To mark the twentieth anniversary of the publication of Firefox, the first techno-thriller, Craig Thomas, whose worldwide sales now exceed 20 million copies, has created a remarkable new adventure for his most memorable and enigmatic character, Mitchell Gant, the pilot who stole the MiG-31 from the heart of the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War.
Immortalised by Clint Eastwood, Mitchell Gant is back. In A Different War, Craig Thomas moves the thriller into the global market of the nineties, where fortunes as well as lives are at stake and the enemies are even more ruthless. This is the master of the genre setting new standards for the political adventure novel.
Craig Thomas' recent novels, Playing With Cobras and A Wild Justice, had moved the thriller into the spheres of political corruption in India and the growing influence of the Russian Mafia. Now, A Different War completes the process of redrawing the boundaries of the thriller following the end of the Cold War and the demise of the old political and moral certainties
Thomas describes the reintroduction of Mitchell Gant to his many readers in the following way:
' I had had in mind for a long time the theme of rivalry in the global aircraft manufacturing business. There are billions of dollars at stake for all concerned, a great deal of government influence, bribery, ruthlessness and corruption. I was, however, unable to find a focus for the idea….
…until I began to wonder what the 1990s had been like for Mitchell Gant. It was, after all, ten years since his last adventure, Winter Hawk. He would obviously have been involved in the Gulf War, with the reliance on stealth aircraft, but that could well have been his last military operation. Yet what would a man like Gant do in civilian life, with his special skills and love-affair with flying? There seemed only one profession that would satisfy his need for mystery and danger - that of an air accident investigator.'
Craig Thomas is a writer at the peak of his powers. As the New York Times says of his books: 'When it comes to keeping the story moving and stoking up the excitement, Mr Thomas knows his business'. His new blockbuster, A Different War will not disappoint.
Craig Thomas has been described as "a master storyteller" and "one of the finest action writers working today". His fourteen best-selling novels have consistently attracted praise and that sincerest form of flattery, imitation, since he is generally credited with creating the genre of the 'techno-thriller' with his novel FIREFOX (1977).
Born in Cardiff in 1942, Thomas was educated at Cardiff High School and University College, Cardiff. He says his five years at university "sealed his fate. It was a life connected with literature, with the magic of words." After completing his MA on Thomas Hardy, he went into teaching. Writing, however, nagged at the corners of his attention throughout his eleven years teaching English.
At first he began to write "in a rather amateurish and occasional way", producing a number of scripts for radio and TV, all of which were rejected. Eventually, after pleading with a script editor to offer him some helpful advice, he was told he could write, but not for radio. "Apparently, what I was producing were really novels in disguise. The script editor told me to attempt a novel. Perhaps he hoped never to hear from me again, but he provided what was the single most important piece of practical advice I have ever received. It changed my life."
"I happened to have an idea for a thriller which I wanted to try as a radio serial. Instead, I turned it into a novel; an eighteen month effort, but I managed it. To me, there seemed an awful lot wrong with it, so instead of editing and rewriting, I wrote RAT TRAP, my first published novel."
Thomas was drawn to the thriller genre because of its "evident sense of tension and danger, the deliberate structure of the plots, and perhaps the emphatic moral framework - just as many writers of detective fiction are drawn to the sense of justice their books demonstrate towards good and evil. There is an attraction in the thriller or adventure story, for both the writer and reader in knowing which side one is supposed to be on. And thrillers are optimistic. Their problems are soluble, and they are resolved by individuals. As Oscar Wilde said, 'the good end happily, the bad unhappily - that is the meaning of fiction'."
It was Thomas' second novel, FIREFOX, which made him a best-seller both here and in the U.S., and enabled him to become a professional novelist. An American paperback house paid a significant sum for the book, and Clint Eastwood made the movie. It was the first techno-thriller and the first action story to be set mainly in the Soviet Union. "Those two elements," Thomas says, "were original at the time. It put the book in the right place at the right time to succeed."
Thomas left teaching in 1977, having already completed his third novel, WOLFSBANE, which turned to a more classic espionage formula but which cleverly mingled the main action, set in the late '60s, with events and betrayals during World War II. However, it was with his fourth novel, SNOW FALCON, which speculated on a possible Soviet invasion of western Europe via Finland, that Thomas claims he "found my own voice." it was praised in the by one of Thomas' influences and an author he admires, C.P. Snow. "It was a review to treasure," he says.
Craig Thomas' subsequent books, including most recently THE BEAR'S TEARS, WINTER HAWK, ALL THE GREY CATS, THE LAST RAVEN and A HOODED CROW, all spring from his interest in "speculations" on geopolitical tensions and conflicts. Many of them feature Sir Kenneth Aubrey and Patrick Hyde, characters who have established themselves in the pantheon of thriller fiction protagonists. Yet Thomas' books are not directly or traditionally espionage novels. "My characters may happen to be spies or agents. That is their perspective on the events of the books. But I think of the stories as a natural progression from John Buchan's novels, like THE 39 STEPS and MR. STANDFAST, rather than from Greene and Ambler. It's the political adventure story, the genre that Geoffrey Household continued after Buchan.
The world of the political adventure interests Thomas because "it allows writers to dramatise certain basic principles of human nature - loyalty, affection, hatred, rage, anguish. And because of its conventions and certainties, it allows a political situation to be looked at in a moral perspective, as a matter of right and wrong and not simply diplomacy or power-play. In that sense, the 'thriller' or 'adventure' is like the tart with the heart of gold, so to speak. The genre may be loud, overwrought, florid and even vulgar, but it also has genuine things to say to real people. It ought not to be entirely dismissed in the way it often is."
But what of the thriller or political adventure, now that the Wall has come down? Thomas admits that the Cold War, which has been offlcially declared to have ended, sustained the thriller and its moral framework for the last forty years. He is adamant that the kind of book he writes has not expired along with the Berlin Wall. "Just watching the evening news or picking up a newspaper, ought to make it obvious that the world may now be a more, rather than less, dangerous place. There are still heroes, like General Morillon and the aid workers in Bosnia, an imprisoned Nobel Prize-winner in Burma, corruption and the abuse of power everywhere. If the various genres we call thrillers, couldn't address these things - then they would deserve to founder. But they can and they will."
Indeed, in his last novel, A HOODED CROW, paperbacked this May , Thomas evokes a fascinating picture of the aftermath of the Cold War and of one of the most intractable of current political problems, the future of South Africa. He has interwoven the scenario with Russian industrial espionage and the high-technology targets of present-day spying.
Thomas works on nothing more high-tech than an electronic typewriter. He and his wife, Jill, his editor and business manager, live near Lichfield in Staffordshire in a rambling Victorian house. His one luxury, beyond his huge library of books and recordings, has been "a succession of very expensive cars." His first Porsche represented "every boy's dream Christmas present."
When not engaged on one of his novels, Thomas preoccupies himself with the history of philosophy. Philosophy is, to him, "the greatest adventure." His book of essays, THERE TO HERE: Ideas of Political Society, was published in 1991, and he is currently working on a two-volume commentary on the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche - "and most of the rest of Western philosophy, almost by accident. The book seems to be growing like Topsy," he adds.