Coming in 2024
Two novels with a new hero plus a bonus short story!
Spring 1941. Dinis Lopes is a Lisbon cop with a conscience. Or rather he was as that conscience and a stubborn streak means he's now an ex-cop.
He's also got a complicated personal life and a secret so when Salazar's secret police come looking for him to carry out an impossible task - find the secret that is somewhere in Lisbon that the warring powers are willing to kill for - he is in no position to refuse.
The Queen of Lisbon
October 1941: Neutral Lisbon remains the last major city in Europe with it's lights still on. The rich of the continent mingle with poor refugees and spies in the bars and casinos . Criminals go to war with each other for the trade in the vital war material; Wolfram.
Lopes is at the heart of the battle against the gangs making him a target.
And at the same time a killer prowls the streets targeting refugee women. The police can't or won't find the killer so an old acquaintance puts aside their differences and turns to Lopes for help.
The Good Cop
March 1941. Inspector Lopes is called to an assault case. It looks open and shut; the name of the perpretrator is known and there is a witness.
But there's a problem.
The victim is a street girls and the suspect is from one of Lisbon's most powerful families.
The forthcoming LISbon Novels - the backround
Coming soon are the first of a series of novels set in wartime Portugal. The central character is a complex ex-policeman called Dinis Lopes, a damaged veteran of Portugal's disasterous participation in WW1.
But why write about Lisbon? And why, in particular, write about WARTIME Lisbon?
If you are interested why this country, city and time period has captured my imagination so much, read on after the pretty pictures!
Lisbon '41 - Why set a novel in Wartime Portugal?
Ian Fleming had a brilliant idea for a novel whilst sitting watching a man play roulette in a glamorous casino. He murmured to his companion something along the lines of 'Imagine if we could play a foreign agent at cards; what a coup that would be if we could clear him out!'
The man Fleming was watching play was a Serbian playboy spy called Popov. He is one of the people who were the prototype for James Bond. The novel Fleming had the idea for was the first Bond novel, Casino Royale. Fleming himself was not a novelist when he had the idea. No, he himself was in naval intelligence and it was wartime, in fact sometime in 1941, at a time when Britain was fighting the Nazi's alone, losing in fact. So what was he doing in a casino? How could that be? Well that's because he was in Portugal, in fact in sunny Estoril, the resort town just up the coast from Lisbon.
The very fact that a casino existed at all in the early 1940s showed what a unique place Portugal was at that time. The continent of Europe had been at war and blacked out for two long years. Much of Europe was under Nazi rule. Neighbouring Spain had endured three years of bitter civil war that had killed tens of thousands and created divisions that still divide the country today. One of the reasosn the separatist movement is so strong in Catalonia arises from the fact that Barcelona was a Republican stronghold in the Spanish Civil War whilst Franco's fascists dominated Castilian Madrid. The atrocities committed at that time run deep in the folk memory.
Yet Lisbon was neutral and free. I have described it as the last city with its lights on in Western Europe. That in itself makes it a fascinating stage to set a novel. It helps that he city today is still totally captivating, part of which is down to it not being demolished by enemy bombs or subject to the ravages of invasion. You can see that from the pictures above, taken on a 'research' trip in May 2023. (It's a hard job but someone guts to do it!). I first visited Lisbon some 20 years ago when I was working at a British university running a joint course with one in Portugal. I made some twenty trips over two years yet saw next to nothing of the pplace. I have to say I was so busy then I didn't really appreciate the city or its history. I wish I had put in more downtime.
Because Lisbon between 1939-45 was intriguing.
It became a city of refugees, wealthy and poor, high status (like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor as well as other royals and business people) and low alike, all fleeing the Nazi offensive.
It also became a city of spies. Why? One reason was because people of all countries could mingle freely, the combatants included. But another was because of Portugal's strategic position in Europe, its overseas possessions and what lay beneath its soil. Having Portugal's cooperation or planning its takeover if that was denied whilst attempting to foil the other sides activities made spying and plotting inevitable
Let's deal with Portugal's mineral wealth. This was largely limited except for one key metallic element All of the countries that remained neutral, avoiding invasion by either side, in WW2 held resources vital to all sides. With Switzerland it was money, finance and banking. Wars are expensive, they need lots of money, loans needed to be arranged, gold sold and the like. And it was also useful to have a place to store wealth as insurance if things turned nasty. Sweden had high grade iron ore and ball bearings, again useful to both sides. Portugal had something perhaps more valuable; tungsten.
In the modern world the metal is perhaps best known for two quite harmless things: old fashioned light bulbs and the dense, hard shafts of darts. In wartime, though, tungsten or as it was widely known then, Wolfram, had a vital and much more deadly role. It was a vital component of toughened steel used for armour piercing shells. There were other sources of Wolfram in the world but Portugal's mines were the most well developed and accessible. The largest owners of the mine companies were British. The second largest? Yes, German. The rival country's biggest mines were only a few miles apart.
But Portugal had more than that. For one thing it had an Atlantic coast and sheltered ports which would have been so useful for German and Italian U-Boats. It also had overseas colonies, particularly the Azores which became increasingly strategically important to both Britain and Germany is fighting the Battle of the Atlantic. Similarly it had links to Brazil on the other side of the South Atlantic and Angola and Mozambique in Southern Africa close to the Cape of Good Hope routes from Britain to its Empire is India, Sri Lanka, Australia a New Zealand. they'd be in German hands. why they were not was down partly to Hitlers extraordinary lack of vision - an invasion of Portugal via Spain in 1940 would have more effectively finished Britain's war than operation Sealion ever could - but was mainly down to the world's oddest sort-of-fascist-but
not-really dictator-Antonio Salazar.
Salazar who led his country from 1930 to 1972 (technically until 1974 but he only thought he was in charge for the last two years because he'd had a stroke and been secretly replaced with another dull professor. I kid you not) had the oddest of backgrounds for a leader. He was no military man, no bombastic orator (he hated speaking in public but when he did they were not inspiring or rabble rousing, they were lectures). No, Salazar was an economics professor.
I'll let that sink in. Yes, he was an economist, the dismal science. And he was as dull as it sounds. He had no wife, no mistress, instead he had a housekeeper, and, no, she wasn't apparaently ever anything more than that. He was brought in as Prime Minister to stop Portugal going bankrupt. Not only was he was dull. Portugal itself was dull. For 44 years it was kept deliberately backward, reactionary even. There was no programme of mass education, no grand projects. He just managed the country like an accountant.
And it worked. For a while at least.
You can perhaps tell I admire him and I do. If I had the choice of dictators to live under I would have certainly chosen Salazar over Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini or Franco. My admiration is limited though, he did have a secret police modelled on the Gestapo. He presided over a nation of informers. He imprisoned people without trial. He supressed the rights of women. Perhaps worst of all he went on too long and tried to live in the past colonial age. In the 50s, 60s and 70s Portugal conducted a colonial war to retain its empire. Young soldiers from the homeland and Brazil and the other colonial outposts died alongside those fighting for their freedom and independence long after the other colonial powers had left those views behind. It was an awful stain on his legacy.
Yet, yet, yet.
None of history's leaders, none of the great men and women who made contributions to the world from Churchill to Marie Curie, Lincoln to Martin Luther King, Roosevelt to Kennedy were without flaws. Many had stains on their record. Churchill had Gallipoli and the General Strike, Kennedy had his womanising and The Bay of Pigs. I could go on.
Salazar kept Portugal out of WW2. He kept his country from being invaded. He juggled placating Hitler whilst keeping his old ally, Britain, reasonably happy. He did a deal with countries and leaders he despised, including Franco and the US. Later he made his tiny country a mayor player in NATO. He also took his country from bankruptcy to the dullest of dull respectability. Weirdly, Salazar might have been the most successful of all dictators.
And it is that knife edge that he walked along from 1939 to 1945 that makes Lisbon so fascinating a place to write about and set thrillers in.
Lisbon '41 - That rare thing: When research offers an opportunity
Writing historical fiction means doing a lot of research - and I mean a lot! Usually this is to ensure that the story fits into the timeline of history correctly or to check minor but important details that if I get wrong can grate with a reader.
Sometimes the research brings the plot to a screeching halt. Sometimes though, the research offers up an opportunity to add to the pot and the entire direction of the novel.
Such was the case with research I did for my forthcoming book, Lisbon '41.
As the name suggests, the novel is set in wartime Lisbon, a fascinating place and time. The dictator of Portugal, Antonio Salazar, a former university Economics professor, kept his country neutral in the face of incredible pressure from both the Axis and Allied sides to favour one or the other. Lisbon became a hotbed of espionage and scheming. Ian Fleming, for example, was a key player in British Intelligence and had the idea for the first Bond novel by his visits to casinos in Estoril during wartime.
When I was plotting the book I had one of those 'what if' moments that often inspire writers of fiction. Mine was:-
What if a meeting occured between parties who absolutely should not have met in wartime? And what if a recording of that meeting existed?
That lead to me hitting the research trail. Just what was possible in 1940? Did the technology exist to enable this to happen?'
Obviously I knew about things like wire recorders and dictaphones. The existance of the latter was a central plot device for Agatha Christie's classic The Murder of Roger Ackroyd written in the 1920s. But that device was in the room and was quite large and bulky. My question was whether a covert device could have existed then.
Sometimes research makes the job of a historical fiction writer harder. Occasionally - very, very occasionally - it gives the author a huge present that's like Christmas and birthday rolled into one.
This is what I found:
During WW2 the Allies noticed that certain German officials were making radio broadcasts from multiple time zones almost simultaneously.Analysts...believed that the broadcasts had to be transcriptions, but their audio quality was indistinguishable from that of a live broadcast and their duration was far longer than was possible even with 16 rpm transcription discs. In the final stages of the war in Europe, the Allies' capture of a number of German Magnetophon recorders from Radio Luxembourg aroused great interest. These recorders incorporated all the key technological features of modern analog magnetic recording and were the basis for future developments in the field. (Wikipedia)
Yes, the Germans had secretly invented magnetic tape recording in the late 1930s and had developed it during the war! This was exotic technology and a huge leap forward in audio quality. The Americans in particular took this technology on and it rapidly became the basis of audio recording in radio, television and film. By 1952 wire recorders were dead. By the 1960s domestic reel-to-reel tapes had reached the domestic market. Although LPs and Singles were still on disk, the master tapes that created them in the studio were on magnetic tape.
And, of course, spies and bugging from the late 1940s onwards relied on magnetic tape and tape recorders.
I hadn't got a plot hole. I had found my plot opportunity.
My plot point could work. What was even better was that the technology would not be familiar to people outside the research. They'd not know such a thing existed and certainly what it might look like.
Perfect. It doesn't happen often.