Thriller master wrote his Brexit blockbuster nearly 40 years ago...
ALMOST 40 years ago, Peter May wrote a thriller about political double-dealings in Brussels which is about to become a Brexit blockbuster.
Set in 1977, two years after the first European referendum, The Man With No Face is a prescient tale about a murderous conspiracy. With an election looming, British suspicions about the fledgling EU are running high and politicians on both Left and Right put their own agendas ahead of the national interest. No change there, then.
Jaded Edinburgh journalist Neil Bannerman is sent to Brussels to dig up dirt only to stumble upon the murder of a Cabinet minister and another journalist, setting a remorseless killer on his trail.
Despite being eerily topical, it would not have seen the light of day again without the intervention of May’s longstanding editor Jon Riley, now publisher of Quercus Books imprint Riverrun.
Like many authors, May does not read his books after finishing them, instead focusing on his next idea. So he spent the next 17 years working as a scriptwriter for TV shows including Squadron and Take The High Road then penned 25 thrillers in popular series The China Thrillers and The Enzo
Files plus several award-winning stand-alone novels. And he forgot about the little-known book he wrote, aged 28, that has suddenly become relevant amid the chaos engulfing Brexit Britain.
May, 67, says: “It was published in 1981 as Hidden Faces, because my publisher at the time did not like the title The Man With No Face. I had not read it since then – you don’t go back. Once you have gone through the proof reading process, it is dispatched to history.”
Hidden Faces is enjoying a fresh lease of life with its original title. “My editor Jon Riley read it last year and loved it. He said we have got to re-publish it, not least because it is so topical. It had not occurred to me it was about Europe, it was in the genesis of my writing career, so I went back and read it with some trepidation and was pleasantly surprised.”
May wrote it after his first novel, The Reporter, was turned into TV series The Standard. He says:
“The backdrop was the suspicion of Europe, then as now, on the eve of a general election when people were talking about whether we should be part of Europe two years after a 1975 referendum in which two-thirds of people voted to stay.
“Other issues that the book dealt with, like politicians putting party before country, is exactly what we are seeing now. It does not matter which side of the political divide we are talking about, Left or Right, these frankly fifth-rate politicians “It is set in the south of Spain. I did a lot of research. You look at the veneer with beaches and palm trees and restaurants but there is a seedy underbelly to the whole thing with drugs, murders, people smuggling and illegal immigrants coming across from Morocco.
“The working title is The Misfit which stems from the main character who has left the Met and joined the National Crime Agency (NCA). He is a guy whose IQ is off the scale, borderline autistic, he does degrees for fun through the Open University and speaks five languages but has absolutely no social awareness or ability to interact as a normal human being. So he makes enemies all the time. He is sent to Spain by the NCA to bring back a prisoner due to his fluency with languages but of course none of this goes to plan.”
Also in the pipeline is a TV series, a “major international production”, of the China Thrillers.
As May goes from strength to strength, does he ever dream of retiring? He says: “I have a love/ hate relationship with writing. I can’t go on forever, a sausage machine, producing a book a year. But if something comes up that I think is a good idea, I will do it because, as they say, writers never retire, they just die.”
The Man With No Face is out now (Riverrun, £20)
FRESH RELEVANCE: Peter May had ‘dispatched early work to history’