Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Conversation with Espionage Novelist M. A. Richards

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with M. A. Richards

We are delighted to welcome author M. A. Richards to Omnimystery News today.

M. A. introduces Nathan Monsarrat, a retired Central Intelligence Agency deep cover operative with an extensive knowledge of black gold and expertise in weapons, women, and Benjamins, in Choice of Enemies (Sunbury Press; January 2016 hardcover, trade paperback and ebook formats) and we recently had the opportunity to spend some time with him talking about his new series.

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Omnimystery News: Tell us a little more about Nathan Monsarrat.

M. A. Richards
Photo provided courtesy of
M. A. Richards

M. A. Richards: In Choice of Enemies, the first novel in the "Enemies" series published by Sunbury Press, Nathan Monsarrat is a deep cover operative for the CIA, working the oil portfolio in Nigeria. His boss, Felix Sanhedrin, betrays him in order to scam $250,000 from the Agency. The interactions between the two characters, a classic protagonist/antagonist clash, form the crucible of all the novels in the series. Nathan is a complex character, physically gifted and intellectually sharp, capable of performing acts of warm compassion as well as cold brutality. Loyalty is his Achilles heel, which Felix exploits for his own advantages. While Nathan suffers his conscience, a serious weakness for a deep cover operative, Felix is reptilian in his calculations. Hubris is his sole weakness, which Nathan ultimately manipulates in order to stymie Felix and prevent his own oil soaked death in Africa.

OMN: How do you expect these characters to develop over the course of a series?

MAR: Both Nathan and Felix develop over time, not only within each novel of the series, but also from book to book … of course, in different directions. The second novel of the "Enemies" series — A Thousand Enemies, to be published later this year, also by Sunbury Press — takes place two years after the conclusion of Choice of Enemies. Nathan is dragged back onto the grey playing fields of the Agency when he is blackmailed and set up as the patsy in another Felix Sanhedrin plot to gain power and wealth for himself. While the stakes in A Thousand Enemies are much larger than in Choice of Enemies — affecting the national security of the U.S., vis-a-vis an Iranian plot to destroy U.S. Embassies in Europe and holy sites in Israel — the personal conflicts between Nathan and Felix also intensify. The literary precedents for their relationship are Smiley versus Karla … and Holmes versus Moriarty.

OMN: Into which genre would you place this series?

MAR: I write in the spy novel genre, which I refer to as (pardon the pun) "novels of intelligence." Espionage is the milieu of both Choice of Enemies and A Thousand Enemies, but like the works of Robert Stone, Graham Greene, Martin Cruz Smith, and John le Carré, my novels are populated with conflicted characters whose actions are driven by human emotions which readers will understand immediately and viscerally. I do not write novels with cardboard characters in familiar situations. I do not choose action over character development. Nathan is a complex, multi-dimensional character plagued by human foibles and doubts. Felix, while never bothered by issues of morality, is also a complex character — as is any fully egocentric individual willing to sacrifice others for self-gain. Right versus wrong, good versus evil … these classic struggles form the core of the "Enemies" series.

OMN: How much of your own personal or professional experience have you included in your books?

MAR: I spent almost three decades in the service of my country, most of which as a Cultural Attaché with the Department of State. I worked in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, so my library of experiences is fully stocked, and I draw upon them to bring authenticity to my writing. The sense of locale is very strong in the "Enemies" series, whether in Nigeria's oil soaked Delta, the dangerous pereuloks of Moscow, the souks of Jerusalem and al-Basra, or the bucolic Berkshires of western Massachusetts. The usual characters-are-purely-coincidental-disclaimer is boldly stated in Choice of Enemies and A Thousand Enemies, but my characters are amalgams of people I observed during my career as a diplomat — with a large dose of my own imagination. Likewise, the situations and background for my novels are based in my experiences with today's headlines … Islamic fundamentalism, Middle Eastern terrorism, Iranian nuclear designs, the need to guarantee reliable supplies of oil … but whether "special" insights are included, I can neither confirm nor deny!

OMN: How much liberty did you take with the settings of the books?

MAR: No liberties at all! In fact, I conduct hours of research to be sure, for example, that the street names are correct for the time of the story. Also, I don't want to send Nathan in a car the wrong way mistakenly down a one-way street! As closely as I can, I make sure that the time it takes to walk from the old meat-packing district in Manhattan to Grand Central Terminal on a Monday morning in December is accurate. Painting a factual picture is extremely important — I don't want a reader to put down the book because I misnamed the street running along the west side of the U.S. Embassy compound in Moscow. My attention to detail carries over into dialogue, too. In A Thousand Enemies, for example, the Russian assassin, Dragomirov, spits out a scathing term used by zeks in Moscow's infamous Matrosskaya Tishina prison. The accuracy of the details in the "Enemies" novels adds to the enjoyment of reading — when the story takes place in Saint Petersburg in December, readers need to wear a fur sharpka on their heads to stay warm!

OMN: What kinds of books did you read when you were young?

MAR: I was the kid who smuggled a flashlight under the bedcovers to read the Hardy Boys books, when I was supposed to be sleeping. Until reality smacked me in the head in the form of needing a job to pay the rent, I continued to read voraciously: spy novels from Robert Ludlum and John le Carré and Eric Ambler, literature from Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald and Saul Bellow, history from Barbara Tuchman and W. Bruce Lincoln and Martin Gilbert, poetry from William Butler Yates and James Tate and William Meredith, detective novels by Dashiell Hammett and Robert B. Parker and Raymond Chandler … and the list goes on and on. Now that I am a full-time novelist, I still enjoy reading widely, but the number of books I read is more limited. My eyes can only focus on so many pages in a day — my own and others — perhaps I should have read fewer books under the bedcovers as a kid?

OMN: What's next for you?

MAR: I'm looking forward to the launch of A Thousand Enemies later this year. It's a longer novel than Choice of Enemies, and much richer for its additional pages. There are more locations (Moscow, Jerusalem, Teheran, Baghdad, Amman, Beirut, Damascus, New York, Washington) and many more characters, both good guys and bad guys, although Nathan Monsarrat and Felix Sanhedrin stand front and center of both novels.

SPOILER ALERT! In Nathan's efforts to thwart the subterfuges of Felix, he stumbles into the midst of a plot to destroy a New York City landmark with a radiological device — a very powerful and very dirty bomb.

The third novel in the "Enemies" series, Enemies in the Gate, continues that deadly game of hunter versus hunted between Nathan and Felix. Look for it in 2017!

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Born in Lowell, Massachusetts, M. A. Richards received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Theater Studies from Connecticut College and his Master of Arts degree in English from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

During a career as a Cultural Attaché in the Department of State that spanned more than two decades, he served in Baghdad, Jerusalem, Lagos, Moscow, Seoul, Tel Aviv, and Washington, D.C. He also served at U.S. Pacific Command in Honolulu as the Special Advisor to the Commander. He speaks Arabic, Hebrew, Korean, and Russian.

M. A. divides his time between Palm Beach and Tel Aviv, where he indulges his passions for motorcycles, photography, and archaeology.

For more information about the author, please visit his website at and his author page on Goodreads, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Choice of Enemies by M. A. Richards

Choice of Enemies by M. A. Richards

A Nathan Monsarrat Thriller

Publisher: Sunbury Press Print/Kindle Format(s) Print/Nook Format(s)

Light sweet crude is the mother's milk of the Niger Delta. As the price for each barrel of oil rises on the international markets and the stakes for securing the black gold increase, a consortium of American oil companies and the Central Intelligence Agency plot to secure the flow of the crude. In Africa, though, plans unravel as quickly as cheap socks, and promises between partners have the lifespan of a mayfly.

Nathan, now a Dean at a small college in Massachusetts, is visited by his former mentor at the Agency, who offers him a blunt choice: either travel to the Dark Continent to lay the groundwork for the coup d'état, or condemn the woman who saved his life to a brutal execution. Out of options, he returns to Africa, where he discovers that the Agency plans to reward his services with an oil-soaked grave.

Assisted by a coterie of new and old allies, including a beautiful vor with a thirst for power and a yeshiva bocher with a fondness for Armani suits, as well as his own sharp intelligence, considerable wit, and substantial charm, Nathan parries the Agency, circumvents the consortium, and exacts his own vengeance. In doing so, he learns that his choice of friends is as important as his choice of enemies.

Choice of Enemies by M. A. Richards. Click here to take a Look Inside the book.


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