When Life Meets Art

Adrian Magson

Adrian Magson

Adrian Magson is no stranger to the world of spy fiction. With a galaxy of starred reviews under his belt and comparisons to Ken Follett, Robert Ludlum and Lee Child, he may well be the thriller writer your bookshelf has been missing. His Harry Tate series, which started with Red Station (2010) and follows the eponymous MI5 operative, has been praised for combining substance with gripping adrenaline-fuelled adventure. Magson’s latest spy series, featuring deep cover operative Marc Portman, has been similarly praised. As Booklist put it in their starred review of series opener The Watchman:

“The term thriller hardly does justice to this taut page-turner that’s packed with action, adventure, danger, ingenuity, bravery, horror, and shocking violence.”

Although Magson may be a dab hand at the espionage thriller, that doesn’t mean that writing always comes easily. Following the critical and commercial success of The Watchman, Magson found that writing the sequel, Close Quarters, was more fraught than he could have imagined.

After the success of The Watchman, which went to number one on Kindle in the Espionage category and featured Marc Portman fighting Somali pirates and terrorists, I had to choose an equally challenging yet contemporary setting for the second book, Close Quarters. With the current state of international affairs, I wasn’t exactly short of options.

At the time of writing in 2013/14, Ukraine was heating up to become another point of conflict, with pro-Russian separatists fighting Ukrainian government forces in the east of the country, and increasingly seen to be backed by active Russian forces (or “volunteers”, as they were described by Moscow).

Watching the flurry of diplomatic activity as politicians from various quarters tried to help, I was immediately struck by the possibility of one of these well-meaning advisers being taken captive and used as a bargaining tool. Very quickly that idea gelled into a US State Department official sent to check out the developing situation, and finding himself held prisoner by hostile forces in an increasingly fragile situation.

This became the plot for the story, and Portman was on his next assignment.

CLOSE QUARTERS by Adrian Magson

CLOSE QUARTERS by Adrian Magson. ISBN 9780727885043

Hired by the CIA as a ‘black’ operative to extricate the official, Edwin Travis, from the hands of extremists and get him out of the country, Portman has to get Travis out of Donetsk, which is teeming with several violent groups with different agendas – one of them a mafia killer on the lookout for Portman’s blood after a confrontation near the airport.

With only the distant voice of a CIA communications newbie, Lindsay Citera, to guide him, Portman has to travel across the country to the border with Moldova in order to get Travis out. But the one thing he can’t do in this hotbed political atmosphere is rely on help from identifiable US forces or the embassy. As usual, Portman is on his own.

Unfortunately, the CIA has an enemy in the camp, who would like nothing more than to shut down their black ops and bring their covert activities under control. When this enemy within gets wind of the operative known as ‘Watchman’, he sees a way of using the operation to discredit the CIA, while also taking advantage of the worsening situation in Ukraine for his own ends.

So far, so good. But there was a point during the writing of Close Quarters that I came close to giving up. I was halfway through completion of the manuscript when the news broke about the shooting down over eastern Ukraine of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

I tend to use a flavour of current events where I can, and Ukraine offered a plausible backdrop on which to hang the story. But when this terrible tragedy occurred in the same loca­tion, I felt reluctant to continue with it. However, the timeline of Close Quarters was set several months earlier than July, so in the end I decided to continue with the project, since there would be no reference to it in the book – nor would I have had to deliberately ignore it, which would have been unjust for the 298 victims.

For more information about Adrian Magson and Close Quarters, visit his website.


Criminal Cozies

Available now in the UK, and in eBook June 1.

Available now in the UK, and in eBook June 1. ISBN 9780727884800


The second in the Florence Norris mystery series

November, 1932. Still reeling from the recent murder at Mullings, country estate of the wealthy Stodmarsh family, the peaceful little village of Dovecote Hatch is about to be rocked by news of another violent death. When mild-mannered Kenneth Tenneson is found dead from a fall down the stairs at his home, the coroner’s inquest announces a verdict of accidental death. Florence Norris, however – the quietly observant housekeeper at Mullings – suspects there may be more to it than that.
Florence’s suspicions of foul play would appear to be confirmed when a second will turns up revealing details of a dark secret in the Tenneson family’s past. Determined to find out the truth about Kenneth’s death, Florence gradually pieces the clues together – but will she be in time to prevent a catastrophic turn of events?


Available now in the UK, and in the US and eBook June 1. ISBN 9780727884855


The first in a thrilling new mystery series set around the sacred historical sites of the British Isles

Recently retired teacher Hilary decides that the best way to stop herself worrying about her husband, who’s away doing voluntary work in war-torn Gaza, is to distract herself with a holiday. She invites her good friend Veronica, a recent widow, to accompany her on a trip to Glastonbury, to see the ancient sights.<br
The pair are saddened to discover that the sacred Glastonbury Thorn tree has been severely damaged, and they wonder whether other local sites are under threat too. But even they are unprepared for the shocking discovery Hilary makes at the Chalice Well: an abandoned bag, containing a bomb . . .

Who is to blame? A foreign tourist? An eccentric pagan author? Or an angry local who resents that a Christian place has been ‘overun’ by other beliefs? Hilary and Veronica just want to be on holiday, but they can’t help but be sucked in to the investigation.


Available now in the UK, and in the US and eBook June 1. ISBN 9780727884817


Murder threatens to disturb the creativeness of Sherebury’s art college

One late-summer’s evening, before the beginning of the new term, Dorothy Martin and her husband, retired police detective Alan Nesbitt, are guests at Sherebury University art department’s drinks party to introduce the new teaching assistant, sculptress Gillian Roberts

However, tragedy strikes on a tour of the sculpture department, when the lift breaks down and a corpse is discovered at the bottom of the lift shaft. Dorothy and Alan become involved in the ensuing investigation, putting their local knowledge and sleuthing skills to good use once again.

But when another member of the art faculty goes missing and someone receives threatening phone calls, it seems the killer still has something to hide and may very well strike again . . .

Available now in the UK and in the US and eBook from July 1.

Available now in the UK and in the US and eBook from July 1. ISBN 9780727884954


Meet the Women of the WISE Enquiries Agency. 

Henry Twyst, eighteenth Duke of Chellingworth, is convinced his mother is losing her marbles. She claims to have seen a corpse on the dining-room floor, but all she has to prove it is a bloodied bobble hat.

Worried enough to retain the women of the WISE Enquiries Agency – one is Welsh, one Irish, one Scottish and one English – Henry wants the strange matter explained away. But the truth of what happened at the Chellingworth Estate, set in the rolling Welsh countryside near the quaint village of Anwen by Wye, is more complex, dangerous, and deadly, than anyone could have foreseen . . .

Available in the UK now, in the US and eBook from June 1. ISBN 9780727884787

Available in the UK now, in the US and eBook from June 1. ISBN 9780727884787

MR CAMPION’S FOX by Mike Ripley

This brand-new novel featuring Margery Allingham’s Mr Campion recaptures the Golden Age of British Detective Fiction.

The Danish Ambassador has requested Albert Campion’s help on ‘a delicate family matter’. He’s very concerned about his eighteen-year-old daughter, who has formed an attachment to a most unsuitable young man. Recruiting his unemployed actor son, Rupert, to keep an eye on Frank Tate, the young man in question, Mr Campion notes some decidedly odd behaviour on the part of the up-and-coming photographer. Before he can act on the matter, however, both the Ambassador’s daughter and her beau disappear without trace. Then a body is discovered in a lagoon.

With appearances from all of Margery Allingham’s regular characters, from Campion’s former manservant Lugg, to his wife Lady Amanda Fitton and others, this witty and elegant mystery is sure to delight Allingham’s many fans. The dialogue is sharp and witty, the observation keen, and the climax is thrilling and eerily atmospheric.


Available in the UK now, in the US and in eBook from June 1. ISBN 9780727884862

DEAD CERTAINTY by Glenis Wilson

A fast-paced mystery set in the cut-throat world of horse-racing: the first in the new Harry Radcliffe series.

Recuperating after a serious accident, not knowing if he’ll ever ride again, champion jump jockey and racing columnist Harry Radcliffe accepts a commission to ghost-write the autobiography of retiring racehorse trainer Elspeth Maudsley. But as he begins to research her family history, it becomes increasingly clear to Harry that there are things Elspeth isn’t telling him about her past. What’s more, a series of threatening incidents, escalating in menace and intensity, begins to convince Harry that someone is determined to stop him writing this book – whatever it takes.

And Harry is about to uncover secrets in his own family’s past too. Secrets that will shake him to his core and ensure that he can never feel certain about anything again.

Available in the UK, in the US and in eBook May 1. ISBN 9781780290713

Available in the UK, in the US and in eBook May 1. ISBN 9781780290713

FOLLY by Stella Cameron

The first in a traditional British mystery series from bestselling romantic suspense author Stella Cameron. 

Following the breakdown of her marriage, Alex Duggins has returned to her picturesque hometown of Folly-on-Weir in the Cotswolds in order to start afresh. But you can’t outrun the past, as Alex is about to discover when she stumbles across a frosted corpse buried in the snow. The subsequent murder investigation threatens to unearth old secrets – including Alex’s own. As Folly-on-Weir braces for a chilling winter and Alex finds herself top of the police’s suspect list, she determines to clear her name and find the real murderer. But as she begins to peel back the layers of deception that have long-concealed one of the town’s darkest secrets, she herself becomes the target of a ruthless killer who has nothing left to lose. Will Alex be the next snow-covered body to be found in the beautiful hills above the town?

Paul Johnston talks Quint Dalrymple – January Magazine

Available 30th April (UK) and August 1st (US and eBook)

Available 30th April (UK) and August 1st (US and eBook)

A recent entry of The Rap Sheet dug up a gem of an interview with author Paul Johnston from 2003, in which Paul – interviewed by the superlative Ali Karim and Simon Kernick – talks about his life and work; including his Quint Dalrymple series, which is set in the independent city-state of Edinburgh in the 2020s.

With this series experiencing a long-anticipated revival this month, the sixth in the series, Heads or Hearts, will be published in the UK on 30th April, it seems the perfect opportunity to reintroduce readers to both Paul and Quint.

Scroll down for more about Quint, or read the full interview here.

Happy reading!


I want to talk more about your Quintilian Dalrymple series. Those books are set in Edinburgh in the 2020s, yet you try to avoid making them classifiably “science fiction.” You’re a Blade Runner nut, I understand, but have you ever really been interested in writing SF? And why set a crime series in the future?

The real reason that they are set in the future was that I wasn’t in Edinburgh at the time, and the objectivity thing was becoming a problem for me. … So moving the story into the near future was a way of overcoming that.

The whole SF thing is difficult to define, as [George] Orwell, for instance, is often referred to as SF. Then there’s [Aldous] Huxley with Brave New World, which is much more high-tech and much more SF than 1984, by Orwell. And I guess the latter is more where I am coming from — if you want to be divisive, you might even call it “literary SF.” Other kinds of SF I don’t read, and it doesn’t interest me. … I have always been open-minded as a reader and tried many SF books, but just couldn’t get into them. I literally couldn’t read them. On the other hand, I enjoy and have always enjoyed SF movies, which is somewhat weird. The visionary aspect of SF I do find interesting, but more from a sociopolitical perspective, rather than from the high-tech side, as I was always hopeless in science at school. I think that when I was young, and trying to read these SF books, the problem for me was the quality of the prose. Now, the quality of the prose is very high, like in the crime genre. But back then, 25 years ago, a great deal of SF was dreck, and it didn’t have any pretensions to be anything other than that. … [Today], I read Iain Banks’ SF and really enjoy his work …

What was it like to create a whole new world and landscape for the Quint novels? Did the freedom in itself become a burden?

[Laughs] Yes, it became a complete pain in the ass.

I found that I literally couldn’t write Body Politic as a contemporary crime novel. It was a complete logjam. Then, I suddenly had the brainwave of setting it in the future, and suddenly I was freed-up. The next day, I realized the downside: I had to invent a whole new society, as it was pointless moving the story into the future if the society then was exactly the same as present-day. Having said that, I did want to set the spotlight on contemporary society, anyway. The Quint books are really not meant to be futuristic, but contemporary social commentary — and that is the Orwellian side of it, insofar as the society is not very high-tech. It did take me a couple of months to invent the society, and that was a lot of extra work, but what that actually meant in the long run was it provided a good backdrop for the five novels.

About the Quint character: What is the genesis of his name, and how much of you is reflected in Mr. Dalrymple?

I guess [the name] started way back from a conversation with a friend in a pub, where after a few beers we thought it would be amusing (as you do after some beer) to have a character whose initials would be Q.E.D. … An old professor of mine in Oxford was an expert on [the ancient Roman orator] Quintilian, so we had the “Q.” Then the Dalrymple was quite easy, as it was a very good and fine Scottish name. But for the “E,” we really went very puerile and used “Eric” [the name often given to the village idiot in Monty Python sketches] … But when I got round to writing the book, I thought, Sod this, and I dropped the “Eric” and decided that Quint doesn’t have a middle name. The important point was that I was looking for an unusual name, something beginning with a “q” or a “z,” like Aurelio Zen [Michael Dibdin‘s Italian series detective]. I was messing around with various permutations, so it was quite consciously planned.

Going back to your original question, where you raised an interesting point on where these characters come from, and to what extent they have elements of the author in them: the interesting thing about Body Politic is that I wrote it in the third-person initially, and it failed to come to life. What I felt was lacking was the private eye, Marlowe-esque voice, so I rewrote the entire book, but in the first-person. The reason that I mention that, is that when you write in the third-person [as in A Deeper Shade of Blue], you inevitably put more distance between you and your characters … So Quint was realized with several degrees of separation from me … [but] when it transformed into first-person, there is no question more of me went into his character, like his anti-authoritarian views [and his] sardonic humor, to some extent. But I do think you try consciously not to write too much in terms of yourself.

Did you envision Quint as a series character right off the bat, or was his premiere adventure originally supposed to be a standalone?

No, I was unpublished at that point, struggling just to finish the novel I was writing, let alone thinking about a series. However, by the end I did leave some loose ends, as I had decided that the character, as well as the story, had legs, and perhaps I would revisit that world and its social setting. Body Politic and its follow-up, The Bone Yard, were both around 90,000 words, but subsequent novels were considerably longer. If I was given my time again, I would make both of those [first two] longer, sort of expanding the backstory. Both novels are very lean, in a wham-bam style, and in some ways that’s good for the pace of the books, as well as reflecting the minimalist nature of the society that they feature. … I have rationalized that perhaps Body Politic and The Bone Yard could be seen as two halves of the same book. I even mentioned that at my website.

Quint listens to a lot of blues music. Where did his love of the blues come from? Is that the kind of music you listen to when you’re writing?

I actually don’t listen to music when I write. I avoid any sound, even traffic noise, when I write. And even in Greece, there are a lot of building noises, especially from millionaires building mansions nearby, and flying in by helicopter. I’m pretty sure some of these people will die a gruesome death in a novel someday …

Actually, I have a very catholic taste in music, and I do like the blues. But with Quint, the reason he likes the blues is that it’s subversive and banned by the state, so it was an obvious thing for him. … I guess the blues also signify the melancholic side of Quint’s nature, which is an important facet of his character, and is, coincidentally, in Mavros’ character also. And “mavros” means black or noir in Greek. So we’re back full-circle again.

Fact Friday – Kathleen Delaney

Available 30th April (UK) and August 1st (US & eBook)

Available 30th April (UK) and August 1st (US & eBook)

This week’s #FactFriday comes from new Severn House author, Kathleen Delaney, whose canine mystery series begins this month with Purebred Dead.

Did you know:

There are 177 dog breeds registered in the United States and 210 registered in the UK.

That’s a lot of dogs. That’s a lot of different kinds of dogs. The next question logically might be…why so many?

Those of you who watch, or go to, dog shows, already have the answer. For many years we asked dogs to do a lot of different kinds of jobs, even if that job was just to be a cute little companion, and we carefully bred the individuals who seemed to best represent what we were trying to accomplish; dog shows still divide them into groups according to their original functions, such as working group, herding group and toy group, and breed standards still specify the dogs meet their original job descriptions.

Maiden Voyage

Hello readers, and welcome to the inaugural post on the Severn House blog!

This is our new home for news, features, exclusive author content and much more, and we are delighted to welcome author Pauline Rowson as our very first guest blogger. What with our shiny new site and a brand new marine crime series sailing towards a library near you, Pauline has been musing on new beginnings.

Happy reading!


(P.S. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and Facebook so you never miss a beat.)

Spring heralds new beginnings, so what better time to launch not only the new Severn House blog but also a new crime series introducing a brand new action hero, Art Marvik in Silent Running. I could say I was clever and planned it that way but that would be telling a lie, and while lies are not the sort of thing a nice girl should stoop to they are, however, the stuff of any crime novel. Someone, somewhere along the line always lies to prevent the truth from being exposed, hence being found out in committing or covering up a crime! But to get back to new beginnings.

What prompted me to create a new hero? 

Half way through writing Silent Running I asked myself that question several times; especially as I was getting withdrawal symptoms from not being with my rugged and flawed detective, DI Andy Horton on a new murder case. But as Silent Running progressed and the story took shape I began to understand my new character more and soon became immersed in his troubled world. In this new series I wanted a hero who was not bound by the official rules of the law like DI Horton is (although he does stretch them many times!) but who was nevertheless on the right side of it. I wanted someone fit, intelligent, fearless and able to take care of himself when faced with danger. Enter former marine commando, Special Boat Services Officer, Art Marvik. Every character has to have a back story. Our past experiences, our upbringing, our education all shape us and fictional characters are no different. Just as all is not roses in the garden for DI Horton so it isn’t for Art Marvik. Injuries inflicted while in combat have forced him out of the marines. He thought he’d be able to adjust to civilian life and carve out a new career for himself as a private maritime security operative, but it all goes pear-shaped when the luxury motor cruiser he was detailed to guard gets attacked by pirates in the Indian Ocean. Marvik finds himself with a bullet in his shoulder and the boat’s owner dead. He’d failed on his first mission, and Silent Running opens with him still reeling from it.

Where did the idea for Silent Running come from?

From a lift in a high-rise building in London, which also happens to be a club for service personnel and veterans (my husband being a former RAF Police Officer). I wondered what would happen if the lift got stuck and if I was in it with one other person, a man I didn’t know. I dislike lifts and avoid them if I possibly can and I thought of a woman in this lift alone with a man she’d never met before. What would have enticed her into that lift if she was afraid of them? Who was the man with her? Did she know him? What would they speak about while waiting to be freed? Why would she invite him back to her room after they’d been released? And why would he kill her? The rest of the plot sprang from there. Marvik’s first mission in Silent Running, takes him on his motor cruiser into the Solent and the English Channel, into marinas and bays on the south coast of England, a landscape familiar to me and one that is never without incident and atmosphere. In a race against time, Marvik is sucked into a dangerous assignment and a web of lies (yes, we’re back to those lies) that will need all his skills to get to the truth. Does he succeed? Well I’ll leave you to find out; but let’s just say I’m working on the second in the Art Marvik series.