Some might think it is a misnomer to call my Harry Tate thrillers a spy series. Spy fiction has traditionally been about grey men or women in the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) working to acquire strategic information from foreign governments, and the Security Service (MI5) cracking spy rings and preventing those devious Johnnies with foreign accents using underhand methods to steal our secrets.

But times have changed. With MI5 and MI6 operating in areas many people would think was outside their remit, spy fiction as a genre now covers a much broader range of activities. Think of a recent example where (allegedly) MI6 officers flew into Libya with a group of SAS/SBS bodyguards. Hardly subtle, arriving in a head-bangingly noisy chopper and tooled up to the armpits, when we all know they should be tiptoeing around using blackmail, honey traps, hard cash or, failing that, electronic wizardry to pick up every word, transmission and picture that they need.

Equally, MI5 (Harry Tate’s employers in ‘Red Station’ – the first in the series) once focussed on digging out foreign spies here at home, now also play a major part in waging the war on terrorism, serious crime and drugs.

This is why I made Harry’s first ‘outing’ a foreign one, reflecting MI5’s expanded area of operations. Unfortunately for Harry, his involvement in a failed international drugs bust caused him to be pitched into a rogue MI5/6 scheme to quietly dispose of officers who were a potential embarrassment, and he was nearly eliminated in Georgia for the sake of official convenience.

But what to do with an MI5 officer who can’t go back to the office?

In ‘Tracers’, Harry is relegated to working in the public sector, but is ‘carded’ – authorised to carry a weapon and on call should MI5 ever need his services. One might think this would be the last thing he wants after such shoddy treatment, but Harry is loyal to his country, and having that remote contact suits him fine. After all, they’ll probably never need him. In the meantime he can get on with making a living as a Tracer, along with Rik Ferris, a fellow survivor of ‘Red Station’, using their skills to find people who have gone missing – usually with large amounts of embezzled money.

I didn’t want this to be a story of a spy-catcher fallen on hard times and gone to seed, however. Harry is still the man he always was. Hired to track down three separate runaways, he quickly finds two, but they immediately fall victim to a professional ‘hit’. The third, described as an Israeli professor suffering serious trauma, turns out to be anything but, and it soon becomes clear to Harry that this whole business has its origins in Iraq, with potential terrorist connections. Tied up with this is a conspiracy by powerful commercial forces within the western Coalition to gain control of Iraq’s energy resources. And in order to do this, they will kill anyone who gets in their way.

Thus Harry’s world never strays far from his traditional stamping grounds, and he soon finds himself up to his oxters in intrigue and danger, using all his old tradecraft to survive.

But there’s more to Harry’s world than paid work. He hasn’t forgotten Paulton, the former MI5 boss who tried to have him eliminated. Paulton is still out there, and Harry has both the skill and the desire to bring him in. All he has to do is find him.

But that’s for the third book in the series, provisionally called ‘The Protectory’, on which I’m currently working.

‘Tracers’ – the second Harry Tate thriller, published by Severn House on 25th February.

Adrian Magson –

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