Guest Post: Spooks and Things by Bernard Besson

Author Bernard Besson

Author Bernard Besson

The Greenland Breach cover image

The Greenland Breach cover image

Today’s guest poster, Bernard Besson, has had a long career in French intelligence and law enforcement. He is a former chief of staff of the French FBI, was involved in dismantling Soviet spy rings in France and Western Europe at the fall of the Soviet Union, and is one of the country’s top specialists in economic intelligence. He is also a prize-winning thriller writer—eight of his novels have been published in French. His latest, The Greenland Breach, is a spy novel set on a backdrop of global warming and was just published by Le French Book. Here he talks to use about what this book means to him and how he writes.

Why did you start writing thrillers?

I got inspired to write my first thriller when I was at the DST, which is French counter-espionage, or the equivalent of the FBI. I was very lucky to be working during the fall of communism and the Soviet Union and learned how networks of Russian, Bulgarian, Polish, Czech and Romanian spies worked with their allies in France.

Where did the idea for The Greenland Breach come from?

The Greenland Breach is my first eco-thriller. It was the debate among scientists in France that led me to write this novel. They do not all agree on the causes of global warming.

The most prosperous nations are those that are able to understand and anticipate economic changes and well as natural changes. In The Greenland Breach we have both. It was very tempting to tell a story that recounted this reality. Fiction makes it possible to tell more truth than an academic work filled with numbers and statistics.

And I like to write about things that question or concern me. This book is about climate change and its political and economic consequences.  Greenland and the North Pole hold immense mining, maritime and agricultural opportunities. These will belong to those who will know how to discover them, as long as they have a strategy. The battle for the Arctic has already begun. It opposes Canada, Europe, the United States and Russia. The intelligence services of those countries are mobilized. And European and American businesses that have complicated relationships with the intelligence services—which can be both entertaining and dramatic.

What does this book mean for you?

For me, this book was an opportunity to pay homage to the men and women who work in intelligence, with whom I worked for a long time. It is not enough to collect information by satellite and intercept emails and telephone communications around the planet. You need to know what to do with it. It is not the information that counts, but asking the right questions. Intelligence, courage and an ability to adapt to the unforeseen are qualities that are just as important as the technology you use. I also show in The Greenland Breach that spying is only interesting if the political and economic leaders know what they want, and want it for a long time.

James Bond and Jason Bourne always seem to have firearms at hand. What’s the real story?

Ninety-five per cent of an intelligence officer’s assignments consist of gathering information and verifying it. Computers and software, along with general knowledge and conversational skills are more useful in this area than guns. Fortunately, I have never in my career used a weapon or killed anyone. I am happy about that. My characters don’t do it much either, or at least not with the usual kind of weapons. In The Greenland Breach, John Spencer Larivière handles the bad guy with a screwdriver, and Victoire Augagneur downs an adversary with a broken windowpane.

How would you characterize espionage today?

Today, keeping things top secret is less important than being quick to think and to gather information. One of the key battlegrounds is business, and both countries and multinational corporations are fighting for key strategic knowledge they hope to be the first to use. In my novel The Greenland Breach, my heroes are little-known actors in this economic war for the future. Those with the best information will win the battle. The blood splattered on Greenland’s ice cap belongs to shadow fighters, mercenaries fighting battles we don’t learn about on the evening news.

The Greenland Breach is published on 30th October 2013.

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CTG Reviews: Wicked Game by Adam Chase

Wicked Game cover image

Wicked Game cover image

What the blurb says: “Joshua Thane, aka Hex, is a freelance assassin. His next target is Dr Mary Wilding, a British microbiologist suspected of trading secrets. Breaking into her house, he discovers someone has beaten him to it – she’s already dead. The portable hard drive he’s ordered to steal is also missing.

About to flee the scene, Hex comes face-to-face with Wilding’s teenage son. According to normal rules of engagement, Hex should kill the boy to protect his own identity and professional reputation, but turbulent memories from his past trigger a crisis of conscience.

Bewildered by his actions, Hex allows the boy to live and flees; yet his nightmare has barely begun. With his own life under threat for apparently botching the job, he embarks on an international quest to find the real killer and redeem his soul. Using his old contacts, including crime boss Billy Squeeze, he unravels a criminal conspiracy to develop and detonate an ethnically specific biological weapon. Rogue state, terrorist, or organised crime, whoever has the information, holds the power to deal to the highest bidder. And the British security services want it back …”

An experienced and respected assassin, Hex finds himself facing a very different problem and playing a very different role to his usual ‘MO’. Taking up the mantle of investigator, Hex uses his underworld contacts to find information, and forms an uneasy alliance with MI5’s dynamic agent Inger McCallen.

The story twists and turns as Hex uncovers the terrifying capabilities of Dr Wilding’s research, and begins to unravel the web of dangerous people that surround it as it becomes the most sought after weapon on the market.

While Hex’s profession as a freelance assassin doesn’t immediately endear him to the reader, he certainly makes for an interesting and complex character. He’s straight talking, action orientated, and full of determination. As the story progresses, and Hex puts himself on the line in order to recover the lethal bioweapon, I found him increasingly empathetic.

This fast moving spy thriller cranks up the pace to rocket speed in the final third of the book. The first novel in the new ‘Hex’ series, Wicked Game is sure to be enjoyed by fans and newbies to the genre alike. Definitely one to watch.


CTG Reviews: City of Dreadful Night by Peter Guttridge

cover image

cover image

What the blurb says: “July 1934. A woman’s torso is found in a trunk at Brighton railway station’s left luggage office. Her legs and feet are found in a suitcase at King’s Cross. Her head is never found, her identity never established, her killer never caught. But someone is keeping a diary. July 2009. A massacre in Milldean, Brighton’s notorious no-go area. An armed police operation gone badly wrong. As the rioting begins, highflying Chief Constable Robert Watts makes a decision that will cost him his career. Meanwhile, with the aid of newly discovered police files, ambitious young radio journalist Kate Simpson hopes to solve the notorious Brighton Trunk Murder of 1934, and enlists the help of ex-Chief Constable Robert Watts. But it’s only a matter of time before past and present collide …”

I love a good puzzle, and that’s exactly what this first book in Peter Guttridge’s Brighton series gives you. Twice over.

The mysterious cold case of the Brighton Trunk Murderer (an actual case) is twistingly intertwined with the investigation of the modern day Milldean shooting case. And both are giving Robert Watts a headache.

An excellent investigator, Watts loses his job as Chief Constable in the political fallout from an armed police raid gone bad. With his marriage falling apart, and the job he lived for gone, he’s at a loss of what to do. So when Kate Simpson, a young radio journalist and the daughter of an old friend, asks him for his help he agrees.

But Kate’s not the only one seeking his help. When Sarah Gilchrist, a member of the ill-fated armed operation, returns to work she can’t let the unanswered questions about what really happened go unanswered any longer. As she digs deeper it seems that the bungled raid wasn’t quite the accident it first appeared. That’s when she decides to call on Watts.

As Watts gets drawn into both cases he discovers links to people he knows and implications that have affected him, and his career, without his knowledge. But someone isn’t happy that their secrets are being uncovered, and as more police officers from the raid turn up dead, and threats to Watts, Kate, Sarah and those helping them are made, it seems both the cases are anything but cold.

This isn’t your average police procedural. The quirky narrative style, fresh characters and witty observations kept me turning the pages, keen to find out where Watts, Kate and Sarah’s rather unusual and distinctly unofficial investigations would lead them.

An intriguing journey through the darker side of Brighton, and a great introduction to a new series – I’ve already bought the next book ‘The Last King of Brighton’.



[With thanks to Peter Guttridge for my copy of the book]

Review: CROSS and BURN by Val McDermid


What the blurb says: “Tony and Carol are facing the biggest challenge of their professional lives: how to live without each other. No one has seen Carol in three months, and the police brass no longer need Tony’s services. Even worse, both hold Tony responsible for the bloody havoc their last case wreaked on Carol’s life and family, and Carol has sworn she’ll never speak to Tony again. But just because Tony and Carol’s relationship is finished doesn’t mean that the killing is: a body has been discovered in an abandoned flat inhabited by squatters. Paula McIntyre, the number two detective investigating, is struggling to adapt to her new job and new boss who is emphatically not Carol. As connections to other missing or dead women emerge, a horrifying pattern becomes clear: someone is killing women, all of whom bear a striking resemblance to Carol Jordan. And when the evidence begins to point in a disturbing and unexpected direction, thinking the unthinkable seems the only possible answer.”

At the start of this book police detective Carol Jordan and clinical psychologist Tony Hill are not in a good place. Carol is broken. She’s turned her back on her career and her friends and thrown herself into a restoration project. Blamed by Carol for her brother’s death, Tony is guilt-ridden and lost. He’s buried himself in his work and his living alone. The rest of the MIT have moved on, but things just aren’t the same in their new roles. But when Paula McIntyre, ex MIT and now newly appointed bagman to DCI Fielding, gets a call that puts her on a case to challenge both her skills and her loyalties she knows that she’ll need the help of her old colleagues to make sure justice is done.

As you’d expect from Val McDermid the story is beautifully crafted, and although the book is focused around a murder case,  it is the relationships between the characters that make it such compelling reading. The characters feel utterly real: smart, flawed, passionate, withdrawn, searching, misguided, determined. The relationships that bound them together at MIT and made the team so strong have drifted, but to solve the case Paula has to reconnect them. It’s not easy, but as she juggles the pressures of working a tough case under a new boss, the changed dynamic in her personal life of a teenage boy to look after with her partner, Elinor, and gradually draws in input from her MIT colleagues it seems that they’re getting closer to the killer. Then the forensic evidence points in a direction none of them would ever have expected.

With her new DCI unable to see past the forensics, Paula draws on the skills of her ex MIT colleagues – Carol, Tony, Stacey to name a few – to investigate an alternative line of enquiry. She’s treading a dangerous path, one false move and her career will be over. But some things are more important – justice, both for the victims and for the wrongfully accused. But as another woman goes missing, can Paula find the real killer and save his latest victim before it’s too late?

Luckily Paula isn’t alone. As Carol’s strong sense of justice, and her determination to see it brought, gradually bring her back into the environment she’d left behind. But the question remains: will Carol and Tony’s relationship ever recover?

Utterly compelling and unputdownable.

Highly recommended.

[With thanks to Grove Atlantic for my copy of CROSS and BURN]

Guest Review: The Bat by Jo Nesbo


Today’s guest reviewer, Sally Fallon, talks about her most recent book club read – Jo Nesbo’s The Bat.

What the blurb says:

HARRY IS OUT OF HIS DEPTH. Detective Harry Hole is meant to keep out of trouble. A young Norwegian girl taking a gap year in Sydney has been murdered, and Harry has been sent to Australia to assist in any way he can.

HE’S NOT SUPPOSED TO GET TOO INVOLVED. When the team unearths a string of unsolved murders and disappearances, nothing will stop Harry from finding out the truth. The hunt for a serial killer is on, but the murderer will talk only to Harry.


First published in Norway in 1997 but only recently translated into English, fans of Jo Nesbo’s books may find this first Harry Hole novel slightly slower paced than his others.  Since the success of The Snowman stormed the UK in 2010, and subsequent best sellers, fans will see how Jo Nesbo’s writing has progressed since this debut novel.

It introduces Harry to the reader and gives some background to his heavy drinking character.  The novel blends a pacy thriller with “aboriginal stories” however, for me, there is a lack of the subtlety which appears in his later novels.

Harry arrives in Australia to investigate the murder of a Norwegian girl, Inger Holter.  It becomes clear that Inger’s death is just one of many young, blonde women scattered along the eastern seaboard.  It retains the usual Nesbo plot elements and keeps you reading.  The second Harry Hole book (The Cockroaches) will be UK published in November.


EDEN by Dean Crawford

EDEN cover image

EDEN cover image

What the blurb says: “If the world feel apart overnight, what would you do to protect your family? When a horrific natural disaster causes the collapse of civilisation and strands Cody Ryan deep inside the Arctic Circle, he is forced to embark upon an impossible journey. Thousands of miles from home in a brutal new world where only the strongest will survive, Cody and his companions must conquer seemingly insurmountable odds in  a search for their loved ones, the limits of their own humanity and the rumoured last refuge of mankind … Eden.”

Be warned. This isn’t a book for the faint-hearted.

Cody Ryan, a family man with a dark secret, takes a last minute job to fill in for an injured team member on a scheduled research expedition to the Arctic Circle. What he doesn’t know is that the team have been put together not only for the advertised research into the Arctic environment, but also to ensure a clash of personalities for a secondary covert research mission investigating the effect of isolated environments on teams as preparation for future landings on Mars.

In the first part of the book the team struggle to acclimatise in the remote and unforgiving Arctic conditions. When the team leader suspects that the secret Cody is trying to keep hidden involves a murder, tension comes to a head between the two.  This, combined with the team fracturing into two groups and the rising distrust, and dislike, amongst team members adds to the conflict.

But when all personnel on the Army base nearby evacuate their posts without warning, the story takes an even more dramatic turn. Following a solar storm, the team are left with no means of communication, dwindling supplies and injured team members. With little choice they decide to battle the elements to get out of the Arctic and reunite with their families. It’s only when they make contact with a ship that they realise the full impact of the situation, and at this point the story turns into a true post-apocalyptic thriller.

As the story takes on a global scale, each of the characters is forced to consider just how far they are willing to abandon their values, and their humanity, in order to get home. With echos of the social disintegration issues explored in The Road, LOST and The Walking Dead, the answer certainly isn’t always pleasant, but it does make for some gripping reading.

Personally, and as someone who hasn’t read a great deal of post-apocalyptic thrillers, I found it a little difficult to suspend disbelief at times (I won’t say why, no spoilers here!) but I still wanted to keep reading. The epic nature of the story reminded me of films like The Day After Tomorrow and the fabulous techno-thrillers of the late Michael Crichton.

A vivid, thought provoking and page-turner of a read.


[with thanks to Dean Crawford for my Kindle copy of EDEN]