Friday, 23 December 2011

The Return Of The Retro Action Thriller

By Chris Darnell

A “backwards” action thriller, you ask?  Why would we want a return to that?  A thriller of times-past, of action in a time of at least 15 to 20 years ago? Why, exactly do we need this?  Let me post a thought. Because action thrillers need to offer change, just like the seasons of the year.  They should provide the opportunity to look into the recent past and not just be influenced by contemporaneous events.  We need a return to the retro action thriller.

There are many terrific action thrillers available today, and a lot of them have heat and high technology built into their DNA.  The pages burn with the hostile climate and unremitting heat of the Middle East, Africa, Afghanistan and other countries with a name ending in “-stan”.  The heroes and heroines use the latest technology in their struggle against the agents of corruption or militant Islam.  Then there are the accompanying movies and the TV series, which sear these heated images into our brains and dazzle our visual senses with the technology.  We almost need to be wearing our Ray Bans in order to watch them.  But our Ray Bans aren’t 3D.  Pity.  I love them all, mind, the books, movies and the TV series.

But I like change, too. I like the heat, but I like the cold more.  I’m in awe of the technology of today and use and have used quite a bit of it in my work.  But I also have a feel for retro and like to look back, because I’ve lived through it.  Of course the authors of action thrillers mirrored the times in which they lived, but just re-read Alistair MacLean’s The Last Frontier to feel the unforgiving pressure of Hungary’s Cold War winter, and live with Michael Reynolds as he battles the elements to escape the clutches of the dreaded Allamvedelmi Osztaly.  He’s lucky if he has a coat and a pair of winter boots, and he certainly has no technology to help him.  Then take one of those unforgiving, uncertain trips to Berlin with Len Deighton’s Harry Palmer in Funeral in Berlin, or with his Bernard Samson in Berlin Game, and you’ll begin to understand how tough it was to be a hero in a Cold War action thriller.  In fact, the issue of hero or no hero didn’t always arise; it was all about getting out of the place alive, with or without the right result.  Because if you didn’t the outcome was incarceration behind the Iron Curtain and a bland denial on the part of Her Majesty’s Government that you even existed.

Which brings me indirectly to my novel, The Return, a retro action thriller in every sense that I’ve been talking about.  It’s low-tech, set within bleak winter landscapes and is authentic.  This is the framework for Paul Stanton’s first outing.  He’s ex-SAS but is not a member of the Killer Elite in the way today’s ex-SAS are often portrayed - he is not a pulp fiction action hero.  Stanton's resourceful, skilled in the art of killing, but he has a soul and is not a Flash Harry.  The setting is 1985-86 and a cripplingly cold Northern Irish winter.  Stanton’s used to the cold, he was in the Falklands, but this winter is something else.  And then factor in the enemy, the Provisional IRA, at the height of their powers, especially down in Bandit Country.  They led the world at that time in the use of improvised explosive devices and left a legacy that has been seen with frightening results in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years.

So Stanton is up against it and his 1985 technology is not much help.  He gambles on an operation and loses, and is spectacularly “dismissed” and then thrust into the deniable world of Government-sponsored black ops, just like his MacLean and Deighton antecedents.

To tell you more, would, as they say, be to give it all away.  I will just say that the heroine, a beautiful MI5 researcher, is half-English and half-German, and her mother city is Berlin.

It’s a return to Cold War Berlin, and that’s retro.

The Return is available as a Kindle download from all Amazon sites.  See

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