I’m pleased to be joined by author Ken Lussey today who has written a fascinating guest post about one of his characters, Vera Duval also known as Monique Dubois. You’ll find out all about her remarkable story and the inspiration behind it.
Vera Duval, who is known through much of the book by her cover name of Monique Dubois, is one of the two central characters in The Danger of Life, alongside Group Captain Robert Sutherland.
Vera’s story, which she told Bob while the two were in captivity together in my first novel Eyes Turned Skywards, is a remarkable one. She was born in 1912 in Barnaul in Siberia. She never knew her parents and was adopted by a couple who became her Danish father and her Polish/Ukrainian mother. After the Russian revolution in 1918 the family took their then 5-year-old daughter Vera to Denmark, where they bought a farm. After they moved to Paris in 1924 Vera attended ballet school. She was touring Europe with a ballet company by the time she was sixteen and performing as a cabaret dancer in Paris when she was 17.
In 1930, aged 18, she met and married an exiled White Russian count, who turned out to be a drug dealer who was spying on the communists. She acquired a cocaine habit as a result, and left him after a year, continuing her career as a dancer in Paris. In 1932 she was recruited by the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, to keep an eye on both the White Russians and the communists. Then, in 1936, she was (with MI6 approval) recruited into the Abwehr, the German intelligence service, by one of its senior officers, Hans Friedrich von Wedel. She subsequently married him, after her first husband had been shot as a spy in Russia. In 1938 Vera travelled with von Wedel to London to cultivate German sympathisers: while all along reporting back to MI6.
Von Wedel was killed in a car crash in 1940, and Vera was trained by the Germans in Norway to infiltrate Britain as part of the preparations for their planned invasion. On 29 September 1940, after the invasion had already been shelved, she was landed by seaplane with two other agents in the Moray Firth off Port Gordon. All three were quickly arrested. Her two companions were subsequently executed as spies, while Vera transferred from M16 to MI5 under a false identity. It was while working for MI5 that she first met Bob, a year before the events of Eyes Turned Skywards, and she meets Bob again in The Danger of Life while running an MI5 operation in Glasgow that is in danger of going badly wrong.
This is all pretty far-fetched stuff, isn’t it? No author in his or her right mind would invent a character like Vera Duval and expect their readers to accept her as credible? Fortunately, I didn’t have to invent her. Vera Duval is a fictional alias for a real woman. The real Vera Ericksen, or Vera Schalburg, or take your pick from any number of other aliases, had a story that was even more complex and even darker than the one I’ve given to Vera Duval. The real Vera Ericksen disappeared during the war after the two spies she landed with at Port Gordon were tried and executed. It is quite possible she changed identity.
I knew when I stumbled over Vera Ericksen’s story while researching Eyes Turned Skywards that I had to build her into the novel as a central character, and she is equally pivotal in The Danger of Life. I like to think she’s paid me back with interest for doing so, as in my view both stories are far more powerful because of her involvement.
My thanks to Kelly at Love Books Tours for inviting me to take part in the blogtour. The Danger of Life is published by Fledgling Press and is available now in paperback and ebook formats. You can order a copy online here: The Danger of Life
From the back of the book
It is late 1942. Group Captain Robert Sutherland’s first week in charge of Military Intelligence 11’s operations in Scotland and northern England is not going smoothly. A murder at the Commando Basic Training Centre in the Highlands is being investigated by one of his teams, until events take an even darker turn that draws Bob in personally. He is also trying to discover who was behind an attempt to steal an advanced reconnaissance aircraft from a military airfield in Fife, an investigation made no easier by the perpetrator’s death. The complication he could really live without comes via a telephone call from Monique Dubois in MI5. An operation she’s been running in Glasgow, without Bob or anyone else knowing, has gone badly wrong, and she wants him to intervene before it is entirely compromised. The Danger of Life is a fast-paced thriller set in Scotland during the Second World War. It is Ken’s second novel to feature Bob Sutherland and Monique Dubois and picks up not long after the end of his first, Eyes Turned Skywards. The action moves back and forth across Scotland, with much of it set in Lochaber, where the present war intersects with another conflict that took place two centuries earlier: with deadly consequences.
About the author
Ken Lussey spent his first 17 years following his family – his father was a Royal Air Force navigator – around the world, a process that involved seven schools and a dozen different postal addresses. He went to Hull University in 1975, spending his time there meeting his wife Maureen, hitch-hiking around Great Britain, and doing just enough actual work to gain a reasonable degree in that most useful of subjects, philosophy.
The next step seemed obvious. He researched and wrote ‘A Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to Great Britain’, which was published by Penguin Books in 1983. An inexplicable regression into conformity saw him become a civil servant for the next couple of decades, during which time he fulfilled the long-held ambition of moving to Scotland. In more recent times he has helped Maureen establish the website ‘Undiscovered Scotland’ as the ultimate online guide to Scotland. ‘Eyes Turned Skywards’ was his first novel and ‘The Danger of Life’ is his second.