The Website of Novelist  Derek Robinson

NEW DEREK ROBINSON NOVEL  - "What a romp!"  
virgilioThis is Virgilio, in handcuffs, before he got out of jail.

 Unemployed, broke, middle-aged, with a family to support.  Is he sorry for himself?  No! Self pity is not box office.

So he works hard, gives people what they want.  Dollars flow.  Customers are happy, especially American intelligence, and that includes President Roosevelt.

Is it true?  Yes, it happened.  Will it end in tears?  Read the book.

Holy $moke
gets warm welcome

“Holy Smoke finds us in Rome at the end of the war, a new location for Robinson but one which has his customary cast of liars, saboteurs and arsonists.  Everyone will have their particular favourite;  one of mine is Captain Ironside, whom I nominate as the statutory ‘awkward bugger’,  a fixture in so many Robinson books.  What is conjured up for our delight is the amorality of a city staggering out of war, in a state of mind which  -  with an almost total disregard of government and law  -  enabled Italy to slip from Fascism to democracy.  I loved it and thought it a perfect topic and cast for the Robinson treatment. My one disappointment  -   the Albanian dwarves were an authorial invention.”   
                                                                          Graham Thorne  
For a full review of Holy $moke by Bill Stroud, click:

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                                                         6 in U.K. inc postage
                                                      8 in Europe, inc airmail
                                             9 in Rest of the World, inc airmail

                                    To order, email me at
                                                   Please tell me where you are.

A heartwarming comedy of deceit, deception, power-seeking and
revenge, set in the liberated Rome of 1944.  Based on fact. Similar
 to my Luis Cabrillo  novels, but completely different.  No aircraft.
 Many jokes.  Self published - a slim volume, only 170 pages,
which explains the low price.

Here's a taste of page 1. We're in the Pentagon in 1944.

               “Albanian dwarves,” General Donovan said. “Dwarves from Albania. Interesting.” 

                He was walking along a wide and busy corridor. With him were a colonel, Randall Stuart, and a major, Fred Stoner.  Stuart had just outlined a plan to
infiltrate into Albania a number of male dwarves who were fluent in the language and the customs of the country.  Their task would be to sabotage German army
communications and to stimulate Albanian partisans. Stuart said that dwarves had an inbuilt advantage as secret agents because nobody suspected them..



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                                                                                                          Readers Write #51 August 2017

Bang! You're dead.

Sometimes the job of the novelist is to think the unthinkable.  Years ago, I wrote Hullo Russia, Goodbye England,  about the men in a Vulcan squadron.  Vulcans were a large part of Britain’s policy of nuclear deterrence.  They aimed at neutralising the Cold War by warning a possible aggressor, Russia, that any attack would trigger retaliation and therefore would be suicidal.


In those days, atom bombs would be delivered by aircraft,  and the Vulcan was the ultimate bomber   -   a four-engined, delta-shape masterpiece that flew fast and high and handled like a fighter.  But there were three problems.  One was the obvious (but unspoken) fact that any Vulcan crew sent to retaliate would never return, because the Britain they left would soon be a smoking desert.  The second was the certainty that some, perhaps most, Vulcans might be intercepted by Russian defences.  The third problem was the sanity, or otherwise, of the world leaders whose fingers would be on the red button.  It all came down to human judgement.  What if the person making the decision was demented?  World leaders have been known to be unbalanced.  When, in 1956, Anthony Eden led Britain into the Suez fiasco,  he was a sick man. Pol Pot, Colonel Gaddafi and Adolf Hitler all behaved in ways that were lunatic. The constant stress that any world leader feels might be enough to cause him suddenly to lose his marbles, think it’s all impossible,  and blow the world to hell.    


The official answer to that scenario was that an impetuous action could not happen because any nuclear strike would be preceded by a State of Mounting International Tension  (S.M.I.T.).   This would make world leaders realise the hard truth that Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) means what it says.  In HRGE, Silk (a Vulcan pilot) discusses this point with Skull (an Intelligence Officer) and Freddy (an old pal from Air Ministry). Silk suggests that a Soviet leader would have to be a maniac to order a first strike during a S.M.I.T.  They agree.  Then he says:   


       “Therefore it follows than an intelligent maniac would strike when there is no diplomatic crisis?  No S.M.I.T.? A bolt from the blue?” 

       “Why would he do that?” Freddy asked.

      “Silly question,” Silk said.  “He’s a maniac. He can do what he likes.” 

      “World leaders aren’t maniacs,” Skull said.  “Nuclear war kills everyone.”

       “Maniacs don’t think they’re maniacs,” Silk said. “Maniacs believe they’re doing God’s work.” 


     Of course, times have changed since the days of Vulcans. The great advantage of manned bombers was that they could be recalled.  Now we have missiles.  In all the bluster of Trump and Kim Jong-un, it is worth remembering the only other occasion when the superpowers verged on full-scale nuclear war: the week beginning 22 October 1962.  Nikita Kruschkev had loaded Cuba with nuclear missiles,  and the American Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously urged President Kennedy to order an immediate air strike against all military targets in Cuba.  The most belligerent advice came from General Curtis LeMay, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force. 


  LeMay had often talked of annihilating the Soviet Union,  and he believed that Cuba offered an irrresistible chance, because  he was sure that the U.S. had overwhelming nuclear capacity and that Russia could be quickly obliterated.  Kennedy thought otherwise.  In World War Two, he had served in the Pacific and seen at first hand the decisions of American admirals,  and he was not over-impressed.  He knew that top officers could be wrong.  We should be grateful that Kennedy ignored LeMay and that diplomacy worked. The Cuban crisis was resolved, and the world was spared.  From what?   


   It’s worth spelling out what nuclear oblivion meant in 1962. The American arsenal that made LeMay confident of victory contained almost three thousand strategic nuclear weapons, targeted on Soviet cities,  with yields totalling more than seven thousand megatons. (A megaton is fifty times more destructive than the Hiroshima bomb.)   Seven thousand megatons would have burnt Russia to a crisp and killed a hundred million civilians.  It would also cause a lethal nuclear winter over the Northern Hemisphere, freezing and starving countless more millions in Europe, Asia and North America.  If LeMay knew this, he never spoke of it.  When he retired in 1965 he ran for Vice-President of the United States.  He might have been elected, in which case he would be a heartbeat away from the Presidency.  Stranger things have happened.   


    A nuclear crisis is not a poker game.  Curtis LeMay planned to play poker with Russia, trusting his belief that Russia was not ready to retaliate .  What LeMay, and indeed any American, did not know (until a Soviet-U.S. conference revealed it in 1989)  was that in 1962  -  contrary to CIA estimates   -   the Soviet forces in Cuba had some twenty medium-range ballistic missiles armed with one-  to three-megaton warheads.  They could be targeted on cities as far north as Washington.  Also, Cuba had short-range tactical artillery rockets with nuclear warheads.  If the U.S. had invaded Cuba   -   which an air strike would indicate  -   the Soviet field commanders were authorised to use the rockets immediately.  The missiles would have been launched as well.  Nor was that all.  


   A Soviet submarine flotilla was in the area.  The U.S.Navy was aware of their presence and had been troubling them with small depth charges.  What the Navy did not know was that the submarines were armed with nuclear torpedoes.  The Navy’s harassment persuaded some of the Soviet officers to believe that war had started,  and they voted to launch their torpedoes.  Fortunately, their commander, Captain Arkhipov, an experienced man, decided to wait and see.  Arkhipov was the Soviet equivalent of President Kennedy. If the nuclear weapons in Cuba and those at sea had been launched, many millions of Americans would have died. 


  In the Napoleonic Wars,  General Wellington urged his officers always to try to know what was on the other side of the hill   -   in other words, what the enemy was thinking and planning.  General LeMay had no time for that, and many other American generals and admirals agreed with him.  He knew only one action. When the Cuban missile crisis was over, he was furious. “We lost!” he said. “We ought to just go in there today and knock 'em off.” 


    I have a lot of friends in America.  In many ways, it is an admirable nation.  What worries me is the American appetite for violence.  There is a belief among Americans that a good sock on the jaw solves most problems.  Better yet, a gun in every household.  This is not a formula for preventing World War Three.  Robert Oppenheimer, one of the creators of the atom bomb, summed up the confrontation of two powers,  each in a position to make nuclear war on the other.  He likened it to “two scorpions in a bottle, each capable of killing the other, but only at the risk of his own life”.  Total war means we all lose.  I wonder whether Mr Trump realised this when he threatened North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen”.  



       Finally, it is a relief to turn to the relative sanity of Readers Write.  David, in Halifax, Canada, first read Piece of Cake when he was 14, and since then has worked his way through all my flying stuff.  He says:  “It takes quite a bit to make me laugh, and laugh aloud, when I’m reading a book, but you’ve done it quite a few times... The ease of transition between the funny and the grim is perhaps what impresses me the most;  I’m sure it can’t be an easy thing to do, but you certainly make it looks like it is.”  Then an old pal, John in Colorado, emailed me that he felt the need for a Robinson fix and “resurrected  Rotten with Honour.  I surprised myself by laughing out loud, something I’ve almost never done while reading.”  (RWH , written nearly 40 years ago, was a Cold War spy story;  all I can remember of it was that the Russian agents, usually depicted in fiction as stolid types, had a fine sense of humour.)     Laughter seems to be in the air,  because Robin (in, I think, Holland)  bought Cake in 1984 and has just read it for the fourth time.  “Besides the great characters and the action, there’s a lot of humour.  Some of it had me laughing out loud...I have read quite a few war novels but I cannot remember one that is so three-dimensional and insightful as Piece of Cake.” Lastly,  there has been a small rush of interest in Holy Smoke, with orders from old friends in Dallas, Kansas City, New Jersey, South Carolina  and Florida    -    plus several in the UK. 

My thanks to all who wrote.      Derek Robinson                                                                        

Previous Readers Write


Why 1914

Why 1914?

Why 1914? is "the best short introduction to the causes of the first world war I have come across.  Derek Robinson is as vivid and trustworthy a historian as he is a novelist.”
                                Nicholas Lezard - The Guardian

Here's a taste of what you get:

“The Black Hand recruited Gavrilo Princip and two others to murder the Archduke.  All three young men had incurable tuberculosis. They were ordered to kill themselves when the Archduke was dead. Phials of cyanide were handed out. What could possibly go wrong? In the event, everything.  Especially the cyanide.”

"To find war news in July 1914 you have to look at Ireland.  Home Rule had been passed.  Ulster, largely Protestant, detested the Catholic south.  Gun-running was on an industrial scale.  The government was trapped in an Irish bog.”

"In 1914, Kaiser William II, commanding the most powerful army in Europe, was not so much a loose cannon as a whole battery of loose cannons.”

"Admiral Tirpitz, Navy Minister, held the job for 19 years and followed one plan throughout his career:  more battleships, and then more battleships.  The Kaiser said that ‘with every new German battleship there was laid a fresh pledge for peace’.  Yet Tirpitz was using his battleships to frighten Britain into silence.”

"On 15 August 1914, Lieutenant Bernard Montgomery wrote in his diary: ‘At least the thing will be over in three weeks."

”If Germany seized the Channel ports, this would be hugely damaging to Britain’s strategic position. Britain went to war for Belgium’s sake, and for her own.”

"In 1914 the German army did not talk to the German navy.  For eight days in August an armada of ships transported the British army to France without disturbance.”

"The British infantry’s  name for its rapid rifle-fire was ‘mad minute’: a trained rifleman could fire fifteen rounds a minute.  This was often mistaken for machine-gun fire.”

"Confidence of success fuelled German troops’ drive for victory.  All Germany shared this confidence:  friends and family wrote letters to German soldiers with the address ‘in or near Paris’. (The postal service being neutral, sacks of this mail reached Paris.)”

"Winning the Battle of Ypres gave the Allies no strategic advantage but it became a heroic trophy simply  because Germany wanted it so badly.”

    The Paperback is available only directly from the author

In UK                                              8
In Europe                                         10
Rest  of World                                 12.50

Preferred payment method  -  PayPal
Email your order to me at and you will receive a Payment Request.  Then all you need is a credit card to pay into my PayPal account.

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Click here to read
Elizabeth Ballmer's review
Why 1914?
   is now also available as an Amazon E-book.

Click here for details

Mentioned in Despatches

Nicholas Lezard in The Guardian chooses Why 1914 as one of his Paperbacks of the Year, writing: "The novelist Derek Robinson, 82 this year, just keeps going, and his prose is as sharp and sprightly as ever (there is something of Evelyn Waugh about its economy and grip)...   This year he has written and self-published the best introduction to the causes of the  first world war, Why 1914?, I have come across.  He is as vivid and trustworthy a historian as he is a novelist."

Robert Allison  puts A Good Clean Fight in his top 10 of desert warfare novels, saying, “Well above genre standards,  thanks to its energetic storytelling, its wealth of factual detail , and the author’s trademark gallows humour."                                                                                           Click to read the full article.

Reviewing A Splendid Little War, Nick Lezard writes: "Robinson has pulled off a remarkable coup. It's as bleakly intelligent as anything he has done but he has
also increased our historical understanding."
Click to read the full review.

Describing Derek Robinson's war novels, Antonia Senior said: "No one writes about war quite like Robinson, despite attempts to shroud him in echoes of other writers, such as Joseph Heller or Norman Mailer. He writes with a bleak savagery, in controlled, precise prose. There is humour – and it is dark and painful. There is love – and it is inadequate and messy. Most of all there is death. It comes from clear blue skies and grey clouds, from enemy fire and friendly mistakes. It
hovers, unseen, at  15,000 feet."
                                                                           Click to read the full article.

 A Splendid Little War is now available in paperback. 


It's 1919. The  Great War is over but a civil war is raging in Russia.  Bolshevik Reds are fighting White Russians, and a volunteer R.A.F. squadron, flying clapped-out Sopwith Camels and DH9 bombers, arrives to duff up the Reds.  But the 'splendid little war' they are promised turns out to be big and brutal, a world of armoured train, anarchist guerillas, unreliable allies and pitiless enemies.  There is comedy, but it is the bleakest kind. A Splendid Little War shows war as it is: grim, funny, moving - but never splendid.

Reviews of A Splendid Little War
      The Daily Express
             American edition of GQ Magazine
                               The Independent                        


DR_Who He?   When someone at a party asks what I do, I say I write Ripping Yarns.  It's a quick answer but a very incomplete one. I'm best known for my novels about the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Air Force in the two World Wars and some might say the books are highly readable adventure stories.  Nothing wrong with that, but there's more than combat in the high blue yonder   -   there's also memorable characters, there's unexpected twists and turns of warfare,  and there's aircrew humour.   Especially the humour.  I did my National Service in the Royal Air Force.  I was never airborne; I was in a Ground Control Interception Unit, deep underground in a concrete bunker.  But I learned a lot about the special humour of flying people,  and it emerges naturally and unavoidably in my novels. Humour is one of the essential colours in the spectrum of life. You don't make a story more serious by removing the humour; you just make it less true.

The longer I do this job, the luckier I know I am.  For a start, I'm English and the English language is global. That's pure luck of birth. I might have been born in Hungary.  There are good Hungarian writers,  but it's a lot easier for me to find readers throughout the English-speaking world.  And I was lucky to have literate parents.  When I grew up there were always books and magazines about the house, unlike some other kids' homes. There was a good public library at the end of the street.  And there was the 1944 Education Act which created State Scholarships for bright lads and helped me get into Cambridge.
That's where I learned to write boringly. I was writing to impress, not to inform. Twelve years in advertising agencies (London and New York) kicked the crap out of my style. Every word had to work hard. I wrote ad copy and commercials for everything from Esso petrol to The Wall Street Journal.  Always I knew I wanted to move on, to be a fulltime writer  -  but I had nothing to say.  Nothing worth reading, anyway. (I was a late developer.) I wrote two bad and unpublishable novels and finally got it right with a story called Goshawk Squadron. Might have won the Booker Prize if Saul Bellow, one of the judges, had had his way. Not important. "The most readable novel of the year," Nina Bawden said of Goshawk in the Daily Telegraph. "I laughed aloud several times, and was in the end reduced to tears." That's worth more than any prize. The first novel bought me enough time to write the second, and so it goes. Lucky me.


MacLehose Press (an imprint of Quercus Books) has published all of my flying novels  -  four Royal Flying Corps books and four Royal Air Force books.  Here are the new covers: 
      pce cake       hullo russia        A Good Clean Fight       Damned Good Show_new

                war story_new              hornets sting_new            goshawk squadron_new              

Click here to go to the MacLeHose website. where you can click on their individual covers for  purchase options, including e-books.
This will be the first time that all my flying titles are in print from the same publisher:  something that gives me great satisfaction. Equally satisfying is the work of Tony Cowland, who has painted the cover illustrations for all the books. Each cover looks dramatically different, yet together they have a family likeness. They form a splendid collection, and they appeared at The Mall Galleries (near Admiralty Arch)  in the Aviation Paintings of the Year Exhibition by the Guild of Aviation Artists. The standard was high. My congratulations to Tony on a memorable achievement.
Artist and Author  
Photograph: Chris French


All four of the Luis Cabrillo novels (following the career of  probably the best WW2 double agent and later con-man) are now available as eBooks from Amazon/Kindle. Here are the covers:

                              Artillery                  RedRag                 OpBam 
                            Click on a cover to go to the Amazon sales page.

The R.F.C. trilogy and the R.A.F. Quartet are also available as e-books.



        'Operation Bamboozle' is a fastmoving black comedy about what happens when a high-stakes con artist takes on the Mob in Los Angeles.  The result is a heady brew of disorganised crime, hot dollars, triple virgins and dead bodies in the begonias.   

         Luis Cabrillo is the con artist, Julie Conroy is his squeeze, and here's the opening sentence:   

      For a man who had been hauled out of Lake Michigan in 1949, headless, his legs and arms broken, and stabbed in the heart with a red ballpoint pen, Frankie Blanco was in pretty good shape in 1953.  

Click to see the News of the World Review


                        RED RAG BLUES                                                  

  He's a heel, bless him. 

 Luis Cabrillo rides again in this "dashing tale of Nazis and Mafiosi", as The Observer called it. 
In fact, Nazis and Mafiosi play second fiddle to the real dynamo in this story.  It's 1953, and Senator Joe McCarthy's witchhunt for Reds under beds is scaring America witless.

Cue Luis Cabrillo, ex-double agent, now con artist supreme. Dollars flow, hotly pursued by bullets. Luis doesn't know it, but FBI, MI5, KGB and CIA have him firmly in their sights. Not to mention Stevie, the only three-times married virgin in New York City.  This is a rich, fast and very black comedy.

(To read the full Observer review, click here.) 

MacLehose Press (an imprint of Quercus Books) owns the book rights to all my RFC and RAF novels.  Sam Goldwyn Jr  owns the screen rights to Goshawk Squadron. In 1988, LWT made a six-part television series of Piece of Cake and they own the rights to that production.  I own the screen rights to any remake of Piece of Cake.  I own the screen rights to all my other novels. Quercus Books owns the e-book rights to all my fiction backlist, available through Amazon/Kindle.  Derek Robinson

Contact       I welcome comments and views about my books, though as a working writer I can't guarantee to have sufficient time to answer everyone.  

Click here to send me an email 

Main publications     Click any group heading to see details.

The RFC Quartet (WW1)
         pce cake          A Good Clean Fight          Damned Good Show_new           hullo russia          
                             The RAF Quartet (WW2)
The Double Agent Quartet
                          why1914thmnl     Holy Smoke      
Other Novels/History
Rugby Books

Bristol Books

Availability of the books.   

All my fiction is available as e-books.  Maclehose Press publish (in print) all eight of my flying novels, available from any good book seller (who may have to order a copy). Or you  could try the websites listed below, often useful for tracking down both new and used books. 

 The two Bristle books, and A Darker Side of Bristol are published by Countryside Books .
Finally, I have a few copies of Pure Bristle, available at 2 each. 
Quercus Books  Amazon UK      Amazon USA      Fantastic Fiction   

Other websites you may find of interest:

   Wikipedia     IMDB     Jeremy Northam Blog   

Major books and original publication dates:

1971 Goshawk Squadron
1973 Rotten with Honour
1977 Kramer's War
1979 The Eldorado Network
1983 Piece of Cake
1987 War Story
1991 Artillery of Lies
1993 A Good Clean Fight

1999 Hornet's Sting
2002 Damned Good Show
2002 Kentucky Blues
2005 Invasion 1940
2005 Red Rag Blues
2008 Hullo Russia, Goodbye England
2009 Operation Bamboozle
2013 A Splendid Little War

2014  Why 1914?

2017  Holy $moke