You don’t choose your family
by John Barlow, author of HOPE ROAD
About the time I started to think about writing HOPE ROAD, I made a discovery that came as quite a surprise: my uncle John had been an international arms dealer. He died on a flight from Amsterdam in 1984, slumped in the toilet, his throat cut.
Funny, isn’t it, how certain things in a family’s past are simply ignored, never talked about, as if everyone agrees that some dark, shared secret must remain unspoken. No one had EVER mentioned uncle John when I was growing up.
John Lord was actually a half-uncle, and that side of the family had always been a bit unusual. His granddad invented SPIK in the 1940s (long before political correctness), a carpet-cleaning powder. He also had a hat shop in Leeds with a small pigsty behind it. One day my dad’s auntie Jean, who worked in the shop as a teenager, found crates of army issue rifles in an outbuilding next to the pigs.
But uncle John was a different kind of arms dealer. He was licensed to carry arms, and apparently was well liked and respected in the firearms community. Back in the 70s, when airports were all free-and-easy, he used to carry a specially designed attaché case with sample guns in it right through customs. He’d hand it over to the captain when he boarded a flight.
He made various trips to Libya for reasons unknown during this time, and when he died his wife claimed that he’d been in contact with someone about working undercover, although she didn’t know who. Whatever the truth, after his death it was revealed that he’d been dealing in munitions stolen from the British army. An intelligence report then surfaced, suggesting a possible link with para-military organisations in northern Ireland.
As a novelist, though, my interest is in the fact that he was so damn normal. I also found it interesting that although he was an international arms dealer, he also bought and sold military memorabilia; so, he’d sell you a commemorative teaspoon from the battle of Waterloo, or a crate of landmines. His death left a young wife and two daughters, and a small suburban home. Yet he was flying to Libya and stealing stuff from the freakin army?
My novel HOPE ROAD is about a criminal family. Not mine. A far more complex one, in which one son exists in the non-criminal world, but finds it difficult to escape the inevitable taint of his family name. His police detective girlfriend helps, but once he starts investigating the murder of a young girl in which he is implicated, the boundaries start to break down.
Families, eh? Well, HOPE ROAD is also about fine wine, second hand cars, counterfeit money, Ukrainian tractors... But essentially it’s about John Ray, caught up in an environment not of his making, but inevitably shaping his outlook on life.
I hope you like it.
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