Monthly Archives: May 2017


I don’t normally review books on this blog because that’s not what I do. But I’ll make an exception for Howard Linskey’s Hunting The Hangman, not just because it is a cracking read, but because its genesis struck a chord with me.

In 1994 I read a sentence in a motor racing report in the Guardian that said: “..and the Monaco circuit is much the same as it was in 1929, when Englishman Grover-Williams (who went on to became a Special Operations Executive saboteur in France during WW2) won the inaugural event.” Hold the phone. A Bugatti-driving Grand Prix champion joined SOE’s F Section? Not only that, I quickly discovered, so did two others, Robert Benoist and Jean-Pierre Wimille. There’s a book there, I thought.

Indeed there was, but, for various reasons (including access to the then still-sealed SOE files), it proved difficult to write. Early One Morning didn’t get published until eight years later, by which time I had already produced three US-set thrillers.


Howard Linskey’s novel has had an even lengthier gestation. His equivalent of that sentence about Grover-Williams was catching the second half of a documentary on the History Channel about the assassination of Hitler’s heir apparent, the ruthless Reinhard Heydrich, in Prague by an SOE-trained Czech hit team. Fascinated, he began researching everything he could find on subject. That was in 2000. Seventeen years later, and after six well-received, hardboiled northeastern noir books (No Name Lane, The Search, The Damage etc. – also well worth seeking out), his novel about Operation Anthropoid (as the mission was christened) has finally seen the light of day. Makes mine look like speed publishing.

In fact, I always felt fortunate that Early One Morning wasn’t my first novel. It meant I could get some rookie mistakes out of the way in the first three thrillers, which didn’t trouble the bestseller charts – something writers rarely get a chance to do these days, it being perform or die with the majority of publishers. Early One Morning turned out to be, and remains, my most successful novel in terms of sales.

I don’t remember Howard Linskey making any rookie mistakes in his first book, The Drop, but again the delay might have been fortuitous, in that by his own admission the early version he produced was a mix of fact and fiction that he was uncomfortable with. The Hunting the Hangman of today is meticulously researched and firmly based, as they say, on actual events.


Having written about WW2 organisations such as SOE, MI9 and MI19 myself, and seen a couple of movies about Operation Anthropoid, and the terrible retributions in its aftermath, I thought I knew the story well. But, in fact, Howard uses his novelist’s skills to really flesh out not only the monstrous Heydrich, but also the assassins, who are far from the usual bland action-hero stereotypes. There’s bravery, of course, in the tale, but also terrible treachery and cruelty. Historical fiction like this isn’t easy to pull off – cleaving to the facts and the real-life characters while creating novel-like suspense. Howard Linskey has pulled it off. It’s been a long time coming, but Hunting The Hangman was worth the wait.




Last Thursday was an important day in the calendar for fans of Sherlock Holmes. After its winter closure, the funicular to the Reichenbach Falls re-opened. Yes, the place where, in 1893, in one of the most cold and calculated acts of detecticide in literature, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sent his Sherlock Holmes tumbling into the abyss, locked in fatal combat with Professor Moriarty, the Napoleon of Crime, is easily accessible again. The location of the death plunge really does exist, although it often comes as a surprise to some people that Holmes isn’t real, yet the Reichenbach Falls are.


Given that, until recently, I lived in a road in North London famous for its once-resident serial killer, I am not much given to Murder Tourism. Yet there we were, standing next to the site of one of the most notorious homicides of the late 19th century.

In truth, it is a rather lovely spot to send someone to their doom. Sitting above the town of Meiringen in the Swiss Bernese Oberland, reached by its seasonal funicular railway or a steep, winding path, the Reichenbach Falls cascade in a series of cataracts before spinning through the air for their final free descent, twisting through a hole in the rock halfway down, like liquid cotton threading through the eye of needle, and then plunging into an ice-blue pool at the base.


With a total drop of 250 metres, the falls are dramatic, certainly, but don’t come expecting the Niagara-like flow as seen in the Robert Downey Jr Holmes movie, or even the tumult as described by Conan Doyle, which, before they went through that fissure in the rock, passed through the rapids of a writer’s imagination. It is not “a dreadful cauldron of swirling water and seething foam” from whence no bodies could ever be recovered. And although there is a ledge claiming to mark the exact spot of the momentous struggle between the good and evil geniuses, in actuality the site Conan Doyle had in mind was much closer to the rushing water than the current photo-opportunity. However, the path has become dangerous over the years and, understandably, the local tourist board don’t want too many literal re-enactments of the death plunge.

Yet, all that aside, standing on the bridge at the top, looking down the narrow gorge of “coal-black rocks”, there is something haunting about the falls, the feeling that this beautiful and apparently benign chute is capable of a fatal capriciousness. The waters can, as Watson says, “turn a man giddy with their constant whirl and clamour ”. It isn’t difficult to see why Doyle took Sir Henry Lunn’s advice and chose it as the ideal spot to unburden himself of his over-popular detective, although public pressure meant a resurrection a decade later. And he shows no sign of dying again any time soon.


Even if you are not one of the pilgrims convinced that Holmes was real, there is much to recommend this part of Switzerland, not least the spectacular mountains that ACD loved so much. Having visited with his first wife (as part of her TB cure), the author became a vocal ambassador for the country – arguably his tale of skiing from Davos to Arosa in The Strand magazine in 1894 kick started the whole British Alpine skiing movement.

If you have a Swiss Travel Pass (; three days from £170), which covers the majority of train and boat services you can easily get to Meiringen and the falls from anywhere in the Bernese Oberland. You could reach Meiringen by using train only, but it would be a shame to miss out on the alternate ferry crossing over the startlingly green Lake Brienz, the hue caused by the cryophilic algae that thrive in the glacial waters. What will impress during the hour-long voyage is the sheer number of lesser-known waterfalls that punch out of the sides of the flanking mountains, as if the whole range is weeping silvery flumes. Many are strikingly lovely, but, thanks to a Scottish writer with a sick wife, none will ever have the resonance of the “tremendous abyss from which the spray rolls up like smoke from a burning house” that is the Reichenbach Falls.


Further information: Switzerland Tourism (00800 100 200 30, Thomson Lakes & Mountain (020 8939 0740, has various packages to the Bernese Oberland.