The Website of Novelist  Derek Robinson

NEW DEREK ROBINSON NOVEL  - "What a romp!"  
World War 2 gives up another secret.

How to con a major American intelligence agency for fun and profit.

And get away with it... almost.

Holy $moke
gets warm welcome

“Holy Smoke finds us in Rome at the end of the war, a new location for Robinson but one which has his customary cast of liars, saboteurs and arsonists.  Everyone will have their particular favourite;  one of mine is Captain Ironside, whom I nominate as the statutory ‘awkward bugger’,  a fixture in so many Robinson books.  What is conjured up for our delight is the amorality of a city staggering out of war, in a state of mind which  -  with an almost total disregard of government and law  -  enabled Italy to slip from Fascism to democracy.  I loved it and thought it a perfect topic and cast for the Robinson treatment. My one disappointment  -   the Albanian dwarves were an authorial invention.”   
                                                                          Graham Thorne  
For a full review of Holy $moke by Bill Stroud, click:

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                                                         6 in U.K. inc postage
                                                      8 in Europe, inc airmail
                                             9 in Rest of the World, inc airmail

                                    To order, email me at
                                                   Please tell me where you are.

A heartwarming comedy of deceit, deception, power-seeking and
revenge, set in the liberated Rome of 1944.  Based on fact. Similar
 to my Luis Cabrillo  novels, but completely different.  No aircraft.
 Many jokes.  Self published - a slim volume, only 170 pages,
which explains the low price.

Here's a taste of page 1. We're in the Pentagon in 1944.

               “Albanian dwarves,” General Donovan said. “Dwarves from Albania. Interesting.” 

                He was walking along a wide and busy corridor. With him were a colonel, Randall Stuart, and a major, Fred Stoner.  Stuart had just outlined a plan to
infiltrate into Albania a number of male dwarves who were fluent in the language and the customs of the country.  Their task would be to sabotage German army
communications and to stimulate Albanian partisans. Stuart said that dwarves had an inbuilt advantage as secret agents because nobody suspected them..



 Quick Links

  RFC Books   RAF Books   Luis Cabrillo Books  Other Novels    Bristol Books  

                                                                                   Readers Write #59 September 2018

 Odds and evens, 

                        what really happened at Pearl Horbor,  

                                          and hello cock-up, goodbye conspiracy. 

Statesmen are human.  In photographs, they look infallible:   calm, confident and wise.  Yet they have failings, just like the rest of us, and war sometimes brings out the best and the worst in them.  Stalin was vain. He was short and squat, only five feet three, and when he stood on a reviewing stand at parades, he made sure that his colleagues stood well behind him.  If he had not been so self-centred, would he have refused to believe that German armies invaded Russia in 1941?  It was a week before he admitted the truth.  Churchill never liked the microphone and he made very few broadcasts.  (Some were made by actors who mastered his style.)  Roosevelt’s ‘fireside chats’ made the most of  radio;  to the American people he was a neighbourhood friend.  Perhaps he was too friendly.  At times a leader has to knock heads together, and a recent book gives hard evidence of Roosevelt’s reluctance to do so. 


The book is The Secret World by a Cambridge historian, Professor Christopher Andrew.  It’s a chunky volume of 948 pages, but very readable:  Andrew explains the tangled world of military intelligence with remarkable clarity. It’s a big world   -   his index runs to 69 pages and his bibliography  of the sources he’s used amounts to 57 pages.  I zeroed in on his chapter about World War Two, and especially Pearl Harbor and the President. 


On Sunday, 7th December 1941,the Japanese bombing of the U.S. Pacific fleet in harbour at  Hawaii left America stunned, then infuriated, and finally puzzled. It was an even greater shock than 24/11.  The attack on the Twin Towers happened at a time of terrorist atrocities, whereas Pearl Harbor was bombed after twenty-two years of peace.  Americans asked themselves:  How can this happen? Why was there no warning? Japan is 3,000 miles from Hawaii.  Surely somebody must have known?  The conspiracy theorists looked hard at Roosevelt.  Did he allow Pearl Harbor to happen because he knew that war was inevitable and this was his way to bounce America into the fight? 


                                                   Pearl Harbodr  


There are two sides to SIGINT (Signals Intelligence).  One is the ability to decode the enemy’s message; another is the ability of a nation’s leader to comprehend what is in the decrypt  (the decoded message).  Professor Andrew makes it clear that, in 1941, both were lacking in America.  In September 1940, America broke the Japanese diplomatic code, known as PURPLE. A year later, on 26 and 28 November 1941, Tokyo sent coded signals to its foreign embassies that it intended to break diplomatic relations with the U.S., Britain and the Soviet Union, and on 1 and 2 December certain embassies were told to destroy all codebooks and secret papers.   The decrypts, known as MAGIC, provided clear evidence that war was on its way.  Hindsight says that the U.S.Navy should have been on the alert. It didn’t happen.  The Japanese diplomatic code made no mention of naval action, and in 1941 the U.S.Navy’s codebreakers could not break the Japanese naval code.  In the months leading up to Pearl Harbor, the U.S.Navy intercepted thousands of Japanese naval signals but they were all meaningless.  The Navy gave a low priority to breaking that code. Usually only two cryptanalysts worked on it.  


The President himself is ultimately responsible for the importance of military intelligence, and in 1941 the handling of SIGINT in the White House was in a state of confusion.  The code and cipher sections of the Army and the Navy were bitter rivals, and in an attempt to keep the peace, someone came up with what Professor Andrew calls ‘an absurdly bureaucratic formula’. Both sections would work on intercepting PURPLE, but ‘the Army would receive all traffic on days with an even date and the Navy all traffic on days with an odd date’.   What’s more, MAGIC was to be supplied to the President by his naval aide in even-numbered months and by his Army aide in odd months.   Their rivalry damaged efficiency:  in at least one month the Army refused to supply any decrypts to the President.  Intelligence, it seems was not high on Roosevelt’s list of priorities.  The evidence shows that there was no conspiracy about the ‘infamy’ of Pearl Harbor.  What emerges is explained by the ‘cock-up theory’.  It applies to a lot of military history.  



Back to the present day.  Years ago I knocked out a piece about how I write my kind of stuff.  Since then, a few people have asked for advice, so here’s the nub of the piece:   


Writing is hard work.  Easy writing is hard reading. Never say a person is brave.  Show him acting bravely.  Let the reader do half the work.  A lot of writing is thinking.  Before I start, I re-read a few pages.  This is the flywheel principle  -  it keeps the momentum going. Everything is in longhand,  double-spaced  to leave room for change.  It’s easier to cut in longhand. When you re-read a page or two that you sweated over and you realise it’s junk, one slash of a pen deletes it. That’s satisfying. Get the details right or you will lose your reader’s confidence.  In a book by Eric Ambler, someone with flu takes antibiotics.  Since antibiotics do nothing for flu, the detail did nothing for the reader’s faith.  Moral:  check everything, trust nobody.  Especially yourself.    




Readers write, and they are not all male.  Emma, somewhere in the UK, began with Goshawk Squadron and is steadily working her way through my stuff. ‘Military fiction isn’t normally my bag,’ she says, ‘but your style is black and funny.’ Her pick of the bunch is Damned Good Show, ‘mainly because of Silk, closely followed Kate as a favourite character’.  Silk has no first name, and she wonders about that. It just happened, Emma.  Silko was enough.  He never seemed to  need anything else.  Simon in Surrey discovered  Hullo Russia, Goodbye England:  ‘Vintage Robinson,’ he says.  Then he read Kramer’s War and enjoyed ‘the unexpected encounter with Rommel. Never thought I’d get to meet him.’ But ‘ultimately Piece of Cake can never be bettered’.  Colin in Oxfordshire is ‘slowly, but very enjoyably, re-reading all your books   -   and keeping my wife awake as I am accused of shaking the bed with laughter every few minutes’.  (Reminds me of  the American fan who laughed so hard that he was at risk of cracking a rib.)


And requests for Holy Smoke arrive from far afield    -   from Jan in South Africa, David in Helsinki, and Marcel in The Netherlands,  who has ‘spent many hours reading through the RFC and RAF novels and enjoyed everyone of them’.   Emails are always  welcome but Barry in Bath brightened up my breakfast with a picture postcard from Italy.  He writes:  ‘Decided to save Holy Smoke from last year to this   -   so that the Italian ambience would flavour the sauce.  It worked a treat and the book was really enjoyable. As always with yours.’  The novel’s anti-hero is a con artist with a talent like Luis Cabrillo, and Barry reckons he ‘deserves to join the ranks of van Meegeren and Tom Keating et al, as one who fooled the experts, albeit but a brief flame’.  The story is based on fact.  Maybe Scattolini/del Pronto (every con artist has an alias) has a new lease of life. 

My thanks to all who wrote.                                    Derek Robinson                                                              

Previous Readers Write


Why 1914

Why 1914?

Why 1914? is "the best short introduction to the causes of the first world war I have come across.  Derek Robinson is as vivid and trustworthy a historian as he is a novelist.”
                                Nicholas Lezard - The Guardian

Here's a taste of what you get:

“The Black Hand recruited Gavrilo Princip and two others to murder the Archduke.  All three young men had incurable tuberculosis. They were ordered to kill themselves when the Archduke was dead. Phials of cyanide were handed out. What could possibly go wrong? In the event, everything.  Especially the cyanide.”

"To find war news in July 1914 you have to look at Ireland.  Home Rule had been passed.  Ulster, largely Protestant, detested the Catholic south.  Gun-running was on an industrial scale.  The government was trapped in an Irish bog.”

"In 1914, Kaiser William II, commanding the most powerful army in Europe, was not so much a loose cannon as a whole battery of loose cannons.”

"Admiral Tirpitz, Navy Minister, held the job for 19 years and followed one plan throughout his career:  more battleships, and then more battleships.  The Kaiser said that ‘with every new German battleship there was laid a fresh pledge for peace’.  Yet Tirpitz was using his battleships to frighten Britain into silence.”

"On 15 August 1914, Lieutenant Bernard Montgomery wrote in his diary: ‘At least the thing will be over in three weeks."

”If Germany seized the Channel ports, this would be hugely damaging to Britain’s strategic position. Britain went to war for Belgium’s sake, and for her own.”

"In 1914 the German army did not talk to the German navy.  For eight days in August an armada of ships transported the British army to France without disturbance.”

"The British infantry’s  name for its rapid rifle-fire was ‘mad minute’: a trained rifleman could fire fifteen rounds a minute.  This was often mistaken for machine-gun fire.”

"Confidence of success fuelled German troops’ drive for victory.  All Germany shared this confidence:  friends and family wrote letters to German soldiers with the address ‘in or near Paris’. (The postal service being neutral, sacks of this mail reached Paris.)”

"Winning the Battle of Ypres gave the Allies no strategic advantage but it became a heroic trophy simply  because Germany wanted it so badly.”

    The Paperback is available only directly from the author

In UK                                              8
In Europe                                         10
Rest  of World                                 12.50

Preferred payment method  -  PayPal
Email your order to me at and you will receive a Payment Request.  Then all you need is a credit card to pay into my PayPal account.

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Click here to read
Elizabeth Ballmer's review
Why 1914?
   is now also available as an Amazon E-book.

Click here for details

Mentioned in Despatches

Nicholas Lezard in The Guardian chooses Why 1914 as one of his Paperbacks of the Year, writing: "The novelist Derek Robinson, 82 this year, just keeps going, and his prose is as sharp and sprightly as ever (there is something of Evelyn Waugh about its economy and grip)...   This year he has written and self-published the best introduction to the causes of the  first world war, Why 1914?, I have come across.  He is as vivid and trustworthy a historian as he is a novelist."

Robert Allison  puts A Good Clean Fight in his top 10 of desert warfare novels, saying, “Well above genre standards,  thanks to its energetic storytelling, its wealth of factual detail , and the author’s trademark gallows humour."                                                                                           Click to read the full article.

Reviewing A Splendid Little War, Nick Lezard writes: "Robinson has pulled off a remarkable coup. It's as bleakly intelligent as anything he has done but he has
also increased our historical understanding."
Click to read the full review.

Describing Derek Robinson's war novels, Antonia Senior said: "No one writes about war quite like Robinson, despite attempts to shroud him in echoes of other writers, such as Joseph Heller or Norman Mailer. He writes with a bleak savagery, in controlled, precise prose. There is humour – and it is dark and painful. There is love – and it is inadequate and messy. Most of all there is death. It comes from clear blue skies and grey clouds, from enemy fire and friendly mistakes. It
hovers, unseen, at  15,000 feet."
                                                                           Click to read the full article.

 A Splendid Little War is now available in paperback. 


It's 1919. The  Great War is over but a civil war is raging in Russia.  Bolshevik Reds are fighting White Russians, and a volunteer R.A.F. squadron, flying clapped-out Sopwith Camels and DH9 bombers, arrives to duff up the Reds.  But the 'splendid little war' they are promised turns out to be big and brutal, a world of armoured train, anarchist guerillas, unreliable allies and pitiless enemies.  There is comedy, but it is the bleakest kind. A Splendid Little War shows war as it is: grim, funny, moving - but never splendid.

Reviews of A Splendid Little War
      The Daily Express
             American edition of GQ Magazine
                               The Independent                        


DR_Who He?   When someone at a party asks what I do, I say I write Ripping Yarns.  It's a quick answer but a very incomplete one. I'm best known for my novels about the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Air Force in the two World Wars and some might say the books are highly readable adventure stories.  Nothing wrong with that, but there's more than combat in the high blue yonder   -   there's also memorable characters, there's unexpected twists and turns of warfare,  and there's aircrew humour.   Especially the humour.  I did my National Service in the Royal Air Force.  I was never airborne; I was in a Ground Control Interception Unit, deep underground in a concrete bunker.  But I learned a lot about the special humour of flying people,  and it emerges naturally and unavoidably in my novels. Humour is one of the essential colours in the spectrum of life. You don't make a story more serious by removing the humour; you just make it less true.

The longer I do this job, the luckier I know I am.  For a start, I'm English and the English language is global. That's pure luck of birth. I might have been born in Hungary.  There are good Hungarian writers,  but it's a lot easier for me to find readers throughout the English-speaking world.  And I was lucky to have literate parents.  When I grew up there were always books and magazines about the house, unlike some other kids' homes. There was a good public library at the end of the street.  And there was the 1944 Education Act which created State Scholarships for bright lads and helped me get into Cambridge.
That's where I learned to write boringly. I was writing to impress, not to inform. Twelve years in advertising agencies (London and New York) kicked the crap out of my style. Every word had to work hard. I wrote ad copy and commercials for everything from Esso petrol to The Wall Street Journal.  Always I knew I wanted to move on, to be a fulltime writer  -  but I had nothing to say.  Nothing worth reading, anyway. (I was a late developer.) I wrote two bad and unpublishable novels and finally got it right with a story called Goshawk Squadron. Might have won the Booker Prize if Saul Bellow, one of the judges, had had his way. Not important. "The most readable novel of the year," Nina Bawden said of Goshawk in the Daily Telegraph. "I laughed aloud several times, and was in the end reduced to tears." That's worth more than any prize. The first novel bought me enough time to write the second, and so it goes. Lucky me.


MacLehose Press (an imprint of Quercus Books) has published all of my flying novels  -  four Royal Flying Corps books and four Royal Air Force books.  Here are the new covers: 
      pce cake       hullo russia        A Good Clean Fight       Damned Good Show_new

                war story_new              hornets sting_new            goshawk squadron_new              

Click here to go to the MacLeHose website. where you can click on their individual covers for  purchase options, including e-books.
This will be the first time that all my flying titles are in print from the same publisher:  something that gives me great satisfaction. Equally satisfying is the work of Tony Cowland, who has painted the cover illustrations for all the books. Each cover looks dramatically different, yet together they have a family likeness. They form a splendid collection, and they appeared at The Mall Galleries (near Admiralty Arch)  in the Aviation Paintings of the Year Exhibition by the Guild of Aviation Artists. The standard was high. My congratulations to Tony on a memorable achievement.
Artist and Author  
Photograph: Chris French


All four of the Luis Cabrillo novels (following the career of  probably the best WW2 double agent and later con-man) are now available as eBooks from Amazon/Kindle. Here are the covers:

                              Artillery                  RedRag                 OpBam 
                            Click on a cover to go to the Amazon sales page.

The R.F.C. trilogy and the R.A.F. Quartet are also available as e-books.



        'Operation Bamboozle' is a fastmoving black comedy about what happens when a high-stakes con artist takes on the Mob in Los Angeles.  The result is a heady brew of disorganised crime, hot dollars, triple virgins and dead bodies in the begonias.   

         Luis Cabrillo is the con artist, Julie Conroy is his squeeze, and here's the opening sentence:   

      For a man who had been hauled out of Lake Michigan in 1949, headless, his legs and arms broken, and stabbed in the heart with a red ballpoint pen, Frankie Blanco was in pretty good shape in 1953.  

Click to see the News of the World Review


                        RED RAG BLUES                                                  

  He's a heel, bless him. 

 Luis Cabrillo rides again in this "dashing tale of Nazis and Mafiosi", as The Observer called it. 
In fact, Nazis and Mafiosi play second fiddle to the real dynamo in this story.  It's 1953, and Senator Joe McCarthy's witchhunt for Reds under beds is scaring America witless.

Cue Luis Cabrillo, ex-double agent, now con artist supreme. Dollars flow, hotly pursued by bullets. Luis doesn't know it, but FBI, MI5, KGB and CIA have him firmly in their sights. Not to mention Stevie, the only three-times married virgin in New York City.  This is a rich, fast and very black comedy.

(To read the full Observer review, click here.) 

MacLehose Press (an imprint of Quercus Books) owns the book rights to all my RFC and RAF novels.  Sam Goldwyn Jr  owns the screen rights to Goshawk Squadron. In 1988, LWT made a six-part television series of Piece of Cake and they own the rights to that production.  I own the screen rights to any remake of Piece of Cake.  I own the screen rights to all my other novels. Quercus Books owns the e-book rights to all my fiction backlist, available through Amazon/Kindle.  Derek Robinson

Contact       I welcome comments and views about my books, though as a working writer I can't guarantee to have sufficient time to answer everyone.  

Click here to send me an email 

Main publications     Click any group heading to see details.

The RFC Quartet (WW1)
         pce cake          A Good Clean Fight          Damned Good Show_new           hullo russia          
                             The RAF Quartet (WW2)
The Double Agent Quartet
                          why1914thmnl     Holy Smoke      
Other Novels/History
Rugby Books

Bristol Books

Availability of the books.   

All my fiction is available as e-books.  Maclehose Press publish (in print) all eight of my flying novels, available from any good book seller (who may have to order a copy). Or you  could try the websites listed below, often useful for tracking down both new and used books. 

 The two Bristle books, and A Darker Side of Bristol are published by Countryside Books .
Finally, I have a few copies of Pure Bristle, available at 2 each. 
Quercus Books  Amazon UK      Amazon USA      Fantastic Fiction   

Other websites you may find of interest:

   Wikipedia     IMDB     Jeremy Northam Blog   

Major books and original publication dates:

1971 Goshawk Squadron
1973 Rotten with Honour
1977 Kramer's War
1979 The Eldorado Network
1983 Piece of Cake
1987 War Story
1991 Artillery of Lies
1993 A Good Clean Fight

1999 Hornet's Sting
2002 Damned Good Show
2002 Kentucky Blues
2005 Invasion 1940
2005 Red Rag Blues
2008 Hullo Russia, Goodbye England
2009 Operation Bamboozle
2013 A Splendid Little War

2014  Why 1914?

2017  Holy $moke