Thrillers and Smoking Jags

Thrillers and  Cars

My old man was an engineer in a Dundee Jute mill. Like all men of his generation who were born with a spanner in their hand, there was nothing he couldn’t fix. Electrics, plumbing, woodwork, or building a car trailer out of sheet metal, box-section steel and a welding torch.

Of course, he did all his own car maintenance, and his succession of Ford Zephyrs, Consuls, Rovers and Triumphs were all lovingly polished and maintained. His boys caught the bug, and we spent our formative years in or under these cars, not to mention Norton Commandos, Dominators, Kawasaki three-pots, Hondas and Lambrettas.

My childhood buddy, Bob Saunders, is cut from the same cloth. Bob was then a motor mechanic, and my teenage years were spent in a bewildering array of cars. He, of course, had a job. Being a perpetual student, I was perpetually skint. I still owe him twenty years of petrol money. Bob hammered his cars around the streets of Dundee and the environs, and I’m grinning just thinking about those times. Trips to Pitlochry are something I best draw a veil over.

I was born a petrolhead, in a family of petrolheads, and my best mate was a petrolhead. When I needed my rusty Jag fixed, Bob sorted it out, and it now lives with my brother Francis, and his collection of Jags and bikes, including an old Roller that, according to him, “is like Holyrood Palace in a straight line, and an Atlantic barge through a force ten gale in the corners.”

Spending so much of my childhood in Bob’s cars, taught me the finer points of motoring and driving in general. Oversteer, understeer, how to approach a corner at speed, and “oh shit, we’re going to crash.”

Which brings me to writing about motors. In ‘Names of The Dead’, there is a scene where the main protagonist has a blast in a supercharged Jag. I won’t give the plot away, but the Jag comes off worst. Writing the scene took me way back, and I could smell the hot oil, see Bob at the wheel, gunning it through the corners with a touch of left foot braking. I eventually had to edit the scene down, as the detail was getting in the way of the story. But at the end, I had a picture in my head, of Bob walking calmly away from the burning wreck of a Jag, casually lighting a smoke, and my father casting his eye over the scene, saying, “Son, I don’t think that’s going to buff out.”


– Author of international thrillers 'Names of the Dead & The London Cage', available in all major UK bookshops & online internationally by Faber.