Monday, September 5, 2022

Join The Coffee Pot Book Club in conversation with #HistoricalFiction author, Giles Milton @GilesMilton1 @SharpeBooks


The Perfect Corpse

By Giles Milton

Publisher: Sharpe Books
Publication Date: August 17th 2022
Print length: 263 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

When the frozen corpse of an American serviceman named Ferris Clark is found in the Greenland icecap, forensic archaeologist Jack Raven is hired to investigate.

Raven is the world’s leading expert in forensics and he is suspicious from the outset. Not only is the World War Two corpse naked, but it is perfectly preserved. And that’s not possible.

As Raven investigates the mystery of Clark’s final hours, he stumbles across the sinister and intertwined story of a senior Nazi officer. He also discovers that those around him know more than they are admitting. And they are trying to conceal the truth.

Raven soon finds himself caught in a race against time: there is a murderer on the loose and Raven alone can prevent further killings.

But he can only do this by solving the greatest riddle of all. How did Ferris Clark die? And why?

The answer those questions may cost him his life.

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Your thriller, The Perfect Corpse, is about the discovery of a body of a WWII serviceman, preserved in Greenland ice. What challenges have you come across when researching forensic details set in unusual locations?

My greatest challenge was to make the story both accurate and plausible. I had read a lot about cryonics – and also written about it – so I knew the theory and practice behind the long-term storage of deep-frozen human bodies. It’s a bizarre and fascinating subject! I knew less about forensics, and it required a lot of background reading to make Jack Raven a believable expert in his field. 

It's always important to wear your knowledge lightly. The last thing you want is for you readers to feel they’re reading information lifted from Wikipedia or from some scientific manual. 

Acquired knowledge needs to be used with skill and subtlety; it needs to shape the actions and thoughts of your hero - in this case Jack Raven. I kept saying to myself: ‘He’s the expert, he’s spent half a lifetime accumulating all this knowledge. How would he behave in a given situation? How would his forensic knowledge affect his thoughts and actions?’

It’s a question of getting inside the head of your protagonist; of getting to know them really well. Only by doing this can you make them behave in a plausible fashion. 

Lastly, there was the location of the book… at least some of it is set in Greenland. I’ve been lucky enough to visit Greenland on a number of occasions (I was once a travel writer) so the landscape and terrain was very familiar to me.

Who is your inspiration for Jack Raven, the protagonist in The Perfect Corpse, based on?

A good friend of mine is remarkably similar to Jack Raven, although he doesn’t yet know this! 

What makes Jack such an interesting character, I think, is that he is an expert in his field. Experts are always interesting, and all the more so when they are - like Jack - an expert with serious flaws. 

The opening chapter suggests he is either an alcoholic or a recovering alcoholic. He’s also having relationship troubles. Jack Raven is clearly a difficult person to live with. 

Yet he is also charming, brilliant and incredibly full of energy. It’s this energy, this dynamism, that makes him such a compelling figure. He will stop at nothing to discover the truth, even if it places him (and others) in great danger.

As a published writer of predominantly non-fiction, what made you cross the line to fiction?

I love writing history and have written eleven works of non-fiction. These require a lot of original research, with many months spent delving through libraries and archives. And herein lies the problem. When writing non-fiction, there is no scope for embellishing the truth. You are telling a factual story and are constrained by the facts. 

But I’ve often wondered how events might have transpired if the facts had taken a different twist. The historical outcome might have been completely different. 

This fascination with alternative storylines led me to write The Perfect Corpse. I took a number of true stories – the frozen corpse; the cryonics laboratory - and used them as a springboard into fiction. It was immense fun and very liberating!

Does your approach to historical research vary when you write fiction as opposed to non-fiction? 

I did a lot of research for the book, because it was important for the narrative and characters to have the ring of truth. 

The original starting point for the story was a book called The Sledge Patrol – written many years ago – about Greenland’s army in World War Two. 

I was captivated by this true story: it was eccentric – crazy even – yet of great importance to the eventual outcome of the war. 

Greenland, it transpired, was home to several vitally important weather stations; these were the source of a constant battle between the 12-strong Greenland army and their Nazi enemies. Why? Because these weather stations provided the meteorological information that proved so vital to the outcome of various battles, notably D-Day. 

This true story of the Greenland weather stations became an underlying theme in The Perfect Corpse.

Why, do you think, are readers of historical fiction still fascinated by World War II events?

The appetite for stories about World War Two remains unabated. I spoke at a World War II festival earlier this summer and found it packed with war enthusiasts. It was like Glastonbury with tanks!

I think the war continues to resonate because it spawned so many stories of heroism, courage and, occasionally, eccentricity. It was a time when ordinary individuals did extraordinary things. And a great deal was at stake, with the future of the world hanging in the balance. 

When I wrote my book Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, I realised that there are some occasions when the truth is indeed stranger than fiction!

Thank you, Giles, for your fascinating answers.

Giles Milton

GILES MILTON is the million-copy, internationally bestselling author of twelve works of narrative history. His books have been translated into 25 languages. 

His most recent book is Checkmate in Berlin: The First Battle of the Cold War. 

His previous work, Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, entered the Sunday Times bestseller list in the week of publication. It is currently being developed into a major TV series.

Milton’s other books include D-Day: The Soldiers’ Story, Nathaniel’s Nutmeg, serialized by the BBC, Samurai William, White Gold, Paradise Lost: Smyrna 1922 and Wolfram: The Boy Who Went to War. 

He lives in London.

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