A spy at the revolution
April 25 marks the anniversary of the 1974 Carnation Revolution and the overthrow of the Estado Novo totalitarian regime. Philip Prowse’s Hellyer’s Coup takes the reader to the heart of the action as Nick, a British secret agent, participates in the momentous events as he thwarts a rogue scientist’s plan to use sarin nerve gas to end the colonial wars in Africa.
Why another Hellyer novel?
His character fascinates me and, seven years on, a trained professional no longer an accidental agent, he faces the spy’s ultimate dilemma. His task is to infiltrate a chemical weapons programme and destroy it. But in the process, lives will be lost. Can the end justify the means?
I worked in Coimbra in Portugal for two years prior to the 1974 revolution and undertook a government consultancy mission to Beira in Mozambique during the post-revolutionary civil war period. I have felt and still feel a great affinity with the country, its culture and language and have been a frequent visitor ever since -most recently this month when I was shocked at how little people remembered of the events almost 50 years ago.
Why spy fiction?
I spent a third of my working life overseas, learning the language and fitting in. I’ve always relished moments when I was taken for a local. The duplicity of being and not being what you appear to be is seductive. After I returned to the UK, I continued to travel worldwide, and inevitably came across people whose faces did not match their stories.
Do you mean they were spies?
And were you one?
I’ve signed the Official Secrets Act.
Can you choose an extract?
Tete, Mozambique, 20 August 1972
‘Mines!’ shrieks the black sapper crouching on the front mudguard of the lead Berliet truck. He raises his arm and the convoy of heavy vehicles laden with construction equipment concertinas to a halt in a fog of dust.
The soldier clambers down and with three other sappers works his way forward on the dirt track. Using steel tipped long wooden probes they check any freshly disturbed soil, until they uncover two large Russian anti-tank TM-46s, each capable of destroying an articulated lorry. Cautiously circling their discoveries, they unearth a further six homemade anti-personnel mines planted to kill anyone attempting to disarm the TM-46s. In the oppressive heat, legs dangle out of open cab doors as the drivers wait for the sappers to detonate the mines in controlled explosions.
The convoy moves on through three-metre-high elephant grass and past a rusting red Ferguson tractor in the yard of a burnt-out roofless farmhouse.
In the heart of the Portuguese army column, Nick Hellyer shares a Panhard armoured personnel carrier with eleven conscripts clutching their Heckler and Koch G-3 assault rifles. Sodden with sweat, he longs to escape from this airless travelling inferno. Soon there’s another halt to clear landmines and the vehicles crawl around a deep crater in which the shattered remains of an identical Panhard lie. Nick peers out at a slew of bloodstained dressings and abandoned boots lying in and around the blast hole.
Finally, the convoy lumbers into a camp ringed by high double barbed-wire fences and wooden machine gun towers. The drivers abandon their vehicles in favour of rickety wooden stools around a makeshift beer stall in the shade of a tree.
In exhaustion, Nick wanders towards an improvised sand football pitch. A shot goes wide. Stretching his stiff legs and filling his lungs, he trots over to retrieve the ball.
Two sightless eyes stare back at him from a hacked-off teenage black head, the neck ringed with congealed blood.
What the press says
“The storyline is thoroughly researched and the scene setting vibrant. Hellyer is an engaging protagonist, courageous and conflicted, but also a libertine and bon viveur.”
“This is a series that provokes both laughter and reflection.”
Hellyer’s Coup is available as a paperback, e-book and audiobook at amazon.es amazon.de, and amazon.co.uk. The stunning audiobook narration by Matt Garrill bring both characters and action vividly to life.