The Man Who Invented Russian Roulette

SURDEZScattered farm houses with roofs the colour of dark chocolate cling to sloping daffodil meadows at the foot of the Jura mountains. Cows amble through pastures with clanking brass bells around their necks.

Pure picture postcard to outsiders, this tranquil part of Switzerland is home to a town German-speakers know as Biel. Francophones prefer to call it Bienne.

Georges Arthur Surdez was born here in 1900 to a French-speaking middle class family with its fair share of demons.

Surdez shared the family home with an elder brother and three elder sisters. An adult brother and sister were making new lives for themselves in America. They had been gone so long that the smart toys they sent Surdez at Christmas stirred no memories.

His father Eugene was a watchmaker, and mother Marie happy to devote her life to her children. Like many outwardly respectable families, a maggot wriggled inside the apple.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Franco, Katanga, and Haile Selassie

Reading1Hi friends. This is a round up of stuff about my books and assorted matters i.e. a combination shill/boast. Let’s go.

An article I wrote for the Amberley website about Ethiopia and the Italian invasion is live. Check it out here. It’s a useful overview of the war and mercenary involvement. Also has a very nice photograph of Haile Selassie with book and Great Dane.

The BBC History website commissioned an article on my book, emphasising the role played by foreigners, both as soldiers and journalists. Article is done, checked, and lined up for publication. Should be live this month or the next. Keep an eye out or check back here – I’ll update when it appears.

Continue reading

Lost Lions Of Judah Ebook On Sale Now

Lost Lions CopyThe ebook version of Lost Lions of Judah: Haile Selassie’s Mongrel Foreign Legion is now available. If you prefer pixels to ink then hit Amazon and download.

So far it’s available from Amazon.co.uk but the US edition will be out in October 2017. Here’s a taste of the introduction to give you the flavour of the book:

When the first bomb exploded, Vienna’s finest trauma surgeon was elbow deep inside a patient’s guts somewhere in northern Ethiopia. Dr Valentin Schuppler kept his scalpel steady as shock waves blew in half the hospital windows. The Red Cross on the roof was being used as a target by Italian airplanes.

Dessie hospital was an unhygienic pile of bricks in a backwater town whose best feature was its juniper trees. Any patient mobile enough had gone running for the hills when the first Fascist planes appeared. Schuppler stayed in the operating theatre and worked on a patient who was going nowhere without a mile of stitches and a dose of morphine.

Continue reading

Here Are 6 Non-Fiction Books You Need To Read

Library bookshelfI’ve been writing books, articles, and blog posts for a while now. My subjects are mercenaries and extremists, smugglers and peacekeepers, lost causes and short-lived countries, and the kind of writers who hammer out words on a busted typewriter with a 9mm in their belt and a bottle of vodka in the ice box.

My new book is out now. Lost Lions of Judah is the strange, untold story of the Nazis and adventurers who fought for Ethiopia against Mussolini’s invaders.

And it’s all true.

That’s one of the revelations in non-fiction history. Everything you can read about in real world fiction has already happened to someone somewhere. And it was weirder and wilder than you can imagine.

There are plenty of non-fiction writers out there with the talent to take all their research and interviews and summon up a living, breathing, technicolor world. Here’s six non-fiction books that do the job very well.

Continue reading

Lost Lions Of Judah Published 15 June 2017

Lost Lions of JudahMy book about the foreign mercenaries, adventurers, and crusaders who fought for Ethiopia against the Italian Fascist invasion is out on Thursday 15 June. Here’s a taste of the introduction … .

When the first bomb exploded, Vienna’s finest trauma surgeon was elbow deep inside a patient’s guts somewhere in northern Ethiopia. Dr Valentin Schuppler kept his scalpel steady as shock waves blew in half the hospital windows. The Red Cross on the roof was being used as a target by Italian airplanes.

Dessie hospital was an unhygienic pile of bricks in a backwater town whose best feature was its juniper trees. Any patient mobile enough had gone running for the hills when the first Fascist planes appeared. Schuppler stayed in the operating theatre and worked on a patient who was going nowhere without a mile of stitches and a dose of morphine.

Continue reading

On The Trail Of The Bloody Baron

Baron 2In 1936 Vladimir Pozner, a young immigrant writer with left-wing views, was trawling the underground of the Russian community in Paris for information on a dead Baron.

The people he talked with had been driven out of their homeland twenty years before by the Bolshevik revolution. Their Paris exile was a world of former colonels driving taxi-cabs; aristocrats in genteel poverty scratching for rent; Russian language newspapers on cheap paper predicting the fall of Communism any day now; and tea rooms in which the clock had stopped in 1917.

Pozner had no sympathy for these shards of old Russia embedded in the French capital. He was researching the biography of a general from the Civil War. The best place to find information was among the Russian exiles still mentally fighting the Bolsheviks.

The taxi drivers and workers in the automobile factories made their way right across Paris to read the memoirs of their former leaders in the Russian Library,” he wrote. “They surrounded the page with exclamation marks and comments such as ‘Traitor!’ ‘Jew!’ ‘Coward!’ Everything that might be read between the lines of these books was shown up here, pencilled in, rubbed out, and scrawled in again by subordinates bursting with retrospective rage.”

Continue reading

Lost Lions Of Judah At The Printers

Lost Lions of JudahMy book about the crazy gang of foreign mercenaries who fought for Ethiopia in the 1930s went to the printers last week. It has a shiny new cover in gold and marble grey, and should be in the shops some time this summer.

The Italian invasion of Ethiopia in late 1935 outraged the world. Communists saw it as proof of Fascist barbarism, liberals were shocked by the display of outdated imperialism; even the empire builders in London and Paris were reluctant to welcome Mussolini into their club.

It was a war between far-right modernity and patriarchal traditionalism. The Italians had airplanes, high explosive, and mustard gas. The Ethiopians preferred swords and spears. Emperor Haile Selassie needed expert foreign help. What he got was a bunch of mercenaries who could barely shoot straight and leaned further to the right than Mussolini.

Lost Lions of Judah tells the whole colourful, blood-stained story.

Continue reading