He has written The Rogues Trilogy, a rousing adventure set in the two years leading up to the outbreak of WWII, which starts with 'Churchill's Rogue', followed by 'The Gathering Storm' and 'The Darkest Hour'. He has recently completed 'The Alpha Wolves', the final novel in The Lochran Trilogy, a 1960s thriller based on an assassination attempt on Sir Winston Churchill - a man who the world knows is already dying. He is currently writing The Lenka Trilogy, thrillers based in the 1990s centered on a young school teacher who volunteers to deliver aid to children’s orphanages in Romania and later to Bosnia during the war, and finds herself in the company of rogues and the target of mercenaries. The first novel in the series, 'Heartbreak', was published in November 2019, with the second, 'Resilience', and the third, 'Reflection', due for release on Black Friday in 2020 and 2021 respectively.
John has also written a short, humorous play, 'The "Pane" of Rejection', based on a fictitious interview between a wry author and an acerbic critic.
In 2016, 'Churchill's Rogue' was shortlisted for the Inaugural Wilbur Smith Adventure Best Newcomer Award.
John has worked in over forty occupations, ranging from grave digger, cocktail barman and tree-lopper, to professional poker player and demolition expert, and is currently employed as a government ‘Transactor’ covering major infrastructure programmes across the country. His adventures continue, as he has ridden a British Army motorbike across India to support several children's charities and worked in a mental health facility in Manhattan.
But by far, his greatest challenge is raising his own 'rogue', his son, Logan, with his wife, Kate.
3.20pm, 16 July 1995, Bosnia and Herzegovina (formerly part of Yugoslavia), 360km north of Dubrovnik, sixty kilometres southeast of Srebrenica.
Like an enraged demon, the ball of flames ripped through the tunnel. A few metres ahead, the black truck powered on as the flames licked its back wheels. Beneath the Majevica Mountains, the driver stared into the side mirror as the encroaching heat blistered the glass until it cracked.
3.21pm, 16 July 1995, Adriatic Sea, Thirty-two kilometres off the coast of Dubrovnik, Croatia (formerly part of Yugoslavia)
‘The MiG’s missile impacted at the entrance to the tunnel,’ said the first radio operative, who was monitoring the live feed from the US Tomcat, fourteen hundred metres above the war zone.
‘And the refugees?’ asked Captain Carlisle, commander of the British frigate, HMS Chatham.
‘The first have crossed into Bosnian-Herzegovinian territory,’ replied the second radio operator.
‘Good!’ nodded the captain.
‘Your diversion worked, Foxy,’ said Commander Stanford to the stout, dapperly dressed gentleman, who stood in silence staring at the three screens on the control panel. He appeared not to hear her.
‘Any news from the UN Protection Force?’ asked the captain.
The second radio operator replied, ‘The UN commander says that they are starting to transport the sick and injured on buses to hospitals in the south.’
The captain tapped his chin. ‘Ask him if there are any males in the exodus.’
The radio operative relayed the captain’s message and seconds later, he repeated the reply. ‘The only males are boys and old men.’
‘Christ!’ growled the captain.
The radio operative continued, ‘The UN commander reiterates that General Ratko Mladić, leader of the Bosnian Serb forces in Srebrenica, has given his word to the commander of the Dutch UN peacekeeping force there, that any males of fighting age will be released unharmed following preliminary questioning.’
‘This must have been when Mladić was leading the Dutch out of Srebrenica by the collar,’ growled the captain.
‘The Dutch didn’t have much choice,’ said Commander Stanford, standing behind the captain.
The captain glanced at the commander. ‘There are incidents of ethnic cleansing taking place across the country, Commander. But with the forced exodus of families from Srebrenica, what we are witnessing now could be on a far greater scale.’
‘Captain, so far all requests by the Dutch for reinforcements have been refused by the UN High Command,’ said the commander, trying to hide the bitterness in her voice.
‘Mladić,’ scoffed the captain, turning back to view the grey footage on the screens. ‘I’d throw him further than I would trust him, which I’d like to test, if I ever meet him.’ He peered down at the screen in front of the first radio operator monitoring the unidentified, matt black T45 Roadmaster that had disappeared into the tunnel. ‘Where does the tunnel come out?’
Before the radio operator could reply, the lieutenant standing behind him, bent down towards the screen. Using the scale in the corner of the footage, he made an assessment. ‘It leads to a straight road heading north east, which a mile or so later hugs the mountains to the west of Srebrenica.’ The lieutenant straightened up. ‘The tunnel’s is about two miles in length, providing it runs as the crow flies beneath the mountain. I’d say our mystery truck should emerge in approximately two minutes.’
‘If it emerges!’ said the captain. ‘It might have been obliterated already.’ Again, he stared at the gentleman, sweating profusely, who had landed on the HMS Chatham in a British Chinook helicopter fifteen minutes earlier.
‘Captain,’ said the first radio operator. ‘I’ve picked up two large Serbian army vehicles proceeding towards the road leading from the tunnel, from two side roads to the west.’
‘A heavily armed welcoming committee,’ muttered the captain. He turned and shook his head at the surprise visitor from the British Foreign Office, Viscount Arbuthnot ‘Foxy’ Foxborough. He summoned the navy seaman who had escorted Foxy to the bridge minutes earlier. ‘Get our guest a chair, before he collapses.’
When the chair appeared behind him, Foxy ignored it, wiping the drips of sweat from his ruby cheeks with a silk handkerchief as he bit into his lip.
The driver of the black truck saw the sunlight at the mouth of the tunnel. The truck was within metres of bursting out onto the open road, when the silhouette of a truck eclipsed the light. The driver did not hesitate, dropping the gears from fifth to fourth, while expertly working the accelerator to rev the engine up to reach full speed.
The troop carrier came to a halt at the mouth of the tunnel. Its driver smiled, knowing there was not enough space on either side for the on-coming truck to pass.
‘Collision with unknown vehicle imminent,’ said the first radio operator monitoring the live film delivered from the US Tomcat to his screen.
‘Unknown to us maybe,’ said the captain. ‘But not to all,’ tilting his head at Foxy. ‘Who the hell is this lunatic driving that truck into Serbian held territory?’ Foxy said nothing as he continued to stare at the screens. The captain shifted his glare towards the officer on secondment to his ship. ‘Commander Stanford, do you know who our unidentified boy-racer is?’
‘I said, it might be a Rogue, but that’s an assumption,’ replied the tall, fair-haired woman.
‘You also said that they were either dead, or sectioned, but that one retired, Commander. Which one retired?’ snapped the captain.
Commander Stanford looked at the anxious British diplomat in front of her. ‘Technically, I suppose our inscrutable English aristocrat here is a Rogue, and I don’t remember identifying the gender of the unknown driver.’
‘Don’t get smart with me, Commander. I’m the captain of this vessel, yet no one will do me the courtesy of telling me what the hell is going on!’
The black truck careered into the front of the Serbian troop carrier, ripping off the wing, bonnet and radiator. Its driver cursed, before screaming as a raging ball of fire engulfed him.
The driver of the black vehicle floored the accelerator, while looking solemnly in the cracked side mirror to see the other driver leap from the flaming vehicle.
Powering the truck to the right of the tree-lined road before each bend to gain a better view of the snaking road ahead, the driver pressed harder on the scarlet bandana covering the open shoulder wound. Another vehicle, a flatback army transporter, swooped into view on the other side of the cedar trees to the left.
The driver of the black truck knew the approaching army transporter was on course to ram it. At that speed, if the transporter hit it at an angle, it would send the truck plummeting into the gorge to the right. The driver changed down the gears, alternating the accelerator and brakes perfectly.
The soldier driving the army transporter crunched the gearbox down. He smiled, knowing he was back on track to ram the other vehicle into the ravine. His triumphant smile turned to one of bewilderment when he saw the other driver.
With fifty metres to the crossroads ahead, with each gear shift, the driver of the unmarked truck eased a bloody boot off the brake and pressed down on the accelerator. The truck leapt forward despite its heavy cargo.
‘Game of chicken under way, Captain,’ said the first radio operator.
‘Come on, man. Keep going,’ muttered the captain. He leaned towards the grey screen showing two small grey rectangles heading towards each other. ‘Whoever the hell you are.’
The driver of the black truck reached the fork in the road with less than a metre to spare before the dull-green army transporter roared onto the crossroads behind it. The flaming back tyres of the black vehicle engulfed the pursuing vehicle in thick smoke.
‘The game is still on, Captain,’ commented Commander Stanford, folding her arms.
The driver of the army transporter manoeuvred the vehicle from one edge of the mountain road to the other to avoid the clouds of thick, black smoke as he tried to catch sight of the truck in front. Meanwhile, his passenger opened the side door and made his way back to the anti-tank weapon mounted on the raised platform.
‘The Serbian vehicle is ramming the vehicle in front, but the unidentified vehicle continues to steer a straight course,’ said the first radio operative.
‘That’s one cool driver, you have there, Foxy,’ noted the captain. ‘Sorry, what did you say his name was again?’
Foxy cupped his hands over his mouth and closed his eyes.
‘I’ve never seen you lost for words, Foxy,’ said Commander Stanford. ‘Oh my God, the driver is . . .’ She stopped, knowing by the pale, trembling hands of the man peering at the screens on the control panel that she was right.
The driver of the black truck fumbled for the button to open the glove compartment, while steering the vehicle so it hugged the edge of the road. To the left up ahead was a river. The driver shot the truck off the road and gunned it along the stream, dousing the flaming back tyres.
The pursuing truck tried to draw alongside and block its path back onto the road. But the other vehicle hurtled back up onto the road, cutting up the army transporter before the trees to the left of the road morphed into a sheer cliff. The pursuing army transporter continued to zigzag from one side of the road to the other in frustration, repeatedly ramming its prey. Having finally extracted the loaded flare gun from the glove compartment, the exhausted driver straightened up.
Dropping down a gear, the driver waited to be rammed once more, before aiming the flare-gun at the gap in the half-open passenger window. The driver steered the truck around the bend with one hand, while working the accelerator and aiming the gun again at the narrow opening. The truck bounced forward as the pursuing vehicle ploughed into it once more.
The black truck slowed down on a straight section of road. It gave the driver of the pursuing vehicle, and the operator of the anti-tank rocket launcher mounted on the back, a perfect view of their target.
In the left-hand side mirror, the driver of the black vehicle could see for the first time the anti-tank missile mounted on the truck behind.
Having loaded the missile, the man on the back of the army transporter jumped into the firing seat. He rechecked the position of the truck ahead in the crosshairs of the sight and raised his seat to have a clear view of his target. He grinned, as he lifted the locking cover from the anti-tank weapon’s release mechanism and pressed the green button.
The driver of the black truck pressed the accelerator flat to the bloodied floor, while turning the steering wheel sharp right and again raised the flare gun. All or nothing. Don’t miss! The flame raged across the cabin. The canister clipped the rim of the open window but carried on until it exploded on the rock face, sending a trail of flames up the sheer cliff face.
The pursuing truck released its heat-seeking missile, only for it to veer off into the rock face to its left. The cliff face exploded. The driver of the army transporter shuddered to a stop as rocks showered down on it and boulders tumbled into its path.
The driver of the army transporter lifted his bloody head from the shattered windscreen. He stared up at the rear-view mirror to see the disorientated operator of the anti-tank gun struggle to pick himself up off the road.
‘Pursuing truck has been neutralised,’ said the first radio operator. ‘Heat-seeking missile exploded into the mountain. It must have been faulty, Captain.’
The flare gun. For the first time since Foxy stood on the bridge, he smiled. Smart thinking.
The captain continued to goad the silent British diplomat. ‘Your Rambo out there, how did he manage to pass the oral to get a driving licence?’
‘Why do you keep thinking it’s a man?’ interjected Commander Stanford.
Foxy removed his hands from his mouth and stared at his bitten fingernails.
‘I really wish it had been the Queen Mother who was our surprise VIP guest, rather than you,’ said the captain, looking over at Foxy. ‘I could do with a double gin and tonic at this moment. However, my good humour is starting to fail me. If you’re not going to tell me who the driver is, I need to at least know what he’s carrying.’ He glared at Foxy. ‘And I demand to know, now!’
‘He again,’ muttered the commander, with a shake of her head.
Foxy looked over at the captain. ‘The cargo may be the only hope for many injured children.’
‘So, the truck is carrying medicine after all. But who is the driver?’ pressed the captain.
‘The driver,’ shrugged Foxy, before whispering, ‘carries the battered heart of a pathetic, old man.’
The captain stared solemnly at the commander, for like her, he finally knew the identity of the anonymous truck’s driver.
The petrol gauge was flicking on empty. The driver of the black truck knew that wasted fuel could mean life or death and allowed the vehicle to coast down the steep slope in neutral. Only over the last twenty metres did the driver slam a boot on the accelerator and carry it with no loss of momentum on the upward climb towards the hospital in the mountains. The driver’s heavy eyes began to close.
Chapter 2: “Road to Nowhere”
Three years earlier. 10.30pm, 4 March 1992, three years earlier, forty kilometres southwest of Tuzla, Bosnia-Herzegovina
Klay watched as the photograph slipped from Lenka’s hand and floated down onto the floor of the truck. ‘What’s that?’
‘My life,’ she replied, closing the photo album and turning to stare at nothing out of the window.
The black ex-paratrooper steered his eighteen-tonne transporter off the road, bringing it to a halt under the trees. He turned off the engine and watched as the other three trucks in the convoy slithered around the steep hairpin turns ahead.
Lenka’s face was set towards the passenger window. Klay squinted and peered down until he could define the face of Lenka’s former lover in the photograph kneeling above the corpses of several children. He grimaced but said nothing as he lifted his head and kicked the engine into life. The truck lumbered its way back onto the dirt road to join the others as they meandered towards the ridge of Snipers’ Alley. The road in front erupted in a ball of fire.
Klay pulled the steering wheel sharply to his left and drew up inches from a sturdy oak.
Ahead of them, the matt black T-45 Roadmaster, with TURKEY SHOOT emblazoned along both sides in large letters, was engulfed in smoke. There was no sign of either of the two co-drivers, punk rockers Sasha and Rat. As thick plumes of smoke shrouded the road, Lenka and Klay could see the outline of the other two trucks in their convoy which had veered off the road.
Mary ‘Holey Mary’ Dyfodwg, who was leading the convoy, leapt from her battleship-grey box pickup and was running towards the burning truck. Meanwhile, Connor Pierce, who was driving the third vehicle, had reached the blazing vehicle and yanked the passenger door open.
Lenka ripped the small fire extinguisher above the passenger seat from its brackets, jumped down and raced towards the burning truck. When she reached the blazing vehicle, Mary was already dousing the flames of the back tyres with the fire extinguisher from her truck. Lenka added hers. Connor dragged Sasha out onto the road, as Klay raced along the other side of the burning truck’s cabin. He reappeared with Rat barely visible in his enormous arms.