The Danakil Deception

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My latest spy thriller, THE DANAKIL DECEPTION, has just been released by Pro Se Productions, and I have got to say I am really happy to be part of the Pro Se family. On the surface, as Pro Se is highly regarded as a publisher of New Pulp tales, it may seem an odd fit. But I beg to differ – Pro Se has a healthy selection of espionage themed books – and more importantly a philosophy that is similar to my own. Before I go any further, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good thriller grounded in the here and now, and that holds a mirror to the reality of every day living. But I must confess I love a good story that drags me away from the everyday – escapist fare that takes me away from the mundane troubles and stresses of modern life, and that is what Pro Se specialises in. You don’t have to be a spy fan to be caught up in the adventures of the Rook, Thunder Jim Wade, or the Silver Manticore.

But, of course, if you’re reading this, you probably know me as a ‘spy guy’. And that’s a hat I am happy to wear. But if you combine ‘spy’ with fast paced ‘pulp adventure’ then you’ll really appreciate where I am coming from, and that’s what THE DANAKIL DECEPTION is all about.

So what is this Danakil thing I keep talking about? It’s an area in north eastern Ethiopia called the Danakil Depression. As a boy (and still as an adult), one of the many aspects I loved about a good spy story was the globetrotting. I was enthralled as I discovered cities, countries and cultures much different to my own. When i decided to write a series of spy novels, in the same spirit, I knew I had to take readers to locations that they had never been before – hence the Danakil Depression.

It’s an area of the world that is off the tourist trail. I read that it has about 70 visitors per year. It is also the hottest place on earth, with temperatures soaring up to 60 degrees C in summer. Then there’s the volcanic landscape, a virtual kaleidoscope of colour, pockmarked with salt plains and sulphurous acid pools. Sort of like a snake-bit version of Monument Valley.

So this Danakil thing – it’s a part of the world that is seldom seen, and it’s the primary location in my latest espionage thriller.

THE DANAKIL DECEPTION is the first of six full length adventures featuring agent, Jarvis Love. This story sees him young and at the beginning of his career. He makes mistakes and has to fight to make things right. And that’s one of the key elements to the series – Love’s a fighter. Many a time he finds his back to the wall, but he refuses to give in, fighting tooth and nail to stay in the game.

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Mata Hari Postcard of the Week

Mata Hari 7

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Mata Hari Postcard of the Week

Mata Hari 6

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Mat Hari Postcard of the Week

Mata Hari 5

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The Salzburg Connection (1972)

SalzburgDirector: Lee H. Katzin
Starring: Barry Newman, Anna Karina, Klaus-Maria Brandauer, Karen Jensen, Joe Maross, Wolfgang Preiss, Udo Kier
Music: Bronislaw Kaper
Based of the novel by Helen MacInnes

If Agatha Christie is the queen of mystery, then surely Helen MacInnes is the queen of espionage stories. The Salzburg Connection is based on her novel of the same name.

The film begins with a photographer named Bryant developing shots of Lake Finstersee, then cleverly cuts to him erupting out of the water in a wet suit. In his hand he has a rope. At the other end of the rope is a heavy iron chest. He drags the chest to shore and places it in a knapsack. What he doesn’t realise is that he is being watched by two men hidden in an old World War II Nazi bunker on the opposite shore. As he turns, he catches a sunlight glint from the telescope lens – and realises he is in trouble. He quickly runs off with his haul. But it isn’t long before two men catch up with him (however, by this stage he has hidden the chest). The two men question him about the trunk, but Bryant refuses to talk. Then things get rough. Bryant is kicked backward and his head strikes a rock killing him.

The story moves to the city of Salzburg, and focuses on William Mathison (Barry Newman), a lawyer for New York publishing company, Newhart and Morris. He is walking through the streets as the church bells play. Little does he know he is being followed. He goes to Bryant’s photographic store seeking him. Bryant (as you’re aware) is not there. His wife, Anna (Anna Karina) is holding the fort with her brother, Johann (Klaus-Maria Brandauer).

Mathison explains that he is working for Newhart and Morris, and something peculiar is going on. It appears that Bryant received an advance for a photographic book about the Austrian Lakes – but the publishers have never heard of him, and did not pay the advance. Mathison, who was holidaying in Switzerland at the time, was asked if he could look into the matter. Something rather fishy is going on.

But if the publishers didn’t pay Bryant to take photos of the lake, who did? Mathison and Anna become the innocent pawns fighting, not only for their lives, but to understand what is going on around them as multiple factions all compete to acquire the chest (and the contents within).

The film starts of quite lively enough and serves up quite a few good suspenseful sequences, most notably, on a chair lift and a rather unusual car chase, after Anna had been kidnapped. But, and it’s quite deliberate on the film-makers part, the characters are ill-defined and their allegiances are never explained. This way the viewer does not know who is good or who is bad (and this is very much a film where no-one is exactly who they seem). The problem, however, with this approach, it makes it very hard to sympathize with any of the characters – and therefore care about their fate.

The Salzburg Connection is not a stinker. It is watchable, but at the end of the film, if you can explain who was working for who, then you’ve done better than me.

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The Shot

ShotAuthor: Jason Norton
Publisher: Pro Se Productions
Published: July 2014

The Shot is another short sharp tale from the Pro Se Single Shot series – being eBook tales that can be easily read on a Kindle (or eReader) while commuting, or loitering in a waiting room. And best of all they only cost .99c (or around AU $1.07).

As the story is short, I won’t detail the plot, however as a lazy comparison, The Shot is sort of like Rocky IV crossed with an episode of the Twilight Zone. I must admit I didn’t see the twist coming. Good fun. I wish it had gone a bit longer.

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Mata Hari Postcard of the Week

Mata Hari 4

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Codename Orchid

Author: Lance Stahlberg
Publisher: Pro Se Productions
Published: August 2014

The Single Shot series from Pro Se Productions are rapid fire tales that can be read in one or two sittings (and cost only .99c). The key words here are ‘rapid fire’ – as Codename Orchid is a tightly written, fast-paced, high-tech thriller that doesn’t let up till the end.

The story, about a young woman named Regina Cross is split into two narrative strands that meet at the end. The first strand concerns Regina, a young college student, who discovers she is a KGB sleeper agent. The second strand follows Regina – codenamed ‘Orchid’ – as she undertakes a mission to stop weapons grade uranium from falling into enemy hands.

Fans of the television series, Alias – or the film Salt will love this. Sign me up for more Regina Cross spy adventures. Highly recommended.

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Throwback Thursday

Throwback 6

I am going back a bit this week, for Throwback Thursday. This photo would have been snapped in 1987. This was a throwaway moment during a photoshoot while I was at college. I was playing hobo living under the Bendigo underpass. Most of the shots were dark and deliberately underexposed to give them a grainy dirty look – very little shadow or highlight. What you can’t see is that my face was smeared with dirt and all the empty beer and spirit bottles at my feet. If I remember correctly, Marcel was behind the camera on that day. I am an absolutely dreadful actor and the assignment was a bit of a flop.


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Fight Card: Push

PUSH 1This month’s Fight Card release comes from Nathan Walpow, author of the popular Joe Portugal mystery series ( Fight Card: Push takes us behind the scenes and behind the hoopla of the world of professional wrestling. Here’s the promo spiel.

You’re a ‘jobber’. You make your living by losing in the wrestling ring. You’re a good wrestler, but promoters don’t think you have what it takes to become a superstar. Then Thumper shows up. Big and strong, with a bunny-rabbit gimmick and fans eating out of his hand. His finishing move is called The Thump, and most guys don’t get up from it on their own.

One night, Thumper puts his opponent in the hospital. Not a big deal. Sure, the outcome of a wrestling match is fake. But the ‘bumps’ in the ring can be all too real. Sometimes you get hurt. Part of the territory.

Then it happens again. Only this time, the guy who got ‘thumped’ is tossed into a car like a sack of potatoes. Lou Boone, the promoter who runs Central States Wrestling with an iron fist, knows you saw something and offers you a ‘push’ if you keep your mouth shut.

A push. Every jobber’s dream. To get to win some matches, to get to be on the big cards in the big arenas. You want it more than anything. You begin thinking you imagined the sack-of-potatoes guy – until it happens again.

Now, you have to choose between wrestling fame and doing the right thing. Before this is over, someone else will be dead. And you don’t want it to be you…

Fight Card: Push is based on the short story “Push Comes to Shove,” selected by Lawrence Block for the Best American Mystery Stories series.

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