Thursday, 26 May 2016

The story behind the book - 'Close Quarters'

‘Close Quarters’ – the 2nd Marc Portman spy thriller (Severn House)

 He's a professional shadow. A watcher who provides protection in hostile situations. He works in the background, stays off the record. Often the people he's guarding have no idea he's there.

Some people know him as Portman.

 After the success of ‘The Watchman’, the first in the Marc Portman series, which zoomed to No 1 on Kindle in the Espionage category, and featured Portman fighting Somali pirates and terrorists, I had to choose somewhere equally challenging for him to go in the second book, ‘Close Quarters’ - (see cover right).
Sad to say, I wasn’t exactly short of options.

At the time of writing in 2013/14, Ukraine was heating up to be another long-term centre of conflict, with pro-Russian separatists fighting Ukrainian Government forces in the east of the country, and increasingly seen to be backed by active Russian forces (or volunteers, as they were described by Moscow).

Watching the flurry of diplomatic activity as politicians from various quarters tried to help, I was struck immediately by the possibility of one of these well-meaning advisers or monitors being taken captive and used as a bargaining tool between east and west. After all, it has happened before.

Very quickly the idea of a US State Department official sent to check out the developing situation finding himself in custody and an unknown fate became the plot for a story, and Portman was on his next assignment.

This time he was hired by the CIA as a ‘black’ operative to extricate the official, Edwin Travis, from the hands of extremists and get him out of the country. But this time, unlike the wastes of Somalia and Kenya (‘The Watchman’), he has to get Travis free of his ‘hotel’ in Donetsk, which is teeming with Ukrainian forces, Russian-backed militia, and mafia killers on the lookout for his blood after a near-lethal confrontation on his arrival at the airport.

With only the distant voice of CIA Langley-based comms newbie, Lindsay Citera to guide him, Portman has to travel from Donetsk in the east right across the country to the border with Moldova, in order to get Travis out. But the one thing he cannot do in the hot-bed political atmosphere is rely on help from identifiable US forces or the embassy.

As usual, Portman is on his own.

Unfortunately, the CIA has an enemy in the camp, in the form of powerful and vindictive US Senator Howard Benson, who would like nothing more than to shut down their ‘black’ ops and bring their covert activities under control. When he gets wind of the operative known only as ‘Watchman’, he does all he can to identify him and use him to discredit the CIA, while also taking advantage of the worsening situation in Ukraine for his own financial ends as a member of the select and highly secretive Dupont Circle Group.

And he doesn’t care if ‘Watchman’ and the State Department envoy become collateral damage in pursuit of his schemes.

I have to say there was a point during the writing of ‘Close Quarters’ that I came close to giving up. It was after the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July, in the Donetsk Oblast (region), said to have been caused by separatist forces helped by Russian-supplied ground-to-air systems.

I was deeply shocked by the event and felt it was all-too close and something around which I couldn't - maybe shouldn't - centre a work of fiction, especially a thriller. I left it alone for several days while trying to make up my mind, should I ditch the entire book or continue? One way or another I didn’t want to be thought of as making capital out of such a dreadful event.

It was a close-run thing until my wife pointed out that the timeline of the novel was around May, so the airline disaster would not feature at all. In addition, not writing the book couldn't materially affect what had happened.

In the end I decided to continue with it, but I made sure I avoided any similar ideas creeping into the novel.


Portman is used to finding himself in hostile situations. But none can be more unpredictable than the troubled Ukraine, teetering on the brink of civil war.
When a US State Department official on a fact-finding mission to the Ukraine is placed under house arrest by Russian-backed rebels, the CIA hire Portman (codename Watchman) to get him out of the country. In that dangerous and volatile region, Portman soon finds himself up against local gangsters, Ukrainian Special Forces, professional snipers and pro-Russian separatists. And being a ‘black’ operative, the only support he has is the distant voice of recently-recruited CIA Langley-based comms operator, Lindsay Citera, on her first assignment.

What they don't know however, is that Portman’s most lethal enemy comes from his own side …


'Close Quarters' - Severn House - available in ebook, p/b and h/b editions.

For signed hardback copy - see here: Goldsboro Books


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