I loved Reykjavik when I visited so even the title of Adam LeBor’s The Reykjavik Assignment appeals and I’m delighted to be part of the launch celebrations. The Reykjavik Assignment was published by Head of Zeus on 3rd November 2016 and is available for purchase here.
Today, Adam LeBor tells us why Iceland is perfect as a setting for thriller writers.
The Reykjavik Assignment
A lone agent. A terrifying enemy. UN negotiator Yael Azoulay uncovers a people-trafficking ring with links to Iran… and Washington.
UN covert negotiator, Yael Azoulay, has been sent to Reykjavik to broker a secret meeting between US President Freshwater and the Iranian president. Both parties want the violence to stop, but Yael soon realises that powerful enemies are pulling the strings. Enemies for whom peace means an end to their lucrative profit streams.
In this gripping, intelligent thriller, Adam LeBor uses insights gained from twenty-five years of frontline reporting to show us who really has the upper hand in the international game of politics.
A Guest Post by Adam LeBor
Iceland is a gift for thriller writers.
The ground is alive: giant cracks rend the earth asunder, geysers erupt, sending giant spurts of boiling water high into the air. Underneath our feet tectonic plates shift, magma bubbles. Great plains of black lava stretch towards the horizon. A freezing wind howls, pauses for a moment as if to take a breath, then whips at us with even greater force while rainbursts explode overhead.
And then, as suddenly as the downpour erupted, it stops. The sun appears, the wind stops, and the sky turns blue. The local saying has it best: “Welcome to Iceland. If you don’t like the weather then wait five minutes.”
Yet the bleak landscape has proved a catalyst for extraordinary creativity. The Sagas, the epic tales of life in Iceland in the 10th and 11th centuries, rank with Homer and Shakespeare. Iceland has more writers and publishes more books per capita than any country in the world.
Iceland certainly worked it creative magic on me. I travelled there as a guest of the Iceland Writers Retreat. The second half of The Reykjavik Assignment, my new thriller, takes place in Iceland. Yael Azoulay, the heroine, is a former Mossad agent who now works as the secret negotiator for the United Nations secretary-general. Yael is in Iceland on her most difficult and dangerous mission yet: to broker a secret deal between the presidents of the United States and Iran.
My trip to Reykjavik and its surrounds provided plenty of scene-setting. I took long walks around the city to find useful and suitable locations. There are no rules for the kind of place that can be useful and I don’t take notes. I do take photographs and video clips, dozens of them for each city. There’s definitely something about water that appeals to me: seafronts, lakes and oceans; ferries and ships seem to feature in most of my thrillers.
I spent quite a while at Lake Tjörnin in the heart of downtown Reykjavik. This is how Yael sees the lake and the shore, while she waits for Eli, her former lover and enemy, to kidnap her.
The shore was lined with large, detached houses painted in bright colors, their reflections shimmering on water the color of gunmetal. The sky was a patchwork of clouds, daubs of white on a vast gray canvas. The wind gusted back and forth, sending gentle waves lap- ping at the shore.
And there is always something new to learn on location-finding trips, which can also be included in the narrative:
Who knew bird-watching could be so engrossing? A whooper swan glided across the water, its long white neck regally straight. A short and stubby greylag goose bobbed past, its beady black eyes looking from side to side. A mallard watched her warily from the stone bank, its green head tucked into its curved body. The sun suddenly emerged and the lake shimmered.
I was lucky enough to interview Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, the then-president of Iceland, on my trip, for Monocle magazine. We met at Bessastadir, the presidential residence, which stands on an isolated strip of land a short drive from the city. I knew immediately that Bessastadir would be the setting for the climax of the book. This is how I used the setting in The Reykjavik Assignment:
Bessastadir was only twenty minutes’ drive from downtown Reykjavik, but the sense of isolation was palpable. It was a tiny settlement, a handful of buildings and a church, built on a long, thin promontory of land that poked into the Atlantic like a crooked finger. Such isolation was not rare in Iceland, but more surprising was the lack of security at the residence. The flat terrain around it was wide open, the gray-green grass, liberally spattered with seabird droppings, turning into a swampy black mud where it met the water.
A low white gate controlled vehicular access to the black stone road, but it would barely slow a family sedan, let alone a determined attacker. There were no fences or gates or flip-up barriers to stop a vehicle crashing into the building. The windows seemed to be normal glass. Overhead a helicopter swooped low, banked steeply, and then headed out to sea. With the Americans and the Iranians coordinating with the Viking Squad, the residence was ringed with well-trained, armed agents from all three countries. But the basic topography could not be changed. Bessastadir was an assassin’s dream.
Until Yael Azoulay arrives.
About Adam LeBor
Adam LeBor lives in Budapest and writes for the Economist, Newsweek, New York Times, The Times and other publications. He is the author of a number of nonfiction books, including the Orwell Prize shortlisted Hitler’s Secret Bankers.
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