A P Handley on Tabarin

A P Handley

The author of the Danny Rook series discusses the fourth novel, set during the Falklands War.
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A P Handley, your last novel was Tabarin. I’ve never heard that word before. Where did you get the title?

Well, as I understand it, before the war there was a night club in Paris with the same name, so although I pronounce my book ‘Tabar‑in’, I guess the French would call it ‘Tabar‑an’. It was also the name of a secret wartime operation.

I guess your book is about the wartime operation, then. How did you find out about it?

It’s a long story and a massive coincidence. Keeping it brief, a guy that I was at school with found himself in Antarctica. He sent me a photo from there of himself and his wife dressed in orange survival suits, outside one of those tar-black wooden huts. Just behind them, between their heads, was a plaque. When I zoomed in, the plaque said the hut had been the site of this secret wartime Operation Tabarin. I’d never heard of that, so I Googled it and fifteen minutes later, kapow! I had a plot that linked half-a-dozen strands which had been in my head for a long time. Even weirder than that, though – I discovered that in 1944, the naval officer who was second in command of Operation Tabarin was a gentleman I had sailed with when I was at sea in the 1970s. How could I not write the story?

I notice that the cover of your book says it’s A Danny Rook Secret History. But looking at the earlier books, surely Danny Rook wasn’t even born in 1944?

You’re right. Danny was only a teenager in his first adventure, Bunkeya, so in ’44, I suppose he would have been about minus three! What I do in my novels, though, is to tell a fictional story through a factual lens. It involves a lot of research. But if a curious reader should say, “Oh, that could never have happened,” and then get busy trying to prove me wrong by Googling events, times, and people, I hope they should find that the real events took place when I say they did, and the real people were where I say they were at the time. Danny is just one important strand of my books, but in Tabarin he plays his part in 1982, not 1944.

What are the other strands in the story?

Well, after the Von Stauffenberg bomb-plot, Hitler wants revenge. I mustn’t give away too many spoilers, but the book brings together a German U-boat, a romance in Uruguay, a British war hero called Rodger Winn (who deserves a movie all to himself) and a helicopter mission during the Falklands War… And more… And Danny Rook, of course.

And that’s the basis of Secret History then?

Yes. Effectively, Secret History is a literary genre all on its own. It’s a combination of fiction, often with a strong thriller angle, but with a broad stripe of real provable history running right down the centre. Careful, though. It’s different from historical fiction – Hornblower novels, for example. And it isn’t conspiracy theory fiction either, or the sort of speculative fiction that has its own devotees – you know – what might have happened if the Dallas Police had jumped on Lee Harvey Oswald before he took the shot… Secret History doesn’t change the world we live in – not one jot. Remember – it’s about a secret, and maybe a cover-up. So, I hope that if a dedicated history fan wanted to follow up the underlying theme of one of my books, he or she should end up asking questions that perhaps nobody cares to answer. I mean – for instance, in the case of Bunkeya, how did Red China get the bomb so quickly?

Are there to be more Danny Rook adventures?

Yes. In book 5, Danny – reluctantly as ever – gets involved in the Supergun affair, but it’s where that takes him that once again should prompt students of recent history to ask questions. I’m pleased to say that Book 5, which is called Kantubek, has just been published by The Real Press.

And after that?

Well, maybe I should write an article for Aspects of History, saying who Danny Rook is, and how he came about. As for book 6, Corona – its working title – will take at least another year to do properly. And here’s a hint… It’s absolutely nothing to do with viruses… or cigars for that matter!

A P Handley is the author of Tabarin, published by The Real Press.