It is a real pleasure having Mark Ellis as a guest on my blog today. His latest book, ‘A Death in Mayfair’, the fourth book in the DCI Frank Merlin series, was published last November in paperback, as an eBook and Audiobook by Accent Press.
Mark has written a post about the research he has undertaken for his books.
Researching The World War Two Frank Merlin Detective Series
With this month’s VE Day Anniversary, public interest in World War Two has once again been high. This pleases me as the period is fascinating and one in which I spend considerable time as the author of a series of wartime crime thrillers. My hero, Detective Chief Inspector Frank Merlin, is a Scotland Yard policeman investigating serious crime in London. The series follows his adventures through the war sequentially. Four books have been published so far and I am writing the fifth. The first of the series, Princes Gate, is set in January 1940, at the time of the so-called ‘Phoney War’. The second, Stalin’s Gold, is set in September 1940, at the beginning of the Blitz and the Battle of Britain. The action of the third, Merlin At War, takes place in June 1941, just before Hitler’s invasion of Russia. A Death In Mayfair, the recently published fourth Merlin book is set in December 1941, the month in which the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour.
A considerable amount of research goes into the writing of the Frank Merlin series. I aim to set the Merlin stories against as realistic a historical background as I can. Before starting to write I spend around three months reading everything I can about the book’s particular period setting. When I started out with Princes Gate, I was very reliant on libraries for my research. I spent much time in particular at the Public Records Office in Kew where they had an abundance of helpful books and documents. Since then, as the amount of online information has proliferated, libraries have become less vital, although I still use them. The internet is an amazing source. If I want to find out the weather in London on a specific day in the war, I can find details online. If I want to find out which RAF squadrons were in the air on a particular day in the Battle of Britain, the internet can tell me. And so on.
Apart from the internet and libraries, I have a useful book collection of my own. It includes several excellent histories of life on the Home Front (eg Philip Ziegler, Juliet Gardiner, Angus Calder), great wartime diaries (Harold Nicolson, Chips Channon, Alan Brooke), memoirs and biographies (Churchill, De Gaulle, Eisenhower) and works of period fiction (Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Elizabeth Bowen). I also travel for purposes of research. While the action of the Merlin books takes place mostly in London, other locations occasionally feature. These have included Berlin, Paris, Buenos Aires, Miami, Moscow, Berlin, Vichy, New York and Cairo, a number of which I have been able to visit.
When I write a book I do not work to an advance framework of the plot. After the initial period of research, I set out on the first draft with plot lines which have come to my mind during that process. With the most recent Merlin book, A Death In Mayfair, my research drew me to the British wartime film industry. I learned that there were as many as fifteen film studios in and around London in the early years of the war. This struck me as a large number and further reading provided interesting detail on cinema in the war years and of its importance to the British public. I thus decided to set the story of A Death In Mayfair against a background of movie stars, directors and producers making films in a fictional film studio beside the River Thames. As I began to write, I set various plot lines running and went where they took me. Then, as is my method, when I was about three quarters of the way through the draft, I worked out how the plots were resolved. This can be a rather nerve-wracking process but somehow it seems to work for me.
The new work in progress, the fifth Merlin book, is set in August 1942. The plot revolves around art theft, espionage and racism in the US forces. My preliminary research included books on wartime Lisbon, the art world, and the arrival of American GIs in Britain. As I’m not yet half way through the draft, I have no idea yet about what will happen. Thus I’m as excited by the development of the story as I hope readers are when it hits the bookshops! It will be out next year.
December 1941. Japanese planes swoop down and attack Pearl Harbour. America enters the war and Britain no longer stands alone against Hitler. But conditions on the home front remain bleak, and for Scotland Yard detective Frank Merlin, life is as arduous as ever. He is diverted from his tenacious campaign against London’s organised criminal gangs by the violent deaths of two young women in the centre of the city. Merlin investigates and encounters fraudulent film moguls, dissipated movie stars, mad Satanists, and brutal gangsters amongst others as he and his team battle to uncover the and search out the truth.
‘A Death in Mayfair’ can be purchased from:-
About Mark Ellis
Mark Ellis is a thriller writer from Swansea and a former barrister. He is the creator of DCI Frank Merlin, an Anglo-Spanish police detective operating in World War 2 London. His books treat the reader to a vivid portrait of London during the war.
Mark grew up under the shadow of his parents’ experience of the Second World War. He has always been fascinated by the fact that while the nation was engaged in a heroic endeavour, crime flourished. His father served in the wartime navy and died a young man. His mother told him stories of watching the heavy bombardment of Swansea from the safe vantage point of a hill in Llanelli, and of attending tea dances in wartime London under the bombs and doodlebugs.
In consequence Mark has always been fascinated by WW2 and in particular the Home Front and the fact that while the nation was engaged in a heroic endeavour, crime flourished. Murder, robbery, theft and rape were rife and the Blitz provided scope for widespread looting.This was an intriguing, harsh and cruel world. This is the world of DCI Frank Merlin.
Mark Ellis’ books regularly appear in the Kindle bestseller charts. He is a member of the Crime Writers Association (CWA). His most recent book, Merlin at War, was on the CWA Historical Dagger Longlist in 2018. A Death in Mayfair will be published in November 2019.
Website – https://markellisauthor.com/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/MarkEllis15
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