Back in January it was a privilege to help reveal the cover of The Nice Guy and the Devil by Tom Trott. Today, with the book’s publication day fast approaching, Tom has kindly allowed me to share an extract from The Nice Guy and the Devil with Linda’s Book Bag readers. In addition, Tom has provided some fabulous photographs that link to his writing.
Out on 5th May 2023, you can pre-order The Nice Guy and the Devil through the links here. If you’re quick, there are still a couple of days left to grab your copy for 99c or 77p depending on your location!
The Nice Guy and the Devil
Nice, France — Retired CIA agent, Cain, is living a quiet life, trying to stay out of trouble.
But he can’t turn off his old instincts like a lightswitch.
When an unsuspecting American woman becomes the target of criminals, he can’t sit back and do nothing.
What starts as one good deed puts Cain in the sights of highly-trained mercenaries, brings him to the attention of INTERPOL, and puts him on a collision course with evil personified.
With no one he can trust, in a land of double-crosses, Cain must rely on his wits to survive.
An Extract from The Nice Guy and the Devil
There was that man again. Cain had seen him whilst drinking an early morning espresso. Asking about his sister, that was it. He asked at the boulangerie, said he was supposed to meet her there, had the woman seen her? ‘She looks like Thelma & Louise,’ whatever that means. How can someone look like two people?
From up here by the Chapelle Saint Etienne he could see down into the village, see the man inspecting each of the cars parked just outside. What was he after? Cain wondered. He stopped at Cain’s old Citroën, stood there for a few seconds, dismissed it, and carried on. Then he climbed into a red convertible and drove away from the village, heading back down the hill, out of view.
Cain returned to the view. He could see another village on the opposite side of the gorge, and he decided he would drive there next. His latest hobby was black and white photography. He had bought an old seventies’ Olympus, with just a fixed 50mm lens, developing the film himself in his bathroom. That village would be a great place to get some long shadows down cobbled alleyways. What he loved about the film stock was that sometimes, just sometimes, the pictures were indistinguishable from those taken a hundred years ago. There were still parts of Nice that looked the same as back then, and the restaurant had even put a couple of his prints on the wall by the bar; but the villages were even older, far older than any camera, and if you could find an empty street, the pictures were timeless.
One of Cain’s photos featured above the bar in Phillipe’s restaurant in Nice’s old town
For lunch, he drove to Gourdon. He’d been living in Nice almost a year now, but he’d never got up there to visit the castle and the gardens. Designed by the same people as Versailles, they said. He found the castle was closed, but the village didn’t disappoint. Built on top of what should be called a mountain, he could see all the way down to the coast; to Nice, Cannes, and Antibes; and the shimmering Mediterranean beyond.
So here he was, waiting to order, trying to decide between steak tartare or the pâté. And here too was that man again. He was strolling up the street wearing the same faded blazer and slip-on shoes. He was mid-thirties, maybe just forty. He wasn’t a local, that much was obvious, wasn’t even French. Looked European though. Cain hadn’t paid any attention to his accent this morning.
He gave Cain the “ick”. He had an instinct he’d learned to trust over a long and dangerous career. He could just tell. Certain people gave him “the ick”, and these people always turned out to be bad.
The man stopped at the restaurant, put on a sheepish face. It was incredible how he did it, like he was applying makeup. Finally, the one waiter got itchy and asked him if he was looking for someone.
‘My sister,’ he said in French.
Cain could detect an accent, but he would only be able to identify it if the guy spoke some English.
‘I was supposed to meet her here, have you seen her?’
Cain put down his coffee, focussed in.
‘What does she look like?’ the waiter asked. Cain knew what was coming.
‘She’s my sort of age, red hair. Did you ever see that movie, Thelma & Louise? She looks like that.’
The waiter shook his head, he hadn’t seen her. It was a quiet morning in a quiet village, he probably hadn’t seen more than ten customers. He went back to putting out sugar sachets. The man thanked him and left, ambling down the street. As he walked away, he dropped the sheepish look like he was tossing an empty bottle.
Twice in one day? Here, where the villages have four roads and you couldn’t lose a penny. How could he lose a grown woman? The same stupid description. And the ick.
Cain left a five euro note under his coffee cup and strolled after the man. Round the corner the guy was sitting in his car, a red Saab convertible with the top down, engine idling. Cain stopped at the corner, pretending to fiddle with his camera whilst he memorised the licence plate. The guy pulled a map from his glove compartment, traced a route with his finger, then shoved it back. He looked over his shoulder to reverse out and Cain instinctively clicked the shutter.
Cain’s car was just outside the village, in the tourist car park. He jogged down there as fast as he could, jumped in, fired it up. He had to guess when he reached the roundabout, there were two roads north and one road south. Gréolières was north of here, so maybe the guy was working his way south, same as him.
He bombed it down the winding road, trying not to cook the brakes. The drops around here were beyond lethal. The barrier was just a foot-high stone wall; you’d roll a hundred times before you hit the bottom, your car a ball of tinfoil.
That warm Saharan breeze rushed through Cain’s hair. The roads were beautiful to drive, despite the danger. Gentle, winding curves, then sudden switchbacks. Brake, accelerate, brake, change down, gun it. The Citroën was a real car, you had to stand on the pedals, wrestle the wheel, biceps and shoulders straining. You could feel the road rushing underneath the tyres, feel every bump and dip through the tight springs.
The hillside opened up, he could see a ribbon of tarmac winding down the valley. There was a flash of red down there. He was catching up. He put his foot down, the old engine buzzing and pinging like a hornet trapped in a biscuit tin. A minute later he caught another glimpse. Closer. He was having great fun. It was like the old days, before he retired. Here he was, convertible against convertible in the Côte d’Azur hills, chasing… chasing what exactly?
He eased off on the accelerator. Intuition? Was that what he was chasing? The past. His past. Was it arrogance? Thinking he had to chase this guy, had to find out what he was up to. He was supposed to be having a lovely day. Saint Paul de Vence was next on his itinerary, to see the house where James Baldwin lived. To see the hotel where Sartre and Picasso stayed. He slowed to a gentle cruise, broke off the chase.
The road dropped down into the valley, through the sprawl of towns that grew and spread across the valleys like mould. Cain couldn’t help his attention snapping to every flash of red, but they were just family hatchbacks and saloons, once an old Ferrari. Finally, beyond the sweeping curve of a gently climbing road, through the branches of a desiccated tree, he saw the bell tower standing like the bride on top of a wedding cake. The tier below, cream coloured houses. Below them, the fortress village wall. And below the wall, the steep green bank of the hill.
Saint Paul de Vence, from the road approaching
He found somewhere quiet to pull in by the side of the road and went looking for the Baldwin house. He didn’t have an address; he’d picked up a copy of Go Tell It on the Mountain at a market stall and there was a photo of the house on the dust jacket. He had it with him now, comparing each house to the photo, but as hard as he tried, he couldn’t make them match. All he could find were lavish villas beyond iron gates, the splashing of swimming pools over garden walls. At last, he found somewhere that from the shape and the road and the big tree behind it, had to be it. It didn’t look right though. There was a new gate, intercom, a row of mailboxes, and a billboard on the side. “Le Jardin des Arts luxury apartments”. Of course. He shook his head. What an insult. Sure, they’d made some effort at restoration, fresh render, newly pointed stone, but that was what ruined it. At least they couldn’t bulldoze the man’s books.
James Baldwin’s house in Saint Paul de Vence, as it is now
In a sulk, he climbed back into the Citroën, headed toward the old walled village on the hill. La Colombe d’Or hotel was frequented by both Picasso and Sartre, although Cain didn’t know if it had any impact on their work. He had never read any Sartre, not properly, but he had definitely seen Picasso’s paintings, the ones they had in Spain and France. He couldn’t remember a hotel in any of them.
He parked on the street and found his way to the garden terrace, his stomach eating itself. He regretted abandoning his lunch at Gourdon, and saw to his delight that they had a prawn dish they could bring out quickly. He ordered it to start, with a glass of Picpoul de Pinet.
The terrace at La Colombe d’Or, Saint Paul de Vence
Order taken care of, he could take a look at his surroundings. The garden terrace was quite secluded. His table was shaded, branches of a potted olive tree casting shadows over the surface of the parasol. Crisp linen tablecloth. Clean cutlery, square to the table. There were a few other diners, dotted across the terrace, glimpses of them visible between the awning poles.
There was a woman sitting alone at a table the other end of the terrace. She was in shade too, but a shaft of hot sunlight blazed across her flaming red hair. It glowed out of the darkness like molten iron out of a forge. She wore aviator sunglasses, and a handkerchief in her hair. Nakedly American, somewhere in her late forties, maybe early fifties. Her chin and nose were sharp, lips red. Thin fingers tapped the ash off a stubby, filtered cigarette. There was only one way to describe her: she looked like Thelma & Louise.
Thank you so much Tom for this fabulous piece. There are other images and video to go alongside this scene setting extract on your website I know. Readers can see them here.