A few years back I wrote about the death of Basil Murray during the Spanish Civil War. A weak-willed alcoholic, Murray is best remembered for providing a model for the character of Basil Seal in various books by Evelyn Waugh.
He died in a bizarre way, bitten to death by a Barbary Macaque while unconscious in a Valencia hotel room. Turns out Barbary apes are dangerous monkeys.
Very dangerous, in fact. One killed King Alexander of Greece in 1920 after a stroll in the royal gardens. The new King was twenty-seven-years-old and his country involved in a bitter war against the remnants of the Ottoman Empire.
I first wrote about the fate of Ole Johan Grimsgaard-Ofstad a few years ago. The Norwegian travelled to Syria in 2015 hoping to get involved in the war. He ended up an Islamic State hostage and dead. Someone who knew Grimsgaard-Ofstad well got in touch recently with a lot more information about this Quixotic right-winger. It’s quite a story.
Knut F. Thoresen is a Norwegian soldier and writer. His most recent book is out now. Nordmenn i krig: 1850-2019 (Norwegians at War) examines how his fellow countrymen have volunteered for every major war, and quite a few minor ones, since the mid-nineteenth century onward. Spain, Bosnia, Korea, WW1, WW2, Rhodesia. If you read Norwegian it’s an essential book and highly recommended.
Thoresen knew Grimsgaard-Ofstad well, first encountering him at school. He shared his memories of this unusual man by email.
You are shown into a large room. You are nervous. Your heart races, your palms are sweating lightly. Your chair sits facing a long table. Behind the table a panel of faces look at you coldly. A man gets up and stands next to you.
‘We are going to play Russian Roulette,’ he says. Is he crazy? Do they expect you to risk your life for a job? You look at the panel. They are serious. You look at the speaker. He forms his fingers into the shape of a gun.
‘This,’ he says, ‘is a six chamber revolver.’ He puts it to your temple. ‘It has one bullet in it.’ He jerks his finger. ‘Click. No bullet in that chamber. I’m going to pull the trigger again. Before I do that, do you want me to spin the cylinder of the revolver? You have three seconds to answer.’
The panel are looking at you intensely, analysing your reaction. Welcome to the favourite situation of high powered job interviewers. Answering complex questions under pressure. Can you give the right answer?
The sun is my enemy. There’s a lot of burning heat, dried grass, and dehydration across Europe this summer. Not good news for anyone with the kind of aristocratic pallor that makes vampires look like George Hamilton.
I’m still working on my book about the Bonny-Lafont gang in Paris during the Second World War. The windows are open, the tower fan is humming, and ice is melting in a tall glass of orange juice and sparkling water. It’s hot as the day Satan banned beach umbrellas in Hell. If you know somewhere that snows all year round then let me know. I’ll move.
Let’s cool down with a deep dive into history, mystery, pop culture, and worse.
Pop the champagne and spoon out the caviar. I just signed the contract for my next book. It’s about gangsters in Paris during WW2. Look out for it around June 2020 from publishers Biteback. The working title is ‘The French Gestapo’, although that might change.
In wartime Paris a gang of crooks, corrupt cops, and fallen celebrities led by the orchid-loving thief Henri Lafont worked for the Nazis and lived like kings – until the Allies arrived and a price had to be paid.
Expect treason, debauchery, crime, and tragedy. It’s like Goodfellas meets Inglourious Basterds, or The Godfather meets Schindler’s List. And it’s all true. Find out more about my new book below.
Hope everyone had a good Easter, whether you were worshipping, ignoring, or munching eggs. I spent my time in one of the few cafes still open, reading about old school French gangsters while scribbling notes in a cheap exercise book and lingering over a hot chocolate so thick you could stand on it to change a light bulb.
Yes, there’s another book on the way. It’s about strange alliances in wartime Paris between the underworld and the occupiers. More details when things firm up with publishers. Stay tuned and feel free to get in touch if you know something on the subject that I probably don’t.
Until then, it’s time again for another round-up of interesting links on the kind of subjects that appal most normal folk. Click, read, recoil.
The Gilet Jaunes protests continue in France. Victor Lenta and his gang of military veterans from Ukraine are rumoured to be involved. Behind them a shadowy warlord from a breakaway republic is threatening to send more veterans to the streets of Paris.
Unité Continentale is a controversial far-right political group whose members turned paramilitary and joined the separatists in East Ukraine, otherwise known as Novorossiya. The group is Paris-based but includes many expat Brazilians and Serbs. Since returning home they have become involved in the fight against Emmanuel Macron’s government. Our man in Serbia gave us the scoop but also dropped some hints about a warlord he believes is also involved.
I asked for more details. Here it is. His views, as always, are his own.