Dominick Donald was brought up in Britain and the USA before studying at Oxford University and doing stints as a soldier, a tutor in Spain, a lecturer in Japan, an official at UNHQ in New York, and an editorial writer in the UK and US. Following a War Studies PhD at London University he joined a British political risk advisory firm, leaving as a Director and expert on subjects ranging from Iraqi politics to Somali piracy. He now combines consultancy work with writing fiction, and lives on the border of Oxfordshire and Wiltshire with his wife and three children.
BREATHE - HODDER AND STOUGHTON - MAY 2018
London, 6 February 1952: The King is dead. The capital’s streets are respectfully empty – wearing a thick norturnal pall of smog, as if those streets themselves mourn his passing. Post-war London is a punch-drunk and hungry place; relentlessly drab and violent, and still beaten down by the years of struggle. Nowhere more so than in the warren of alleys, tracks, yards and tooth-gap bombsites which combine to form Notting Dale, an unloved corner of West London, lying sodden in the lee of Notting Hill. So much for a land fit for heroes.
Tonight for once, no-one’s on the streets of the Dale and no-one’s causing trouble, so Police Constable (Probationary) Richard Bourton should be looking forward to a quiet shift – without the muggings, rapes and burglaries that the smog and the poverty encourage. Bourton’s having a tough time of it in the Dale; doesn’t have the authority and the clout of the time-served coppers, and yet he’s not like the other probationers either. He’s years older for a start, with the best part of a decade in uniform and under arms, serving king and country in Europe and the Far East. After the carnage of D-Day, the bloody push through the Netherlands and into the charnel house of Germany, and then the nightmarish wave upon wave of the enemy in Korea, what fear can the streets of the Dale hold for Bourton?
And yet hold fear and darkness, they do – he’s nervous at work, unpopular and unrelaxed at home in the police house, and sure that he’s getting it wrong, that something awful’s being missed in the gloom. The violence of the streets aside, the smog carries off thousands of lives each week, from a population weakened by the hunger and the years of war.
And then there’s Anna – his Russian fiancée, left behind in Hong Kong among thousands of other Displaced Persons, the flotsam and jetsam of a World War with only a treasured Nansen passport, and whatever regimental strings the ex-Sergeant Bourton can pull representing their hope of a future. Will Anna still love him, want him? Will she survive the horrors of War only to be suffocated by the grimness of London? Will they have a life together?
Before his shift even starts, before he can put on whatever thin layer of authority a Met Police uniform conveys, Bourton finds the body of a man, terribly beaten and slowly freezing to death on a patch of waste-ground in the dripping winter. When Bourton saves his life – twice, in the space of an hour – Bourton sets in train a series of events, which might just be the makings of him as a proper Copper, bind him ever closer to the claustrophobic world of the Dale, and set him on a path to catching a killer who no one knows even exists.
With masterly control that belies a debut, these pages from BREATHE lay down immediately a web of intrigue, suffused with an atmosphere of coppers, spies and killers. Set nearly all within a tight campus of a few square miles of London, the novel pins its plot and characters with microscopic focus. And what characters they are – living, breathing creations; alive on the page in their actions and thoughts, and hopes and fears, as they are at the heart of all the best thrillers. These smog-bound streets form a character in themselves, the root and the heart and the engine of this novel, a winning evocation of time and place. BREATHE introduces Dominick Donald as a new voice in British fiction – think of the place where you’d expect to find the class and elegance of William Boyd, meeting the period edge and menace of Alan Furst, and with the slow-burn set-up and worldly confidence of Robert Harris or of A. D. Miller’s SNOWDROPS, and you’re some of the way there.