Thriller master wrote his Brexit block­buster nearly 40 years ago...

Sunday Express - - COMMENT -

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)

Picture: MARK KE­HOE

FRESH REL­E­VANCE: Peter May had ‘dis­patched early work to his­tory’

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