The Ones That Got Away: Phoenix

This post should really have been published a year or so ago – better late than never!

I’ve been looking at Phoenix (again!) and I’ve decided not to release it after all – I have far too many reservations about it. The mere fact that it’s been kicking around for thirty years or so without ever being sent to a publisher indicates that there’s probably something intrinsically wrong with it and I’ve decided that this is indeed the case; it’s not enough simply to inflict it on the reading public simply because I can…

OK, so what’s wrong with it? Actually, there’s quite a lot, to be honest.

The original version of Phoenix was actually the third book that I completed, but it sat on the shelf while other, better, books came and went. The story was based on the salvage operation that was carried out on HMS Edinburgh in 1981. The Edinburgh was sunk in the Barents Sea in 1942, when she had been carrying 465 gold ingots, payment for Allied supplies by the Soviet Government; by 1981, the gold was worth around £43 million. While the salvage operation was being set up, the thought occurred to me… what if there was no gold in the wreck, but lead bars? So Phoenix was born. HMS Edinburgh became the fictitious cruiser HMS Bristol and the year changed to 1944, but the starting point was the same – a Royal Navy cruiser being sunk in the Arctic carrying gold bars – but the gold had never been loaded in the first place. It had already been stolen – but by whom?

The main story would have to take place in the present day and would feature Michael Rankin, the son of an officer who was drowned when the Bristol was sunk. He owns the company that has gained the salvage rights to the gold, but he soon discovers that someone is trying to kill him; gradually, he uncovers the real story of what happened in 1944 – but what is he going to do with the information?

The original version had a pretty far-fetched finale, featuring an aerial assault on a salvage ship and an underwater duel between two mini-subs in order to prevent the cruiser’s wreck being vapourised by a nuclear device – the book also had a detailed account as to how the uranium for the device was stolen, which, in all probability, would not have been remotely possible in the real world (at least, I hope it isn’t – if it were actually that easy, then we really do have problems). The SIS were involved as well, along with the KGB, not to mention Phoenix itself, a global conspiracy that dated back to before the War, rather like the Illuminati… it was a heady mix, but, ultimately, even I had a job believing the story being told. The characters were stereotypical, to say the least; Rankin was an ex-Falklands War vet, who’d served with the SBS, so was an expert in both armed and unarmed combat, while the femme fatale villainess (whose role was signalled from her first appearance) was a masochist’s wet dream, the ultimate dominatrix. Not to mention plot holes galore… Phoenix went on to the back burner and, as time went by, became outdated in that the story more or less had to take place in the 1990s in order for Rankin to still be young enough to be a plausible action hero (i.e. he would be 50 in 1994).

However, it was extensively rewritten in the 1990s, with a far less preposterous denouement, but still did not quite measure up and so it remained on the shelf until I came to revisit the books with a mind to converting them to ebooks. Phoenix obviously could not be set in 2010 (Rankin would be 66 by then) and so was ignored to begin with, but when I came to re-read it, I realised that it was better than I remembered (telling the story from Rankin’s viewpoint seemed to work pretty well and there was a better romantic sub-plot involved than before) and so I added it to the list of books that I intended to release. However, having looked at it yet again, I still can’t get my head around the implausibility of the theft in the first place, or that there would be very little evidence linking Phoenix to it in any case, so why bother trying to prevent Rankin salvaging the wreck when the most likely suspects for the theft would then be the Russians rather than a shadowy conspiracy that nobody knew existed anyway? Basically, the overall starting point (the actual theft of the gold) still doesn’t work – and probably never will, unfortunately. Take away that starting point and, basically, the whole thing needs to be started again from scratch. Maybe I will, some day… but maybe not.


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