by Jonathan Payne
September 4-29, 2023 Virtual Book Tour
Not every fishmonger can be a secret agent.
Journey to an unnamed mountainous country in central Europe at the end of the Great War. Enter Citizen Orlov, a simple fishmonger and an honest, upright citizen, who answers a phone call meant for a secret agent and stumbles into a hidden world of espionage and secrecy. Recruited by the Ministry of Security, he is sent on assignment to safeguard the king.
But Orlov soon discovers that his ministry handler, the alluring femme fatale Agent Zelle, is planning not to protect the king but to assassinate him. Caught in a web of plot and counterplot, confusing loyalties, and explosive betrayals, Orlov finds himself on trial for murder. Given the opportunity to clear his name, he finds that the lives of his friends, mother, and fellow citizens hang in the balance.
Praise for CITIZEN ORLOV:
“A triumph—and an answer to that age-old question of what would have happened had Gogol, Kafka and G. K. Chesterton collaborated on a thriller. A timeless work which will, I fear, be forever timely.”
~ Dixe Wills, author of Places to Hide and New World Order
“Jonathan Payne’s Citizen Orlov is a stunning debut! A page turning, down-the-rabbit-hole delight, told with equal measure of wit and suspense. A timeless classic for our current moment; a paranoid and comic thriller with a surprise on every page. I loved it!”
~ Don Scardino, Producer/Director, 30 Rock, New Amsterdam
“Highly engaging, and written with an engaging lightness of touch, Citizen Orlov marks the debut of a comic novelist to watch for the future.”
~ Dr. Adam Lively, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing & Programme Leader, MA Novel Writing, Middlesex University
“The blend of action and picaresque buffoonery flatteringly calls Conan Doyle’s Brigadier Gerard tales to mind, and Payne pulls off a genuinely surprising conclusion. This auspicious debut announces a bright new voice in comic suspense.”
~ Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
[An] odyssey that seems part Kafka, part ‘Alice in Wonderland.
~ Wall Street Journal
Genre: Espionage Thriller
Published by: CamCat Books
Publication Date: May 2023
Number of Pages: 288
ISBN: 9780744309010 (ISBN10: 0744309018)
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | BookShop.org | Goodreads | CamCat Books
Read an excerpt:
On a frigid winter’s morning in a mountainous region of central Europe, Citizen Orlov, a simple fishmonger, is taking a shortcut along the dank alley behind the Ministries of Security and Intelligence when a telephone begins to ring. He thinks nothing of it and continues on his daily constitutional, his heavy boots crunching the snow between the cobbles.
The ringing continues, becoming louder with each step. A window at the back of the ministry buildings is open, just a little. The ringing telephone sits on a table next to the open window. Orlov stops, troubled by this unusual scene: there is no reason for a window to be open on such a cold day. Since this is the Ministry of either Security or Intelligence, could an open window be a security breach of some kind?
Orlov is tempted to walk away. After all, this telephone call is none of his business. On the other hand, he is an upright and patriotic citizen who would not want to see national security compromised simply because no one was available to answer a telephone call. He is on the verge of stepping toward the open window when he hears footsteps ahead. A tight group of four soldiers is marching into the alley, rifles on shoulders. He freezes for a second, leans against
the wall, and quickly lights a cigarette. By the time the soldiers reach him, Orlov is dragging on the cigarette and working hard to appear nonchalant. The soldiers are palace guardsmen, but the red insignia on their uniforms indicates they are part of the elite unit that protects the Crown Prince, the king’s ambitious older son. Orlov nods politely, but the soldiers ignore him and march on at speed.
The telephone is still ringing. Someone very much wants an answer. Orlov stubs his cigarette on the wall and approaches the open window. The telephone is loud in his right ear. Peering through the gap, he sees a small, gloomy storeroom with neatly appointed shelves full of stationery.
Finally, he can stand it no longer. He reaches through the window, picks up the receiver, and pulls it on its long and winding cable out through the window to his ear.
“Hello?” says Orlov, looking up and down the alley to check he
is still alone.
“Thank God. Where have you been?” says an agitated voice, distant and crackly. Orlov is unsure what to say. The voice continues. “Kosek. Right now.”
“I’m sorry?” says Orlov.
“Kosek. Agent Kosek.”
Orlov peers into the storeroom again. “There’s no one here,” he says.
“Well, fetch him then. And hurry, for God’s sake. It’s important.”
Orlov is sorely tempted to end the call and walk away, but the voice is so angry that he dare not.
“One minute,” he says, and lays the receiver on the table. He opens the window wider and, with some considerable effort, pulls himself headfirst into the storeroom, where he tumbles onto the floor. Picking himself up, he slaps the dust from his overcoat, opens the storeroom door, and peers along the hallway; all is dark and quiet.
With some trepidation, Orlov returns to the telephone. “Hello?” he says.
“No, sorry. I’ll have to take a message.”
The caller is still agitated. “Well, focus on what I’m about to say. It’s life and death.”
Orlov’s hands are shaking. “Hold on,” he says, “I’ll fetch some paper.”
Before he can put the receiver down, the caller explodes with anger. “Are you a simpleton? Do not write this down. Remember it.”
“Yes, sir. Sorry,” says Orlov. “I’ll remember it.”
“Are you ready?”
“Here it is. We could not—repeat not—install it in room six. Don’t ask why, it’s a long story.”
The man is about to continue, but Orlov interrupts him. “Should I include that in the message: ‘it’s a long story’?”
“Mother of God,” shouts the man. “Why do they always give me the village idiot? No. Forget that part. I’ll start again.”
“Ready,” says Orlov.
This time the man speaks slower and more deliberately, as if to a child. “We could not—repeat not—install it in room six. You need to get room seven. It’s hidden above the wardrobe. Push the lever up, not down. Repeat that back to me.”
Orlov is now shaking all over, and he grimaces as he forces himself to focus. He repeats the message slowly but correctly.
“Whatever else you do, get that message to Kosek, in person. No one else. Lives depend on it. Understood?”
“Understood,” says Orlov, and the line goes dead.
Excerpt from Citizen Orlov by Jonathan Payne. Copyright 2023 by Jonathan Payne. Reproduced with permission from CamCat Books. All rights reserved.
Jonathan Payne is a British-American writer based outside Washington, D.C. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Novel Writing from Middlesex University, London. His short fiction has been featured at the North London Story Festival and in magazines including Turnpike, Twist in Time and Fiction Kitchen Berlin. Before moving to the United States, he worked for the British government on matters of national security. When not writing or reading, he can be found in the boxing gym.
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