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.
Stan had expected it to be easy. There had been no problems during practice on the ground in Norway. First you pulled the lever to open the hatch, then you dropped head first into the blackness below while facing towards the rear of the Junkers Ju 88 bomber. That way you avoided being hit in the face by the blast of the slipstream. Then it was simply a nice tranquil ride beneath your parachute down to an arrival in Scotland.
Stan had spent the flight from Norway lying on his stomach with the weight of his parachute, his radio and his other supplies pressing down on his back. The aircraft’s gunner was positioned just above him, while equipment and aircraft systems hemmed him in on both sides. This was no place for anyone suffering from claustrophobia. Stan was thankful that was not something that caused him a problem. Especially not right now, when there were more important things to worry about.
The main concern was the news over the radio that the diversionary air raid on Aberdeen, just to the south of them, had failed to find its target in the heavy cloud that had materialised in place of the forecast clear skies. The aircraft assigned to the raid were still looking for the city but were unlikely to continue doing so for much longer. If they turned back it would leave a single bomber flying steadily south west at 3,000m and looking very obvious to the British radar operators. The thought made Stan feel extremely vulnerable.
It was no real surprise when the intercom suddenly came alive with shouted warnings of a night fighter. A member of the crew had reported he’d seen a silhouette of an aircraft hunting them through a hole in the cloud. The pilot took violent evasive action and Stan found it was all he could do to avoid vomiting up the brandy he’d consumed before takeoff.
A little later they emerged from cloud for long enough to catch a glimpse of the coast, which confirmed they were over Scotland. But it was obvious to Stan that no-one on board the aircraft was certain which bit of coast they had crossed, or where they were in relation to his intended landing point. It was equally obvious that the crew was much more interested in evading the real or imaginary night fighter than they were in precision navigation. Stan had some sympathy for them.
‘Time for me to go, I think, oberleutenant,’ said Stan over the intercom to the pilot.
The gunner tapped him hard on the shoulder and gesticulated frantically. ‘No, wait, we need to connect the static line first!’
Stan realised that he’d been on the point of dropping through the hatch without the line that automatically opened his parachute being attached. As the instructor had said, gleefully, on the parachute course, ‘It’s not the fall that kills you, it’s the sudden stop at the bottom.’
Once the static line had been properly attached, Stan took a deep breath, and before he had time for second thoughts he operated the hatch release lever, as he’d been shown in Norway. A bad night suddenly got much worse. Somehow, he tumbled rather than dropped, and found himself wedged in the hatch in the floor of the aircraft, upside down.
Then Stan felt a Luftwaffe flying boot pressing down very firmly on his rear end, and suddenly he was falling free. The parachute opened while he was in cloud. Once clear of the cloud, he could still see nothing in the darkness below him. He was beginning to consider the frightening possibility that they had been wrong about the coast and he had been dropped over the North Sea by mistake when he caught a glimpse of what might have been a tree off to his right. He had barely braced when he landed heavily in a field, winding himself in the process.
So far, so good, he thought, after recovering his breath and gathering his parachute. Now he just needed to find a telephone, and a strong drink, though not necessarily in that order.
Thank you, Ken Lussey and Love Books Group Tours.
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.