We're excited to be part of Titan Books' book tour for the new thriller The Age of Olympus by Gavin Scott. He tells us about one of his literary inspirations in this exclusive article, John Buchan and Me...
I first read The Thirty Nine Steps when I was twelve, on a sheep-tracked hillside covered in golden tussock grass above the little village of Havelock North, in New Zealand’s Hawkes Bay region, and from the moment Richard Hannay returned to his flat in Langham Place to find Scudder pinned to the floor with a knife through his heart, I was hooked. I devoured all the other Hannay adventures, and then went on to another of Buchan’s heroes, the staid, respectable lawyer Sir Edward Leithen. And through him I came to The Dancing Floor, a thriller set on the myth-haunted Greek island of Plakos that became the inspiration for Hydros in The Age of Olympus.
Buchan’s novel tells how Edward Leithen met and befriended a young man named Vernon Milburne, who was afflicted by a dream which recurred on a specific date every year. In the dream Milburne is in an empty house, menaced by something that comes closer and closer every year, one room at a time. He’s convinced that a dreadful finale awaits him him when the thing that haunts him enters the last room. Through Milburne, Edward Leithen also meets a beautiful young girl, Kore Arabin, who has inherited a mansion on the Greek island of Plakos from her father, and is determined to reclaim it.
Despite the fact that she begins to realise that her father committed terrible crimes there, and the islanders are convinced that any daughter of his must be evil too.
And a suitable candidate for ritual sacrifice.
The finale of the novel comes about when Milburne’s recurring nightmare becomes real, and both young people find themselves on the island, caught up in an ancient ritual which threatens to cost them both their lives. It’s a terrific action thriller, shot through with the supernatural and bringing the 20th century AD and the 10th century BC into terrifying collision. It was once described as the first novel adopt the ideas laid out in Sir James Frazer’s magisterial study of mythology and religion, The Golden Bough, published between 1890 and 1915.
But as much as anything it was the atmosphere of The Dancing Floor that I wanted to capture when I wrote The Age of Olympus – the feeling of being in a timeless place, where, intoxicated by the scent of the pine forests, dazed by the chirping of cicadas, surrounded by the blue Aegean and drugged by the heat, there’s an almost tangible connection to the ancestors who saw Athena and Pan flitting through the dappled shade.
Duncan Forrester has a foot in both worlds. On one level, as a former Special Operations Executive agent who has fought his way through World War Two, he knows the real world and how to survive in it. But he’s also a student of ancient history, whose understanding of the past depends on his ability to understand the gods, goddesses and monsters ancient peoples believed in. To be who he is he has to be sensitive to long-lost superstitions. To survive he must also be resistant to them.
Edward Leithen, like Richard Hannay, is an establishment figure like Buchan himself: a top lawyer who moves in the best circles and knows how government and society work because his best friends are part of it. Duncan Forrester, by contrast, has fought his way up from the fish docks of Hull to the cloisters of Oxford. His surprisingly wide range of connections is a result of a combination of his academic contacts and the extraordinary range of people, from Ian Fleming to Thor Heyerdahl, he met during the war.
All intensified by the contacts he makes during his post-war adventures, starting with Ian Fleming in The Age of Treachery. Although the establishment was still strong in 1945, it was much more open than it had been before the war – and that’s what makes Forrester’s extraordinary career possible. He’s as much a part of the newly-evolving post-war Britain as Hannay or Leithen were of their much more staid era.
But as well as being a man of his time, he has a powerful psychic connection to the deep past: which nowhere has a stronger effect than on the island of Hydros in The Age of Olympus.
Images - supplied by the author
Buy both Gavin Scott's Duncan Forrester mysteries on Amazon