC: Lisa Unger’s latest, Fragile. I was fortunate enough to receive an advance copy. She is such a talented writer and great person – brilliant book. Do yourself a favour and grab a copy when they hit the shelves.

I would say both Lisa and Lee Child have been an influence in my writing. I love their work and was fortunate to have both read and blurb for my debut novel. Now that’s a thrill!

AM: My earliest influence was Leslie Charteris, followed by the American harder core writers such as Hank Janson, Mickey Spillane and so forth. But I always loved the spy genre, from John Buchan through Berkely Mather to the modern day. Oddly enough, I never got to grips much with Ian Fleming for some reason (although I’m a firm Bond film fan), but preferred John Gardner, Peter O’Donell, Gavin Lyall and Adam Diment.

I’m just reading Bolt Action by Charlie Charters. More to do with terrorism than spies, but it’s all in the same ballpark for me – and it’s a very good read.

Book Covers

DF: What was the book that most influenced your life — and why?

JD: That’s a tough question! I think it might be The Quiller Memorandum by Adam Hall, which was one of Elleston Trevor’s pseudonyms. I picked it up in a second-hand bookshop in Antwerp about ten years ago. I’d read some spy fiction before, and liked it, but that book gripped me. I started buying up the rest of the series, and was stunned by how good they were. They started me thinking I would like to try my hand at writing a spy thriller myself, and seeing as I am now doing that for a living, I think it’s fair to say it influenced my life in a very big way.

JJC: Hope this doesn’t come across as ‘too’ egotistical, but my first novel, The Interrogator is the book that has most influenced my life. It was all about the journey. I didn’t intend to get an agent or get published when I sat down and typed the first words. The book was purely for me and the learning process was steep, yet fulfilling.

AM: I wish I could give you one title – but I can’t. There have been so many, all of which made me think ‘I want to be a writer’. And as a writer, you can’t ask for a better life influence than that.

DF: Gentlemen, I want to thank you very much for your time. It’s been an absolute pleasure putting this panel together, and hearing your insightful and varied thoughts on spy fiction. I wish you every success with your novels, and I am eagerly looking forward to reading your books – as I am sure many other readers are too.

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Deadly TrustJJ Cooper is an Australia writer who spent seventeen years in the Australian Army. He spent two tours of duty in East Timor and one tour in the Middle East in 2003. Since leaving the military he has spent his time writing.

JJ Cooper is happily married, with 3 children, two boys and a girl. With his passion for writing he enjoys every moment spent at home writing, surrounded by the people he loves.

Deadly Trust was published on the 2nd August by Bantam. It is available from Random House and QBD.

The Interrogator is now also available in the US from

Jeremy Duns was born in 1973 and grew up mainly in Africa and Asia. He read English literature at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford, after which he worked as a journalist in Brussels for seven years. Free Agent was a Daily Telegraph Thriller of the Year 2009, and has been praised by William Boyd, Eric Van Lustbader, Gayle Lynds, Charles Cumming, Jeff Abbott, David Morrell and Christopher Reich.

Free Country was published on the 5th August by Simon & Schuster. It is available from Amazon UK.

Jeremy’s first book Free Agent was released in paperback in the US last month. It is available from

Red StationAdrian Magson is a freelance writer and lives in England. The author of five books in the Riley Gavin/Frank Palmer series, he has recently completed two new books which are the start of two new series: ‘Red Station’ is the first in a contemporary spy series featuring Harry Tate, an MI5 officer. ‘Death on the Marais’  is the first in the Inspector Lucas Rocco series set in France in the 60s.

Red Station will be published on the 26th August by Severn House Publishers Ltd. It is available for pre-order from Amazon UK.

The Guns of August

The Interrogator

Author: JJ Cooper
Publisher: Bantam
Release Year: 2009

I am a consumer and certainly not an expert on marketing by any stretch of the imagination. I do not know why ‘something’ sells, and why other things don’t. Therefore take my following comments with a grain of salt because I am not in a position to comment in an informative manner. However, when I look at the cover of JJ Cooper’s The Interrogator, I see a high-tech thriller in the vein of Chris Ryan or Andy NcNabb. The truth however, is that The Interrogator is actually a throwback to the sixties or earlier. At the risk of using a lazy comparison, at times The Interrogator reminded me of vintage Spillane – and not his Tiger Mann spy stuff, but the Mike Hammer books. And to me this is a great thing. I love hardboiled noir – Chandler, Spillane, Hammet – even Peter Corris. This story, while very definitely being a spy story,  has the type of characters who would inhabit a noir novel. But it puzzles me somewhat in the way this book was marketed – or more specifically, why this particular cover design was chosen. There are no characters running around with semi-automatic rifles – nor are there people rappelling from helicopters. The cover dumbs down the story. It is actually a very good labyrinthine thriller.

JJ Cooper
Author: JJ Cooper

I guess playing up the military aspect reflects more on author JJ Cooper than the content of the book. Cooper spent seventeen years in the Australian Army, at times as a member of the Australian Army Intelligence Corps.

The story starts with Jay Ryan, the Australian Army’s highest ranked interrogator in an interrogation room at a training base hidden away in the forests of the Gold Coast hinterland. But Ryan isn’t doing the interrogating. He is being interrogated. Brutally interrogated. He is wearing black-out goggles, handcuffs  as is tethered to a metal chair. He has been badly beaten and remembers very little about the night before. Standing before Ryan is a fellow interrogator named Primrose – and his interrogation methods are not quite ‘by the book’. He is savagely assaulting a fellow officer while his wife Catherine watches on.

You see, Ryan had an affair with Catherine, and now it is payback time for Primrose. In fact it goes a little deeper than that. Primrose wants more that a measure of vengeance, he wants Ryan to assist him in some shady dealings. Naturally Ryan doesn’t want to help, but Primrose was a few bargaining chips hidden up his sleeve. The first is video footage of Ryan with Catherine – which looks more like a rape than a consensual affair (a little bit of role playing in the bedroom – Catherine likes it rough!) Primrose threatens to release the footage to the police. His other bargaining chip is that he has kidnapped Ryan’s father, and if Ryan does complete the tasks requested of him, he’ll never see his father alive again.

Meanwhile in Canberra, SIS Agent Sarah Evans is interrogating a criminal named Lazarau who has been arrested for selling stolen military secrets. Her investigation yeilds one lead – Lazarau names Jay Ryan as a contact. From there, Sarah relocates her investigation to Queensland where she intends to ‘interrogate the interrogator’. Naturally she gets more than she bargained for.

I won’t say much more than that because I don’t want to give too much away in my synopsis, as it will only ruin the story for others. Also due to the twists and turns, it is almost impossible to strip down an overview to a few simple paragraphs and do the story justice. Needless to say, it is a wild ride.

I must admit, when the chase begins in the story, I like the premise of the main character being an interrogator. It gives the story a certain dose of reality that many spy stories lack. Think about it; most spy stories are about obtaining information of some kind, and who better to get it than a man who specialises in extracting information from people who are unwilling to divulge their secrets.

Another aspect of this book that I like is that it is Australian and also set in Australia – the beauty though, is that it does not slap you in the face with famous tourist attractions and landmarks as a backdrop – there’s no Harbour Bridge, Opera House or even the Big Pineapple. The settings are believable. The story could be set anywhere, and still pack the same punch.

From JJ Cooper’s website:


According to Greek Mythology, Aphrodite had a wayward eye and a loyal son. When Eros gave Harpocrates a rose to keep quiet about his mother’s little indiscretions, the rose became a symbol for secrecy. This is a story Jay Ryan has never heard — until his hand is nailed to a table and a red rose tattooed onto his wrist.

Jay is an interrogator with a dark past and a tortured soul; he’s also the keeper of secrets Israeli spies will kill to get their hands upon. Renowned for his skills, he is used to commanding a certain level of respect amongst his peers. Then one day Jay is drugged, tortured, tattooed and accused of rape. He is forced to reveal information that could further destabilise fragile Middle East relations and plunge the entire region into war. They are secrets he has struggled to keep hidden for four years — proof that the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ knew Israeli Mossad agents removed chemical weapons from Iraq before the launch of the 2003 invasion.

After escaping his captors, Jay discovers that he is wanted for crimes he didn’t commit and that his father has been kidnapped by his own intelligence agency. No-nonsense secret agent Sarah Evans and lively retired security guard William ‘Bill’ Hunter join Jay on a quest to get his father back alive and avoid Israeli spies hell-bent on eliminating them all. Together they uncover the truth behind two spy agencies playing a high-stakes game of espionage with a ‘winner take all’ mindset. After Sarah goes missing, Jay must choose between hunting his father’s kidnappers or saving Sarah and exposing Israel’s involvement in the removal of chemical weapons from Iraq.

THE INTERROGATOR is a story of betrayal and nightmarish conspiracy firmly rooted in the highest levels of government across international alliances. The story rockets toward a shattering finale that will leave the survivors changed forever. Thriller fans will enjoy the colourful characters, twisting, turning plots and fast action. The authentic military details gives the story a chillingly real context, drawing the reader into Jay’s world and not letting us go until the very end.

Like so many people, when shopping for books (particularly new books), I like to know what I am going to get. I want value for money – don’t we all! Therefore at times I can be reticent to try out a new author. The problem with that though, is then I’d miss out on a lot of good fiction. JJ Cooper would be a case in point…as a debut author he hasn’t got ‘brand recognition’ like the big authors, but The Interrogator is a bloody good read. I recommend it highly and am eagerly waiting Jay Ryan’s next adventure.

The Interrogator