While I doubt I’ll ever be the writer they were, I do share a similarity with the likes of Jack London, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Karl Marx, Truman Capote and numerous others. No, I am not dead, at least not yet, but they too had an unfinished novel. So I guess I am in good company.
Like most journalists, I have the opening chapters of a novel or two in my bottom drawer.
The trouble, however, is … well I don’t know what the trouble is apart from them being yet-to-be-finished novels. I’m not sure if it’s writer’s block, or a fear of actually writing, or just simply that, for some other obscure reason, they remain unfinished.
Maybe I’ll get one, if not both, finished before the Night Editor eventually puts me to bed.
Better still, perhaps some insightful Hollywood agent will sweep up the ideas and buy them from me for a handsome sum or someone insightful newspaper editor might just decide to begin a serialization of one or both.
Set chiefly in Australia in the mid-nineties, the first – The Marburg Conspiracy – revolves around a jaded reporter uncovering a plan to restart the Cold War (if not another real war) using a ‘manufactured’ Marburg Virus.
The second, The Bankers, occurs in a fictional city, NoNamen, an amalgam of those cities in which I have lived, visited, or worked.
The Marburg Conspiracy
The book began life in the late 1980s while I was a bureau chief in Canberra, Australia, for a group of agriculturally focussed newspapers. For no apparent reason, other than it must have been a slow news day, I began flicking through a book – What book? I don’t remember – sitting nonchalantly among numerous agricultural tomes on the bureau’s bookshelf.
Skimming aimlessly, I came upon a section about various viral haemorrhagic fevers for which there was no known cure. Among them were the (today) obvious Ebola Virus and another called Marburg.
I don’t recall what it was about the Marburg Virus that sparked my imagination, my fascination, but by linking some information of other events I began playing ‘What if…?’
These events included (but were not limited to):
- fishermen (allegedly) spotting wild monkeys on a remote island off Australia’s Northern Territory coast (and despite my memory of reading about it in either the NT News or the Centralian Advocate I have since been unable to find any reference to the news story),
- the impending end of the Cold War with several, mostly peaceful revolutions in 1989 overthrowing Communist regimes in Central and Eastern Europe culminating in the fall of the Berlin Wall, (and much later, in December, 1991 the collapse of the Soviet Union),
- the inevitable shift in resources from military to industrial espionage that would undoubtedly (and did) occur if, and when, the Cold War ended, and
- the ‘Stone Man’ killings in India during the late eighties.
Each of these melded into helping answer my ‘what if’ which turned around the idea what might happen, and how might it be implemented, if a group of once opposing agents (spies) sought to restart the Cold War. From this, The Marburg Conspiracy was born; only to be put into continual hiatus as differing events interrupted my professional and personal lives.
Australia was an ideal setting. Not only did it have an immensely under-reported international espionage connection through numerous joint US or British facilities it also housed several BLS4 (Biosecurity Level 4) or PC4 (Physical Containment 4) laboratories, including the Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) in Geelong, Victoria. Their presence, along with their remoteness and the inaccessibility of much of Australia’s interior, coupled with outback airstrips built as part of its defences against a WWII Japanese invasion, provided a geographical and political landscape that endeared itself to harbouring such a threat.
At the time, I was somewhat enthralled by the late Tom Clancy’s techno-thrillers. I figured that for my work to have any credibility it needed to be well researched. Yet, after considerable research and at the time I started putting the book together (although I have still only written four chapters in all these years) I was put off to some degree by the release of Richard Preston’s 1994 non-fictional work The Hot Zone, and of the 1995 Dustin Hoffman movie, Outbreak.
My thoughts were, if published, some would consider I was trying to cash in on proven successes. I was not ‘copycatting’ but I figured some – perhaps many – would see it that way. I figured a similar response would be forthcoming from potential editors/publishers.
Now, with the current Ebola crisis, and with confirmation of a Marburg outbreak, including at least one death, in Uganda, the story is being revisited.
“It is only when you stop chasing your dreams that you have given up. And believe me my dreaming is not yet over.” With those words settling in his ears, the banker died – frog tied atop a red, 1950’s Formica table edged with aged, pitted aluminium astride chromed steel legs – face down with a three-foot length of two-inch steel pipe buried deep in his rectum. The killer left, satisfied.
So opens The Bankers, a murder thriller aimed at discerning readers who understand a story takes time to unfold, that murders are not solved in the blink of an eye.
The book sprung from what was to be a short story but it just kept on keeping on. I found myself becoming quite engrossed in putting the plot together as I went; no outline, just recognition of where it ‘might’ end up. After all, while not as unpopular as car salesmen, bankers do not sit well in the trust equity stakes among the general public so it is not inconceivable someone might just want to kill a banker or two, or three, or …. Hence, the story rose from what might happen if a client or a close associate became so disgruntled by the result of advice given that they sought recompense in a manner most would consider beyond the damage done.
The story engulfing the two detectives – DCI Michaels and his younger, female cohort, Gratton – investigating what they believe is a gruesome, but nonetheless one-off killing becomes a battle of cunning as they chase their fox, but miss another, more malevolent , more sinister animal. Their killer is merciless, calculating. How many will find their lives wiped from life’s ledger before the police make connections?