I am delighted to welcome author Mark Ellis to Live and Deadly today. Mark is the author of the Second World War historical series, currently four books strong, which has protagonist Detective Frank Merlin investigating.
Mark grew up under the shadow of his parents’ experience of the Second World War. He has always been fascinated by the fact that while the nation was engaged in a heroic endeavour, crime flourished. His father served in the wartime navy and died a young man. His mother told him stories of watching the heavy bombardment of Swansea from the safe vantage point of a hill in Llanelli, and of attending tea dances in wartime London under the bombs and doodlebugs.
In consequence Mark has always been fascinated by WW2 and in particular the Home Front and the fact that while the nation was engaged in a heroic endeavour, crime flourished. Murder, robbery, theft and rape were rife and the Blitz provided scope for widespread looting.This was an intriguing, harsh and cruel world. This is the world of DCI Frank Merlin.
Mark’s books skillfully blend well -researched fact with his own fiction and today he is joining my blog to discuss his technique and what that adds to his books.
First, let’s take a look at the blurb for A Death in Mayfair, his most recent book.
On a bright Sunday morning in Hawaii, Japanese planes swoop down and attack the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbour. America enters the war and Britain no longer stands alone against Hitler.
Conditions on the home front remain bleak. In a city pulverised by the Blitz, with rampant crime and corruption and overstretched police resources, life for Scotland Yard detective Frank Merlin continues as arduous as ever.
In the week of Japan’s aggression, the shattered body of beautiful film star Laura Curzon is found on the pavement beneath her Mayfair apartment, an apparent suicide. A mile away, the body of a strangled young girl is discovered in the rubble of a bombed-out building.
Merlin and his team investigate, encountering fraudulent film moguls, philandering movie stars, depraved Satanists and brutal gangsters as they battle through a wintry London in pursuit of the truth.
Over to you, Mark
Mixing Fact and Fiction in my World War Two Detective Series
I am a crime author and the creator of Frank Merlin, a Scotland Yard detective in World War Two London. There are four books in the series so far and I’m currently working on the fifth. Merlin’s adventures are being followed in sequence as he works his way through the war. The first book in the series is Princes Gate, which is set in January 1940. Then comes Stalin’s Gold, set in September 1940. The action in Merlin At War, the third book, takes place in June 1941, and the most recent book, A Death In Mayfair, is set in December 1941. My book in progress, the fifth, will be set in August 1942.
I try to place Merlin’s fictional adventures against a realistic background of the historical events of the war. I do a lot of research for every book, spending at least three months reading everything I can about the specific time setting of the story. My plots are often sparked by things I learn in that research.
The Merlin stories feature real people and events alongside the fictional characters and crimes. I enjoy recreating some of the leading figures of the day. Princes Gate, book one in the series, features the patriarch of the Kennedy clan, Joseph Kennedy, who was US Ambassador to London at the time. January 1940 was part of the period which became known as ‘the Phoney War’. Churchill was several months from becoming Prime Minister, British forces were not yet in battle, and there was much talk of ‘appeasing’ Hitler and doing some sort of deal with him to avoid being invaded. Kennedy was one of the principal proponents of appeasement. In the story, Merlin investigates murders of members of the US Embassy staff against the historical background of these shifting political sands.
In Stalin’s Gold, Merlin’s investigations take place during the early days of the Battle of Britain and the Blitz. The plot involves Polish RAF pilots, the theft of a large amount of Russian gold and predatory Georgian gangsters. The story of the theft derives from a real mysterious pre-war disappearance of gold being shipped from Spain to the Black Sea port of Odessa. Stalin and his spy chief Beria are among the non-fictional characters who make an appearance in this book.
The plot of Merlin At War has several strands, one of which involves espionage among French exiles in London. By June 1941, France was under Nazi occupation, and General De Gaulle’s Free French army had established a headquarters in London. Merlin investigates the murder of one of the French exiles against a background of vicious intrigue and treachery. De Gaulle himself features as a character in the book, as does Churchill.
Merlin investigates the violent death of a film star in the latest published book, A Death In Mayfair, which takes place against a background of the wartime British film industry. At the outset of the war there were as many as fifteen film studios in and around London and British films were very important for purposes of escapism and morale to their audiences. Although most of the producers, actors and actresses in the book are fictional, some have close resemblances to real people. Fictional film mogul Victor Goldsmith owes much to Alexander Korda, the dominant British film producer of his day. Goldsmith’s friend and fellow producer, Gus Cowan, has much in common with Sam Spiegel, the renowned producer of films like Lawrence of Arabia and The Bridge on the River Kwai. Rex Harrison and George Formby were among the models for other characters in the book.
The as yet untitled fifth Merlin book in progress is set in August 1942. This was a period when, following US entry into the war, American troops were flooding into Britain to bolster Britain’s war effort and prepare for conflict with Germany in North Africa and Europe. My research told me that many white American troops coming to Britain brought extreme racist attitudes with them. Part of the story will deal with the difficulties this caused. The plot also involves the art world, and real characters who feature include Sir Kenneth Clark, the famous art historian, and the prodigious art collector Calouste Gulbenkian, then reputed to be the richest man in the world. Gulbenkian was living in neutral Lisbon in the summer of 1942. The Portuguese capital was a hotbed of international espionage and skullduggery throughout the war years, and related intrigues provide Merlin with some difficult problems to solve. The book will be out next year.
Thanks Mark for a fascinating look at your books and the way you have approached them. You can purchase A Death in Mayfair by clicking on any of the links below.
Mark Ellis is a thriller writer from Swansea and a former barrister. He is the creator of DCI Frank Merlin, an Anglo-Spanish police detective operating in World War 2 London. His books treat the reader to a vivid portrait of London during the war. Mark Ellis’ books regularly appear in the Kindle bestseller charts. He is a member of the Crime Writers Association (CWA). Merlin at War was on the CWA Historical Dagger Longlist in 2018.