(c) Jerry Bauer from the book cover of Millennium People
John Caul's origins came from a weird idea that came to me one day: what if it had been J G Ballard who had picked up the mantle of Bond author after Ian Fleming died rather than Kingsley Amis? What if Ballard had become Robert Markham?
Of course there would be car crashes, but that would not be any different to the usual Bond novel. But what sort of villains would Ballard create, and what about their plots? Certainly he would not be so squeamish about preserving the status quo. From there I began thinking about the world of Super-Cannes and it was not far from there to the SecreSea.
Around the same time I read a spy thriller, part of a significant, successful series. And it didn't please me. It felt pinched. Polite. Where was the spy swanning around the exotic places of the world? What did he like to drink? What did he know that we didn't? Where were his loves? And why, when faced with extreme evil did he act so dispassionately? I couldn't imagine this spy surviving torture. He had no furious will within him. I wanted a hero who would hide for several nights in a garden full of deadly plants in the hope of killing his enemy with a samurai sword and blowing both that enemy and their lover to bits.
But then I started to write the book that became Rakehell and I realised that while I did still want all those things, I also had to write about the world I knew. The cold war was long over. We are now in an era of high tension, global diaspora, climate collapse, fake democracies, mass extinction, viral epidemics and information overload. I had some sympathy with the bad guys I soon realised. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if they brought about the end of the world.
But while I might wonder that, John Caul is a simpler beast. He pursues Stefan Rakehell's killers for the most part because he's outraged they got one over on him. By the time he recognises the bigger picture his side is already long decided. He simply can't let the 'other side' win; it doesn't matter whether or not he even knows who they are.
While Rakehell is, and always was conceived as, a stand alone book, there were certain questions left open at the end.
One of the things that I really wanted to do that was very different to Ian Fleming's Bond books was to keep the women in John Caul's life around. Partly because it seemed cliched, and too much of a copy of the Bond mold, for them to die in his arms, or disappear between volumes. And partly because I rather liked them and found the idea of them meeting each other, and continuing to complicate Caul's life and pull him out of his shark-like isolation, delicious.
While that could play out in one book, it seemed to me more fun over two. And so Rakehell became The John Caul Novels with a sequel 'Wolfmonath' following very hot on the heels of the first book (yes, it is already completely written).
My the time I got to the end of Rakehell I have to admit I was pretty pleased with John Caul. I'd love to tell you what I think are his best moments, but you have the book ahead of you. I hope you smile wryly as Caul misreads the situation, grimace at what he does in a hotel in Taiwan, cheer when he teams up with an unlikely accomplice to save a life. Heck, brutal, oblivious and snobbish as he might be, I hope you enjoy spending time with John Caul and his new friends as much as I did.