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Dead Ground arrives!

Dead Ground is the ninth title in the Spoils of War collection, and publishes – the Gods be praised – on election day, 4th July, 2024. Let’s hope it has a brighter future than the Tory Party.

Readers of The Blood of Others will have already met Annie Wrenne on the page.  Whatever your thoughts, she made a big impact on yours truly and the moment I set her off in the direction of rookie journo George Hogan, I was fascinated to find out a little more of her past.  Given her fictional status – someone I’d invented in the first place – this might sound fanciful but it’s a very good sign that I couldn’t get her out of my mind.  Interesting and plausible characters have lives of their own.  I needed to share Annie’s.

In The Blood of Others, she plays a vital role.  She works for Vice-Admiral Louis Mountbatten in Combined Operations, and has the key to the door which leads to the stony beaches of Dieppe, site of one of the war’s undiputed catastrophes.  Mountbatten master-minded an away-day raid for thousands of mainly Canadian troops.  Less than half made it back to Britain.

  Annie Wrenne looks much younger than her years and her real age – late twenties – raised a series of questions.  What was she doing in the Thirties?  How come she speaks fluent Spanish? And how come she knows so much about the intelligence world?

The answer to all those questions lie in the new book, Dead Ground. It’s 1936.  Annie, pursuing her passion for Spanish artist Francisco Goya, is in Madrid and finds herself caught up in the opening months of the Spanish Civil War.  She volunteers as a nurse and tends to a number of injured volunteers, including a young Englishman from one of the International Brigades.  Giles Roper is young, brave, intriguingly solitary, and much given to introspection.  Nursing him back to health, Annie falls in love.  The consequent affair blazes out of control until Roper betrays her.

By now, Annie has met another important figure in the novel, a Spanish mercenary known as El Diablo. Spanish by birth, Carlos Ortega works for the highest bidder and has been hideously mutilated by a rebel bomb.  El Diablo is Spanish for ‘The Devil’, a tribute to his wrecked face.  Ortega appears to survive by begging, and Annie does her best to tend to his still-seeping wounds.  El Diablo, incidentally, also recurs in The Blood of Others.

But all is not quite what it seems in Dead Ground, and the calamitous events of 1940 sweep Annie into the company of Tam Moncrieff, a British intelligence officer deployed to Madrid.  There, with most of western Europe suddenly under the Nazi boot, Moncrieff is charged with somehow sabotaging Operation Felix, Berlin’s bid to kick the Brits off the rock of Gibraltar. 

Moncrieff needs Annie’s linguistic skills and undoubted good looks.  He also needs El Diablo’s darker talents with a sniper rifle.  In his sights will be Heinrich Himmler, on a brief visit to Spain.  Key to the events which follow will be his developing relationship with Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of the Abwehr, Germany’s military intelligence organisation, already fighting a turf war with Himmler and the much-feared SS.

The events that follow from this rich stew of intrigue and counter-intrigue will take Annie the length and breadth of Spain, pitting her rapid apprenticeship in the dark arts of intelligence-gathering against the unrelenting press of events.  How to prosper in a world where nothing is quite what it seems?  Who to trust?  Who to avoid? How, when times get especially hard, to simply survive?

Dead Ground is published on the day when fourteen years of Tory rule hopefully come to an end.  Will Operation Felix meet a similar fate?  Find out once your vote is cast….