Road, the second in the Joe Tiplady series, examines brainwashing through the prism of the thriller. My main character is inspired by an IRA man who went to North Korea to learn how to kill the British. There, he realised they were brainwashed by the Kim regime and he had been by the IRA. He’s based on a real ex-IRA man I met in Belfast. In Road, Joe is tasked by a rich and well-connected American client to get his son back from Syria but things turn out rather more complicated than that. A second driver is the simple heroism of the ordinary Syrians who in 2015 went on the run from two evils: the Assad regime and ISIS. I reported their story for BBC Panorama, following families from Damascus and Raqqa on their odyssey from the Greek island of Kos to the Austrian border. They told me that Assad and ISIS – the two big dogs in the Syrian pit – weren’t fighting each other. Instead, they savaged their shared enemy, the democratic, liberal-ish alternative to Assad. As a reporter I’ve challenged both Trump and Putin and it amused me to touch on how American and Russian spies have been dancing a stately gavotte around the carnage, with the men with snow on the boots very much on the front foot. I’ve created a CIA boss called Zeke, an ex-Mormon based on a real US intelligence officer I met, who tries to fight the good fight. Road opens in Albania, a country I first visited in 1990, on an archaeological tour when 17 (banned) journalists pretended not to be journalists. Our guide was Agim Neza, a wonderful, extraordinarily sardonic man. In Road, he’s an honest cop. Oh – and US President-Elect Drobb, the man with marmalade skin caught in a honeytrap in a Moscow hotel room? I made him up.
John Sweeney is the author of Road, out now from Thomas & Mercer.