#GuestPost Cold War Noir by M. Z. Urlocker

I’m delighted to welcome brothers Michael and Zack Urlocker, authors of The Man From Mittelwerk, to What Cathy Read Next today. It’s particularly special as it’s publication day of their debut novel. The Man From Mittelwerk is available to purchase now from Amazon.

So, as Michael says, “Sit down my friends, pour yourself a Scotch (or a cold, bitter cup of Joe) and let me take you on a tour of some of the Cold War noir novels and themes that influenced our book The Man from Mittelwerk“.

The Man From MittelwerkAbout the Book

1950. The Cold War simmers, and ex-GI Jack Waters is called in to investigate a fatal accident at a research lab in California.

When Waters recognizes the victim, he realizes he must revisit his hidden past in World War II to solve a murder and prevent Nazi scientists from creating a terrible, new weapon in America.

Blending noir detective fiction with post-WWII history, The Man from Mittelwerk builds from the facts of Operation Paperclip, the US government’s secret recruitment of 1,600 top Nazi scientists, to pose a dark what-if scenario.

Format: Paperback (362 pages)             Publisher: Inkshares
Publication date: 6th September 2022 Genre: Historical Fiction, Thriller

Find The Man from Mittelwerk on Goodreads

Guest Post – Six Cold War Noir Novels You Will Love by M. Z. Urlocker

Cold War Noir

Growing up as teenagers in the 1970s my brother and I became fans of Cold War fiction before we even knew it was a genre. Our parents had original Pan paperback copies of Ian Fleming’s James Bond series that we read until the bindings dried out and the pages fell loose.

From Russia With LoveFrom Russia With Love stood out among Fleming’s work. Agent 007 doesn’t even make an appearance until a third of the way into the story, instead Fleming takes you behind the Iron Curtain in a detailed exploration of the dark operations of the MGB (precursor to the KGB) and SMERSH, Stalin’s counter-intelligence agency. Fleming wrote the book at the start of the Cold War, as Britain and the United States were coming to grips with a new, dangerous enemy. It was a new era, where the old rules no longer applied. It wasn’t the black and white world of earlier noir fiction or war novels, it was a world where you no longer knew who you could trust. Fleming isn’t always given his due as a writer but he opened the door for a broad range of Cold War novels which reflected the growing tension between East and West for decades.

Pulp Fiction

Early pulp noir is often built around a “lose lose” situation. Take a down-on-his luck protagonist, beaten by the world and paint him (or her) into a corner where there are only bad choices. Classic works by Ed McBain, Lawrence Block and Jim Thompson fit this bill; these are gritty books of terrible consequences.

The Dark TunnelOne of the best first novels is The Dark Tunnel (originally published in 1944 under the name Kenneth Millar) but later reissued under the more well-known pseudonym, Ross MacDonald. MacDonald was influenced by Raymond Chandler and John Buchan, but he puts his own twist on things. The book is set in the early days of WWII in a university town, not unlike Ann Arbor where MacDonald taught. It’s a fast-paced tale with protagonist Professor Robert Branch fighting for his life against a German spy conspiracy as well as petty crooks, rural rednecks, Union men and university politics. What makes the book especially tense is the conspiracy going on that’s bigger than Professor Branch realizes, and it just keeps getting darker. The pacing is a bit uneven compared to MacDonald’s later works but there’s a level of paranoia MacDonald never captured in his more famous Lew Archer PI series.

One Lonely NightConspiracy and paranoia are two themes that also come out in Mickey Spillane’s fourth Mike Hammer novel, One Lonely Night (1951). Hammer is a US government-trained killer from WWII trying to adapt to life stateside as a private investigator.

“Twice I looked in the mirror and saw me. I didn’t look like me at all. I used to be able to look at myself and grin without giving a damn how ugly it made me look. Now I was looking myself the same way those people did back there. I was looking at a big guy with an ugly reputation, a guy who had no earthly reason for existing in a decent, normal society.”

Hammer, an avowed anti-communist (as was Spillane) stumbles upon a communist conspiracy in New York, a conspiracy that goes to the highest levels and threatens the American way of life. Spillane captures the tension of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s communist witch hunt. The larger-than-life conspiracy is a theme that emerges time and again in Cold War noir.

Gritty Realism

The Ipcress FileLen Deighton’s The Ipcress File (1962) is the definitive noir Cold War novel. Its unnamed hero was christened Harry Palmer and portrayed by Michael Caine in the 1965 adaptation and follow-on films. In this remarkable first novel, Deighton created the ultimate noir protagonist trying to survive in a system set against him. Palmer’s a street-smart working-class punter who is pulled into a game he cannot win. Assigned to track down a top military scientist who is being sold to the Soviets, Palmer is kidnapped, whisked behind the Iron Curtain and electronically brainwashed by Chinese captors. When he manages to escape, he finds a much more sinister interpretation that calls into question the nature of Cold War alliances. If you can’t trust your allies, who can you trust? Coming off the “special relationship” between Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in WWII and the brainwashing of US troops by the Chinese in the Korean War, this was pretty shocking stuff.

The Spy Who Came In From The ColdJohn le Carré, pen-name for former intelligence officer David Cornwell, published his third novel The Spy Who Came In From The Cold in 1963 at the height of the Cold War. (My brother and I joke that virtually any novel set between 1957 and 2022 can be said to be “at the height of the Cold War” as global tensions continued to escalate.) The Spy Who Came In From the Cold became an immediate bestseller. Its protagonist, WW2 veteran Alec Leamas, takes on one last case in order to avenge the death of a colleague. It involves a descent into the underworld of working-class trade unions and local communist party reps in order to infiltrate East Germany and bring down his nemesis. As with the best noir fiction, Leamas succeeds, but pays the ultimate price.

Along with Deighton, le Carré redefined espionage, taking it from Fleming’s upper-class black and white world of playboys in casinos with exploding devices into the gritty world of spooks and petty criminals against a shifting landscape of grey where no one could be trusted. Le Carré’s later novels transcend the espionage genre. But the underpinnings are never far from the cold, bleak setting of his early books.

Devil in a Blue DressWalter Mosley’s first novel, Devil in the Blue Dress (1990), brought about a resurgence in the noir genre. His hard-boiled detective Easy Rawlins (who deserves an entire article to himself) like many noir protagonists before him, is a WWII veteran up against a system meant to keep him down. Rawlins, manages to survive and even win despite the institutional racial discrimination against him, a topic as relevant today as it was in the 1950s.

Modern Noir

The good news is there are many authors continuing to write modern takes on this important era. For example, Joseph Kanon (Leaving Berlin, The Berlin Exchange), Paul Vidich (The Coldest Warrior, The Matchmaker) and Dan Fesperman (The Double Game, Winter Work) have continued the tradition of putting tough men (and women) against the backdrop of hard choices in politically charged settings.

If you yearn for the classics, I can recommend the James Bond continuation novels by Anthony Horowitz as well as Max Allan Collins’ completions of unfinished manuscripts by Mickey Spillane. Both managed the tricky prospect of ‘honouring the canon’ while also besting their originators. I’d argue Complex 90 is the best Mike Hammer novel and A Mind to Kill is even better than From Russia With Love.

M Z UrlockerAbout the Authors

Twin brothers Michael Urlocker and Zack Urlocker write under the name M. Z. Urlocker.  The Man from Mittelwerk is their first novel. (Photo: Author website)

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#BlogTour #GuestPost After the Rising & Before the Fall by Orna Ross

After the Rising &Before the Fall Centenary Edition Blog TourToday I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour to celebrate the special edition of After the Rising & Before the Fall by the acclaimed Irish historical novelist and poet, Orna Ross. It marks the centenary of the Irish Civil War of 1922/3 the events of which form the background to the books. Based on Orna’s own family history, the book was an instant bestseller when it was first published by Penguin Ireland 20 years ago. It has now been reissued by the author and is also being made available for the first time in audiobook format.

I’m delighted to bring you a guest post in which Orna writes about the events that inspired the novels, including her own family history.

WinAnd there’s also a giveaway (open internationally) with a chance to win a signed paperback copy of After the Rising & Before the Fall. Enter before 30th June 2022 by following this link Orna Ross: After the Rising & Before the Fall Signed Book Giveaway

After-the-Rising-and-Before-the-Fall-Cover-EBOOK-scaled-1About the Book

A love forbidden by family. A feud spanning generations. A woman still yearning for freedom.

Twenty years after she was driven away from her family and the only man she ever truly loved, Jo Devereux has returned to the small Irish village where she grew up. And this time, she wants answers.

What happened to her family during the Irish Civil War? Did her great-uncle’s best friend really shoot him dead? And what did this “war of the brothers” mean for mothers, sisters and daughters?

Searching through papers bequeathed by her estranged mother, Jo uncovers astonishing truths about her grandmother and great-aunt – secrets of a cold-blooded murder with consequences that ricocheted down the generations into her own life.

Urged on by Rory O’Donovan, her lost love and the son of her family’s sworn enemies, Jo is tempted to reignite the fires of rebellion. Can she ever go back to the life she’d made for herself in San Francisco? Or will what she’s learning about her heritage incite her to cast off caution–and claim what should have been hers?

Find After the Rising & Before the Fall on Goodreads

Purchase links
Author website | Amazon UK
Links provided for convenience only, not as part of an affiliate programme

After the Rising & Before the Fall by Orna Ross – A Guest Post

In William Faulkner’s words, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

In 1923, my father’s uncle was shot dead in the civil war known in Ireland as “The War of the Brothers.” I wrote this book because I wanted to know how but mainly to explore the deep silences around the event – why nobody talked about this civil war which I knew, from my fiery great-aunt, had been a “war of the sisters” too.


I grew up in a village in the south-eastern corner of Ireland, called Murrintown. Back then it was tiny – no more than a handful of houses, a church, a post office, and our shop and pub – but small as it was, an unspoken divide separated its few families.

As children, we knew who was one of ‘us’. Nobody put into words who or what ‘we’ were, but we carried the divide within us. We were born it and we passed it on, without asking why. I knew from my fiery aunt that it was something to do with being a republican, but I wasn’t quite sure what a republican was.

Our Irish school history books were full of our glorious Easter 1916 Rising against British rule, of the glorious War of Independence of 1918 to ’21, of our glorious admission into the League of Nations in 1924. But the Civil War of 1922/23? That was a blank page.  And, as my father’s uncle had been killed in that war (murdered, my great-aunt said), that was the one I wanted to know more about.

Was it true that he’d been shot dead by his best friend? That he’d been killed because he was in the IRA (the “old IRA” who were heroes, I was told, not the new IRA who were then bombing Northern Ireland and the UK)? How could this have happened? My persistent questions got vague answers. Nobody knew anything. Least said, soonest mended. Whatever you say, say nothing.

Someday, I told my friend who sat beside me in school, I was going to write a book about all this. Then I grew up, and rejected it all – the public, nationalist politics and the private family history. I left home, went to university, found feminism and a different way of thinking about everything.

When you reject something, though, you’re not indifferent – as I learned when, approaching middle-age, I set about fulfilling that long-ago vow to my friend, and beginning that long-promised book, though my aunt was now dead.

I turned to old County Wexford newspapers, old documents in libraries and archives, old books written by those who’d been part of the conflicts of that time. I began to make notes. And somewhere along the line, research and memory gave way to imagination. I never did find out what really happened to my great-uncle. It turned out that I was writing a novel.

In my book, I tell the story of another family, the Devereux-Parles, similar-but-different to my family. The narrator is a progressive young woman, Jo Devereux, similar-but-different to me, tracing her family history back to a similar-but-different event to the one that shadowed my childhood.

Centenary Edition

It’s now almost 100 years since the events they describe happened and today Ireland is at the end of a ten-year programme commemorating “the many significant centenaries” of the decade from 1913 to 1923”, including the suffrage movement, the trade union struggles, the Easter Rising of 1916, the foundation of the Irish Free State, and they promise, the Civil War.

What happened to Jo, her ancestors and descendants, has now grown into a three-volume saga, After the RisingBefore the Fall and In the Hour, covering the lives of five generations of women, across two continents. I will launch the third volume of the book next year, in 2023, 100 years after my uncle was shot.

As I look back over the writing of this trilogy, I see now why it had to be a novel. Only the inventions of fiction could contain the truths of that time – and its ambivalent legacy. Only fiction could recreate those people who’d been wiped out of the history books. I hope they, and their way of life, will live again for you as you read.

So, it felt timely to re-release a centenary edition of the first two volumes of this Irish trilogy in advance of publishing the third and final book of this story.

Orna RossAbout the Author

Orna Ross is a bestselling and award-winning independent author. She writes historical fiction – mostly multi-generational murder mysteries – inspirational poetry and, as Orna A Ross, creative and publishing guides for authors. Born and raised in County Wexford, in the south-east corner of Ireland, she now lives in London and in St Leonard’s-on-Sea, in the south-east corner of England. In 2012, she founded the award-winning non-profit organization, the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), with her husband and business partner.

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