The writing of PARIS NIGHT
Why and how did you write this book?
Roderick d'Entrac : Paris Night began on a ski holiday in the French Alps in response to a request from my skiing companions.
Each time we spent a week together in the mountains they plied me with questions about France. They were fascinated, intrigued and even shocked by the answers.
Some of the stories about abuse of power and scandals stretched their credibility.
These tales, often more complicated than the plots in a Ludlum novel, with more characters than a Russian classic, and sex as a vital ingredient, would hold their attention late into the evening.
“For decades, France has rejected reforms. The economy is heading for the rocks and a strong smell of decadence is polluting the country's institutions. There will be a great awakening or revolt, but the longer the sleepwalking lasts, the greater the culture shock,” I would say.
Write a thriller, they suggested. “Everyone sees the prestigious, romantic facade of France. But it’s clear that there’s another, darker facet. Create characters who have been crushed by abuse of power. Put them in a moral dilemma between fear and resignation.”You should write about the shadows on the back of the postcard, the secrets of the system.”
As a senior editor in a global news agency, I knew that interest in the exotic and mysterious ways of France was/is strong. So I decided to write a “true-to-life” thriller for tourists, business people, students, journalists and diplomats.
The entire project, from research to re-writing/editing, took about 12 years. The working title for Paris Night was “Decadence”.
How did you choose the themes, the story lines? What gave you the ideas which unfortunately have proved so accurate?
Roderick d'Entrac: There was an abundance of material. French scandals and convulsions are frequently in headlines around the world. I hope, of course, that an 'Armageddon' attack along the lines I have imagined is not also acted out in fact. However, it is now known that failings and rivalries between the security services, along the lines I describe, were a factor in allowing the terrorists who killed the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo and then carried out massacres in Paris and Nice, to prepare and slip through the net. Some of the main themes are the flaws behind the success and 'savoir vivre' of the French, the warts behind the beauty: Corruption, conspiracies, sex and betrayal in high places.
You began writing about a huge attack on the West, in Paris, even before the attacks against the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, and long before the two attacks in Paris which caused the French government to declare war on Islamic terrorist movements. How did you see the danger which 20 years ago was considered a figment of extremists who saw a clash of civilisations?
Roderick d'Entrac: I have worked closely for years with journalists from all over the world. Some of them are/were Moslems who speak Arabic and foresaw the offensive on the West by “Fifth-Column” Islam. They kept their views quiet for fear of being branded ridiculous and extreme by Europeans but also because they feared punishment by the subversive factions of militant Islam of which they warned.
Your novel seems highly topical today and for years to come! One theme seems to have foreseen precisely the method used by the killers in Paris: the use of so-called “sleeping” cells of local people who plan carefully for an opportunity to attack. What gave you this idea? Your story lines foresaw the Russian annexation of Crimea and intervention in Ukraine, and the technique used by a bomber on an airline flight.
Roderick d'Entrac : Now, today, everything in this novel will appear readily credible to readers.
Since I began there has been an unending run of scandals and convulsions. A top adviser to the president did tape-record him as an insurance policy, in much the same way as one of the main characters uses
Sexcapades by the president with the nuclear codes, and lover’s histrionics in his bedroom at the Elysée, along with the arrest and resignation of the head of the IMF, go beyond even the exotic and erotic passages in Paris Night.
The theme of powersex in “Paris Night” was/is true and justified.
Likewise the theme of financial corruption has developed from a court case about arms sales for sex, illegal payments, and forged bank accounts to incriminate a president. The context suggested in my thriller has been justified by the resignation and trial of a budget minister for tax evasion in Switzerland.
You ask about sleeping cells of assassins. This method is as old as the hills, literally. The Soviet spy ring based on Burgess and McLean, which did huge damage to the West and resulted in the deaths of many western agents, was fundamentally a 'sleeper' operation. It is now known that the Soviet Union had established a network of so-called “spetznaz” sleeper cells in the west ready to assist any Soviet invasion. The West had prepared “stay-behind” resistance operations under the top-secret Gladio network.
From about the 12th to 14th centuries, a sect of Islam, the Hashashanis, spread terror across the Islamic world from their mountain fortress in Iran, by placing loyal fanatics among their distant enemies with the mission of working their way up over many years into the trust and inner circles of targets for assassination.
Their favoured method was death by dagger, sometimes tipped with poison. Their reputation was so ferocious that on occasions, they would use the threat of assassination by an anonymous agent somewhere in the entourage of the victim to obtain changes in policy by blackmail: a way of obtaining appeasement used down the ages and today. A successful example was the bomb attack on a train in Madrid in 2004 which killed 191 people and obtained the immediate withdrawal of Spanish forces from Iraq.
The Hashashanis were said to prepare their assassins by drugging them and then rewarding them on their awakening with naked women and other signs of paradise. Hence it is though that this sect may be at the origin of the words 'assassin' and 'hashish'.
So Paris Night is set in fact, facts of the past, facts of the future?
Roderick d'Entrac: The novelist creates a version of the future from experiences and interpretations of the past. Apart from references to World War II and the Algerian war of independence, the events described in my novel never occurred and, it is to be hoped, never will. And apart from passing references to General De Gaulle, the characters and their circumstances are the composite inventions of imagination, created to enact the story lines, to people the context of contemporary institutions, and to ensure constant dramatic tension. They exist only on these pages.
The annexation of part of Georgia and Ukraine was not difficult to foretell. People in a position to be in government in countries in eastern Europe, apart from Russian stooges, will tell you that since the collapse of the Soviet Union their priority is to ward off the risk of falling once again under domination and occupation from Moscow which, for them, was an experience of the day before yesterday. The technique is ancient: use or manipulate a group of people in a target country to become alienated from the dominant value system, by language, culture, genes, economic interest, ideology or religion.
A central theme of the book is paralysing rivalry between security services. This in itself is a challenge, for the complexity of the French security forces is almost impenetrable although some amalgamations have occurred since the book was written. A potentially more dangerous conflict of interests can be driven by political rivalries.
Put simply, policing, except riot control, in urban areas in France is carried out by police, elsewhere by the Gendarmèrie, a military force of soldiers trained mainly to maintain civil order which is also deployed abroad. There are many other commando and riot forces, spy and counter-spy services, internal intelligence and customs flying squads. There are also judicial police, including gendarmes, with special powers and prerogatives.
The Gendarmerie nationale, founded at the time of the French Revolution, has a high reputation for integrity and efficiency. It inspires respect and fear.
For dramatic effect, I have placed internecine conflict within the security forces in the Gendarmerie, but between two atypical officers in the grip of political masters.
Others of integrity in the force work to bring them down. Meanwhile rival intelligence services compete for information and for success.
“Paris Night” is entirely fiction. The scenery does change: the brothers who owned the old, mysterious shop selling walking sticks in the arcade have retired and their premises have been modernised; and the family operating the emporium of oriental clothes and furniture opposite has also closed the business. The grotesque head which used to peep from behind curtains at the Musée Grévin has been retired.
However, one of the main themes remains valid: how political corruption can subvert institutions and paralyse their ability to counter extreme danger -- economic, social, political, environmental, or as in this thriller, terrorist.
I wrote the book to tell a gripping story, to provide insights, and with a strong sense of foreboding since part of the work of the novelist is to imagine, to foresee and to warn.