by James Houston Turner
on Tour May 1-31, 2020
“TURNER BARELY PAUSES FOR BREATH IN THIS EXCITING THRILL RIDE.”
One-and-a-half billion dollars vanishes out of a numbered account into a cyberspace maze. But the thief who stole it lies dead on the tracks of Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway, his access codes having perished with him.
If it were simply a matter of missing money, the United States would not be concerned. But a Hong Kong crime boss named Dragon Head wants the money to fund an army of hackers, one of whom has already penetrated America’s GPS network. The result: a midair collision that kills more than a thousand people.
With national security at stake, the Director of National Intelligence becomes very interested in the whereabouts of that money. He wants the funds to remain lost. But Dragon Head wants them found. And Colonel Aleksandr Talanov is caught in the middle.
Both sides believe Talanov knows where the money is. But Talanov doesn’t have a clue. So both sides threaten to kill his closest friends unless he locates and surrenders the money. It’s an impossible situation when impossible is not an option, because whatever choice Talanov makes, someone will die.
“Snappy dialogue … humor and heart … scenes crackling with life as Talanov races against the clock in this complex spy thriller that delivers charm and thrills.”
–John M. Murray, Foreword Reviews
“Dragon Head is an explosive story packed with plenty of action and excitement. Like all good spy stories, it’s unclear exactly what everyone is up to and who can actually be trusted. Facing threats on all sides, Talanov is a great hero to follow, tough and quick to dive into the action, but also smart and more than capable of outmaneuvering his enemies. Dragon Head is an exhilarating story that tackles contemporary issues … a top-notch thriller.”
–Erin Britton, The Manhattan Book Review
Genre: Action Thriller
Published by: Regis Books
Publication Date: May 1, 2020
Number of Pages:
Series: Aleksandr Talanov Thriller #4
Purchase Links: Amazon, Goodreads
Winner of numerous awards, including “Best Thriller,” bestselling author James Houston Turner is known for his Aleksandr Talanov series of spy novels. Talanov the fictional character was inspired by the actual KGB agent who once leaked word out of Moscow that James was on a KGB watchlist for his smuggling activities behind the old Iron Curtain. “His act of heroism – he could have been executed for what he did – gave me the idea of a good-guy KGB agent who became a spy for America,” Turner explains.
A native of Kansas, James Houston Turner has been writing since he was ten. After earning his bachelor’s degree from Baker University, he moved to Texas, where he earned his master’s degree from the University of Houston (Clear Lake). He then headed west to California, where his love of writing turned into a profession with publication of The Spud Book: 101 Ways to Cook Potatoes. Publisher’s Weekly called it “A cookbook with ap-peel.” Between TV cooking tours, he worked as a journalist at the famed Los Angeles Union Rescue Mission, where he revised their magazine, Lifeline, from a needs-based ministry appeal to a collection of interviews from the streets about changed lives. Those interviews included numerous victims of human trafficking. The magazine won several awards.
During this time, James also worked as a smuggler into Soviet-occupied Eastern Europe, where he transported tons of food, clothing, Bibles, and medical supplies, to needy hospitals and churches. While there, he interviewed many heroes of death camps, gulags, Siberian exile, persecution, illness, hardship, and torture, including assassination squads.
James is also a cancer survivor after doctors in Australia removed a tumor the size of an orange from his face. “I was told if I lived eighteen months I would probably live to be one hundred. That was in 1991, so I am happy to report I am well on my way toward that goal. These experiences continue to influence my storytelling, whether in novels, or, now, in film. My stories are ‘overcomer stories,’ because that’s what I’ve had to do, and is why I want my stories to leave people with the same hope and faith that strengthened me.”
As a self-published author who made the deliberate choice away from traditional avenues, he has accomplished what he calls “the writer’s dream” with a film option on one of his novels, Greco’s Game. He is also one of a small handful of writers who can function both as a novelist and a screenwriter, with two of his screenplays having also been optioned, with production on his projects scheduled to begin in 2020.
After nearly twenty years in Australia, James and his wife, Wendy, now live in Austin, Texas.
TEN FACTS ABOUT TALANOV
(1) Talanov the fictional character was inspired by the actual KGB agent who once leaked word out of Moscow that James was on a KGB watch-list for his smuggling activities (cash, clothing, medical supplies, Bibles) behind the old Iron Curtain.
(2) When the republished US edition of Department Thirteen came out in 2010, we did a photo shoot in Australia, where I was living at the time. I brought in two photographers and two models, and we took over a nightclub early one morning and did a photo shoot for some promotional posters. The images from that early morning photo shoot are still how I view Talanov today.
Caption: Aleksandr Talanov and his wife, Andrea (from the novel, Department Thirteen)
(3) The Talanov thriller series has been optioned for film by Wonderfilm Media, in Los Angeles, with veteran screenwriter, David Marconi (Live Free or Die Hard, with Bruce Willis; Enemy of the State, with Will Smith, and The Foreigner, with Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan) writing the script as well as directing. Says Marconi—
“Talanov is such a rich and nuanced character, and the novel’s plot [Greco’s Game, which is set against a backdrop of human trafficking] is so timely with what is going on in our world. I’m excited to be working with Wonderfilm.” (The entire press release may be found HERE.)
(4) THE BASICS:
NAME: Aleksandr “Alex” Mikhailevich Talanov
KGB RANK: Colonel
DATE OF BIRTH: February 04
HEIGHT: 6’1″ (185.42cm)
WEIGHT: 172 lbs (78.02 kg)
HAIR: Brown, with touch of gray at the temples
Strong Aquarius personality: smart, enterprising, loves puzzles and dilemmas and finding unique solutions to problems; inventive and thinks outside the box; a realist (tends to look at the glass as being half full, but knows glasses are easily broken); thrives on processing information; curious and alert but often cold, calculating and indifferent to the emotional needs of others. An early morning runner and avid student of chess, Talanov is fluent in English (American, British) Russian, Ukrainian, German, Spanish, and French. Committed and loyal, he enjoys spicy food, fast cars, cold vodka, and passionate music.
(5) Since his youth, Talanov was destined to be part of the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti — the Committee for State Security — or the internal security and foreign intelligence agency of the old Soviet Union. His father, Mikhail Ivanevich Talanov, was reportedly killed when he was an infant, with his heroin-addicted mother, Nina, dying from a narcotics overdose when he was four. Alex was subsequently handed over to his elderly maternal grandparents, who lived in a ninth floor Moscow flat. The grandparents, however, couldn’t cope, so he was turned over to State minders, who immediately noticed his athletic and educational abilities and placed him in the Komsomol — the Communist Youth Organization — where he would be taught the fighting and philosophical skills needed to advance him to the KGB. It was here that he was taught Combat Sambo, where he rose to the rank of Black Belt, his instructor preferring the traditional belt system of rating over the cumbersome “razryad” system most sambists employed. It was also here, under the influence of his minders, that he was taught that love was a weakness and vulnerability that an enemy could exploit. These indoctrinations continue to cause him many problems with interpersonal relationships.
(6) It was in the mountains of remote northern China, as a boy of twelve (as told in the novel, November Echo), that Talanov was first groomed by means of a deliberate act of cruelty and betrayal to become “Ledyanoĭ chelovek” — the “ice man” — a cold, calculating, emotionally-impervious KGB agent. Yet in spite of such indoctrinations and training, Talanov developed an unusual idealism about fairness and morality, which baffled his Soviet colleagues and which was eventually used against him (in the novel, November Echo).
(7) THE TALANOV WAY: DEPARTMENT THIRTEEN
In Department Thirteen, we find Talanov “happily married to a woman he does not love,” or cannot love as we later find out, thanks to his training by the KGB. When his wife Andrea asks why they got married—
Talanov caught sight of her silhouette against the intermittent reflections of light moving in fluid motions over the harbor. Her long hair was blowing softly; her silk dress was clinging tightly to a slim waist and willing curves.
He recalled how they had become acquainted a year after his migration to Australia. Having purchased a house in Mosman, he telephoned the number on a glossy brochure asking for a quote on catering a party. A renovation crew would be arriving soon, and he wanted to christen his new residence before construction began. Andrea assured Mr. Talanov that Elegant Cuisine was one of Sydney’s most prestigious gourmet catering businesses, and that she would personally coordinate everything from the mailing of invitations to valet parking. Satisfaction, of course, was guaranteed.
After the event, Talanov invited her to stay the night.
“Scared?” he asked.
“Careful,” she replied.
“What do you know. A beautiful virgin who can cook.”
“Sorry, Alex, but the first part of that solicitous query is none of your business. The second part, however, comes with a very expensive invoice, which I expect you to pay.”
“I wasn’t trying to get personal.”
“Yes you were, but never mind. I like a man who takes risks.”
Talanov chuckled. “So what is this going to cost me?”
“More than you ever dreamed.”
(8) THE TALANOV WAY: NOVEMBER ECHO
Looking back at [his KGB partner] Sofia, Talanov said, “You want to catch a rat, you need to think like a rat and go where he goes but get there ahead of him. The old cats upstairs [referring to his aged KGB colleagues] don’t know how to do that. They’ve been in the house too long. They give their advice and meow when they’re told and when everything falls to shit, they blame it on somebody else. That’s why I do things my way. I’m an alley cat. No one likes alley cats but alley cats know how to get the job done when it comes to rats.”
(9) THE TALANOV WAY: GRECO’S GAME
In this story, Talanov wants his longtime friend and colleague, CIA department head Bill Wilcox, to
rescue a family in Ukraine. Wilcox says he can’t, that the CIA doesn’t have assets there. Talanov doesn’t believe him. And Wilcox says, “I think by now I would have earned enough of your respect for you to believe me when I tell you I can’t.”
“You’ve got that backward, Bill,” responds Talanov. “Respect isn’t earned, it’s given, right up front. Everybody deserves your respect until they earn your disrespect, and right now you’re earning mine.”
(10) THE TALANOV WAY: DRAGON HEAD
In this novel, we find Talanov in a congressional hearing in Washington, where he had been grilled by the ranking minority member, Warren Levin, who made no bones about not liking Talanov, whose only ally on the committee was Congresswoman Diane Gustaves (who is a series fixture). The day after Talanov’s grilling, it’s Wilcox’s turn.
Levin skipped the courtesy of thanking Wilcox for his service and jumped right into a blistering tirade about Talanov’s irreverent behavior toward congressional authority.
“You’re right,” confessed Wilcox once Levin had finished. “Talanov is annoying, pugilistic, flippant, arrogant, and dangerous.”
“That’s kind of harsh,” remarked Talanov inside the viewing theater. He glanced around at the semi-circle of big guys, who looked back at him but said nothing. Talanov shrugged and looked at the monitor again, where Wilcox was scanning the faces of each committee member. All were startled by Wilcox’s remark and none of them knew what to say.
“Are you surprised by that statement?” asked Wilcox.
“Frankly, yes,” answered Gustaves.
“Don’t be,” Wilcox replied. “He was trained by our enemies. He kicked our asses on numerous occasions.” He then smiled and leaned forward for emphasis. “Which is precisely why I recruited him. We needed him on our side.”
I had to cut a particular portion of the Dragon Head text because it didn’t quite fit. But I will share it here because it reveals the new direction I am taking Talanov in his efforts to help Diane Gustaves neutralize America’s enemies from within.
“You trust me, yes, but that’s not the main reason you want me on your team,” said Talanov. “You want me on your team because Washington is a snake pit and you need someone experienced in snake warfare. You can handle yourself in congress. No question about that. You’re a snake charmer and a damned good one. I’m not. I work in the shadows and do things you need to have done but don’t want to know how they get done. I’m also someone who’s expendable should things go south. Plausible deniability, I believe it’s called.”
“I would never use you like that,” Gustaves said.
“With respect, Madam Congresswoman, yes, you would. And that’s okay. I’m well aware of the risks and I’m not afraid of snakes. I’ve dealt with them before. Don’t forget, I used to be one myself, so I know the kind of poison we’re dealing with. But you need to know how I operate. When a snake comes after me, I chop off its head and roast its carcass in front of the others. That lets the other snakes know what awaits them if they screw with me. Look, I admire you for wanting to clean up this town. But the job will be harder than you think and cost more than you think. Question is: are you up for the job?”
Thank you for having me visit your blog, Cheryl. I can’t wait to be back with my next Talanov adventure.
Read an excerpt:
Wu Chee Ming looked anxiously behind him. Where were they? Who were they? When would they strike? An attack in a crowded street like this would be over in seconds. A silenced pistol. A knife. A needle. Death would be quick and the assassin would vanish. One face in an ocean of faces.
He was not even sure they were onto him. In fact, they probably weren’t. He had taken extreme care over the last few months to make sure his movements went undetected.
One does not seek what one does not see.
It was a proverb that guided his every move.
And yet, in spite of his meticulous planning, he had to proceed as if they had noticed, which was why he had chosen Lan Kwai Fong, a small, bustling tourist district in the heart of Hong Kong, to make his escape. The narrow streets of Lan Kwai Fong were perfect for what he was planning. Flashing neon. Music. Thousands of people surging in and out of nightclubs and restaurants. The perfect place to disappear.
The perfect place to be killed.
The proverb, however, held the secret to his survival; namely, that the best place to hide is often in plain sight. That people usually do not notice what is right in front of them. Hence, his choice to pass through Lan Kwai Fong each night on his way home from work, so his being here tonight would not attract any undue attention.
Suddenly, an elbow caught him in the chest and knocked him into a group of Chinese girls texting one another. They were holding their phones so close their eyes glistened with light from the tiny screens.
“Kàn tā!” one of them barked.
Wu Chee Ming pushed on.
Ahead, the street bent ninety degrees and sloped downhill for a short block before meeting D’Aguilar Street. Wu Chee Ming turned at the corner and threaded his way uphill along another street filled with partygoers. Within minutes, he reached a short flight of steps that branched away from the street. Taking the steps two at a time, he reached the top and began running along a darkened walkway that angled between a pair of highrise office towers. Before long, the sounds and smells of Lan Kwai Fong had receded into the distance.
Wu Chee Ming knew he would miss those sounds and smells. But at least he would be alive to remember them. He glanced behind but saw no one.
One does not seek what one does not see.
His survival hinged on the truth of that proverb, and yet if he truly believed it, why was he running? Why was he not relaxed in the knowledge that he was but another face in an ocean of faces?
Under normal conditions, Hong Kong was the perfect city in which to vanish. But these were not normal conditions. He was running from a crime boss who knew every inch of the island. A crime boss with eyes and ears everywhere. A crime boss so skilled in the art of death that some people considered it an honor to die by his hand. Dexter Moran was his name, although no one dared address him that way. To everyone in Hong Kong and the New Territories, he was known as Dragon Head, and he was the supreme leader of the Shí bèi organized crime society, which was based in the Zhongzhen Martial Arts Academy.
The name “Dragon Head” was actually a title that had been seized by Moran in the same manner a lion becomes the alpha male of his pride: by defeating or killing his rivals. And not just known rivals, but anyone suspected of being a threat. Which was why Wu Chee Ming had chosen to run. He wanted to make sure he was not among them.
Ahead, beside a tree, was an old bicycle. Wu Chee Ming had purchased it from a repair shop with instructions that it be placed beside the tree this afternoon. It had a basket above the front fender and a tiny dome bell on the handlebar. Lifting the bike onto the path, Wu Chee Ming walked it to an intersecting walkway, where he turned left, jumped on, and began pedaling. In less than a minute he emerged onto a busy street.
Like New York, Hong Kong was a city that never slept. Even at this late hour, cars filled the streets and the sidewalks were gorged with people. A few dings on his bell caused pedestrians to stop long enough for him to bicycle across the sidewalk and into the bicycle lane, where he turned left and began pedaling with the flow of traffic. He kept pace for two blocks, then cut across to the other side of the street, where he began pedaling with the flow of traffic in the other direction. He bicycled past noodle bars, restaurants, and retail outlets offering everything from designer clothing to electronics, phone cards, and cosmetics. Before long, he turned down a side street and raced to the next corner, where he turned right and raced to the next corner, where he turned again. The zigzag pattern took him away from the neon madness of the tourist district and into Hong Kong’s shadowed side streets.
Within twenty minutes, Wu Chee Ming had made his way to a four-story apartment building in a rundown part of Wan Chai. Unlike the glamour and polish of the financial precinct where he worked, this part of town was stained with the gloom of poverty. There were no gleaming office towers of tinted glass. No stepped terraces with architectural flourishes. The buildings were rectangular and squat. Rust and soot were the predominant colors.
Leaning his bicycle against a metal roller door, Wu Chee Ming entered a darkened stairwell and dashed up a flight of steps. There were no lights in the stairwell because Wu Chee Ming had broken the bulbs. No one must remember his face to anyone asking questions. And there would be questions, and Dragon Head would be asking them. By that time, however, he would be long gone, which meant Dragon Head would have no choice but to hunt down the only other person who could give him answers. That person was former KGB colonel Aleksandr Talanov. Talanov, of course, would have no answers because he would not know what had happened. Torture would be employed, and Dragon Head would be merciless, but Talanov would not be able to reveal what he did not know. Yes, Talanov was a walking dead man, while he, Wu Chee Ming, was about to become a ghost.
Excerpt from Dragon Head by James Houston Turner. Copyright 2020 by James Houston Turner. Reproduced with permission from James Houston Turner. All rights reserved.
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