The Honourable Assassin

The execution of a Mexican drug cartel hit man in a Carlton laneway draws Vic Cavalier to Thailand and back to a past he'd rather forget in this tense, action-packed thriller. Vic Cavalier has certainly had better weeks. His newspaper editor is hell-bent on showing him the door, his footy team lost its last game, and his drinking habit is winning the war with his better angels. And then there's the man with the bullet in his head and links to a Mexican drug-cartel lying in a Carlton laneway. When his editor wants the story Cavalier finds himself in Bangkok uncomfortably close to the action and under the watchful eye of a local cop with an intriguing background herself.
In the steamy violent world of Thai elite power plays and the chaos of a coup Cavalier's motivation becomes clear - this same cartel is implicated in the disappearance and possible murder of his daughter. He has no choice but to pursue them - whatever it takes. Weaving together a face-paced, all-too-real story The Honourable Assassin is part psychological thriller and part today's headlines about massive illegal drug trafficking in Australia and corruption at the highest levels in South East Asia.

Daily Review Interview

Roland Perry is an espionage, war, thriller and — for good measure — cricket writer. His long and varied career has seen him publish 29 books with his latest The Honourable Assassin, a “psychological thriller about the massive illegal drug trafficking in Australia and corruption at the highest levels in South East Asia”.

Perry was in Thailand in May, 2014 researching the novel when fact collided with fiction as the country’s military coup unfolded.

We asked him about basing fiction on real events and real people, dealing with spies and former spies for factual information, and whether his research has put him in danger.

The Honourable Assassin is an espionage novel based on factual events —  in this case, the 2014 Thai military coup. Were you in Thailand with the book in mind or did the sudden events there inspire the book?

I was in Thailand researching the fictional book when the coup occurred. It was fortunate. The information flow in every way — on the net, through conventional media, and through contacts such as diplomats –was extraordinary. The narrative was set before the coup, but the events gave the story a strong extra edge.

How long were you in Thailand during the coup, and how did you go about getting detailed, inside information during the events?

I’ve have made eight trips to the region including Thailand for four books and one documentary in the last eight years. That trip in May-June 2014 was over eight weeks. I have good contacts all through South East  Asia, including Thailand and I used them.

Were you in any danger in the process of researching info (or are we investing you with the characteristics of your protagonist, Vic Cavalier?)

You are only in danger if you take uncalculated, reckless risks. For instance, you can observe riots but not get involved. If you were reckless enough to make anti-Junta remarks in a period of high ‘sensitivity’ during a coup, you could end up in jail.

We know of the difficulties writers and journalists (such as Alan Morison) can have with Thai authorities — are these matters that affect you as a foreign author?

I am an author of fiction here whereas Morrison published ‘news’ that was unacceptable to the authorities. My book will be published in Australia and other markets, and may see the light in Thailand. But fiction is usually ignored by the authorities. Non-fiction is another issue.

How widespread is corruption in Thailand?

No more widespread than any other nation, including Australia, in South East Asia. The current military dictatorship seems to be making a genuine effort to tackle corruption, such as cleaning up of problems with the police force.

Tell us how you came to base Cavalier on a real life SAS sniper?

I interviewed this person over the phone, but he gave no personal details. I did my homework after the interview and came up with the character and her/his ‘approach.’ But it is fiction, of course.

Does the real sniper know Cavalier is based on them?

Yes. I recall telling him/her that title would be The Assassin Who Cared, which he/she liked. It was changed to The Honourable Assassin, which I could not think would bother her/him.

What makes Cavalier an attractive protagonist and do you intend to write him into future books?

He is an attractive protagonist in this story as he is driven very much by‘ the greater good’, whatever his motive. He has a life as a professional journalist, but a hidden, second profession.

I have used my own experiences over 47 years as an author, journalist and documentary film-maker for source material concerning the main character’s activity.

I have had a vast array of contacts in a score of countries, including some of the most experienced espionage agents — spies of the past century. They are an excellent source as long as there is trust. I have been offered work with the CIA twice, DGSE (French Intelligence), MI6 and ASIO, but have turned down all overtures categorically.

I believe it is a major mistake for any media person to allow themselves to be suborned by intelligence agencies, those of their own country or any other. (I note that writer Fred Forsythe admits he spied for MI6. It shows in his writing.)

The first approach to me was made when I was a 24 year old on The Age newspaper.

I am a friend of the last Director General of ASIO, David Irvine. We sat together for several yearson the Advisory Council of the National Archives until 2012 . It was purely an acquaintanceship, and he never got remotely near offering me ‘work’. Quite the opposite. He did however, once give me some personal advice, not information, on a recent book, when I asked for it.

I also had a good ‘working’ relationship — as author with subject — with the KGB’s Yuri Ivanovitch Modin. The term ‘Masterspy’ is bandied around, diluting its real meaning. But Modin was the Masterspy of the 20th Century, running the Cambridge/Oxford University Rings in the Cold War.

The Rings’ members formed the most effective group of agents in history. They all worked for the KGB, Russian Intelligence. Modin, among many, was an excellent source for my two books on the Cambridge University Ring—The Fifth Man and Last of the Cold War Spies.

I may use Cavalier again, but books should come naturally and not be contrived for sequels. I shall review this in 2016. Certainly it is a rich vein in narrative terms and I enjoy writing them, free of the shackles of non-fiction.

Are these real people a starting point for your characters or or are they slightly tweaked for literary purposes?

Some are based on real characters; some are ‘tweaked’ as you say, for literary purposes. Some are pure fiction.

What are the ethical and or legal issues around basing your characters on real life figures?

As long as the characters are deemed fictional there are no legal issues. If the book is a work of fiction there are no ethical issues.

How do you go about researching drug dealers and cartels? Is it based on secondary or primary sources?

Again, it is a work of fiction and there is abundant information on the cartels and dealers. But some information in the story is based on primary sources.

Have you ever been in threat of danger for such research?

Yes, several times.

Is Melbourne an illegal drug centre of note or is it in the novel because it’s your home town and you can write it well?

Sydney and Melbourne are the biggest illegal drug centres in Australia. Basing it at the start in Melbourne has nothing to do with me living there. The links in the fiction to real events made it useful.

Who are your most admired espionage writers?

I admire Le Carre for his early works, and Graham Greene for his stories which dealt with spies. They have both been insiders. Le Carre worked for MI6. Greene also did useful work of at least one spy agency, MI5, during the war and afterwards for MI6. He was a good friend and work-mate of Kim Philby, one of the Cambridge spies.

Have you adapted any of your books for film treatments?

I have been commissioned and paid for three scripts.

You are also a cricket writer. As we know, cricket can lead to corruption and even murder. Any plans to combine the two in a cricket crime thriller?

It’s on an agenda of mine, but I have other stories that will take precedence. Give me 20 years and it may well be done. But don’t tell Shane Warne, one of my more illustrious and colourful biographical subjects!

You can buy Roland Perry’s The Honourable ssassin (Allen and Unwin) here or read an excerpt here.