Sunday 28 May 2017

Character Spotlight on James Ballantyne by Paul Purnell - Blog Tour

The Foreign and Colonial Office known as the FCO is the pillar of British Government Diplomacy. It aims to keep a high standard among its members. It recruits from the best at universities. James Ballantyne could never be in that group.

After High School, he turned his back on academic life. His family background was unremarkable. His parents lived comfortably in Cheshire not far from Manchester and he enjoyed most outdoor sport including shooting and riding. When the time came to think of a job, only one life appealed to him; to be a soldier.

Unable to pass the Sandhurst Academy examination, he chose to apply for a short term commission (for three years) and made his way through the short course to become a second lieutenant. He had found his calling; he passed high in the commission Examinations and joined an infantry regiment. He was nineteen years of age.

Within a year, he found himself in Afghanistan based in Helmand Province. That Province was the sector of Afghanistan allocated to the British Army. In brief, the Army was over stretched and he became involved in several fire fights against larger groups of Muhjaddin. His skill in these situations was noted and he came through that tour of duty with high marks in his Personal Report.
Boosted by this, when the regiment came back to the U.K, he applied for a transfer to the Marines. Months passed before the transfer was approved. In the meantime he enjoyed the social life of a young unattached officer in a popular regiment stationed near London. Invitations to parties and other social events came easily to hand and he was in demand. For months he grew accustomed to the life and enjoyed it. There were several girls who reckoned they had lassooed him. He knew he was not cut out for their world of social triviality and the idea horrified him. He never gave the idea of a serious relationship much thought but enjoyed what came along. When the transfer came through he ran like a greyhound.

Life in the Marines is hard and he confronted the rigour of training with fierce concentration. During the Iraq war, his unit remained on standby for months until finally deployed to Basra. After the official withdrawl of British troops, his patrol stayed on for observation duties. 
That was how he became involved in the incident leading to his court-martial. After an ambush by insurgents, his patrol took prisoners for interrogation. Two of the four prisoners were shot. His account at court-martial was they tried to escape by seizing the weapons of the men guarding them and were shot escaping.

The court-martial dismissed the charge of manslaughter but brought in a verdict of insubordination arising from his disobedience of orders not to pursue combatants. No penalty was imposed but it had to be recorded on his Personal File. Effectively, this meant the end of his military career.

For a year he travelled in Asia, improving his Russian and Farsi which he picked up in Afghanistan. He had no clear plan of what to do. A chance meeting with an old army friend introduced him to a FCO official, Sir Edmund Cravendale. It was a crucial meeting, since Cravendale needed personnel to carry out 'unofficial' tasks for the Foreign Office. That is, tasks which would not be directly linked to the British Foreign Service. Unofficial enquiries confirmed Ballantyne's combat record and Cravendale urged him to apply for FCO employment. He was rejected officially but Cravendale overruled the decision and took a chance, sending him to Kazakhstan on a simple exercise of treaty preparation. It was intended as a test. Events turned out unexpectedly.

James Ballantyne travels to Kazakhstan on a minor diplomatic assignment. A simple task, but he falls for the glamorous aide Ocksana Petrova, sent to guide him through the process. Fate leads him to the rescue of a US special agent who is the target of assassination by the Kazak authorities.
What should Ballantyne do? Should he be led by duty or compassion?

Events force his hand and he recruits smugglers to get the agent away from Kazakhstan. The escape route is dangerous and it becomes clear they are being monitored every inch of the way. Is his new love, Ocksana, behind the surveillance? Or has his own team been infiltrated?
Getting out of Kazakhstan alive will draw upon all of James’s military skills, and a lot of luck. With ambush and deception along the way, will he make it to the border and safety? How can he protect his lover? This journey through a wild country stretches every nerve.

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About Paul Purnell

Based in London, Paul Purnell has worked for over forty-years as a Criminal Law barrister. After serving five years stationed in Germany with the British Army, Purnell began his career as a trial lawyer prosecuting and defending in serious criminal cases across the country. Later he was appointed Queen’s Counsel, a role which has seen him engaged in court cases both across the country and to far flung destinations including the Cayman Islands and Kazakhstan. His extensive experience and understanding of the criminal world has provided the inspiration for his short stories and his latest Jack Ballantyne series. When not writing, or in court, he enjoys racing around the country on his motorbike and spending time with his three children and grandchildren.

Previous titles include a series of well-received short stories; The Hireling (2015), Scaramouche (2015) and The Storm (2016).

If you liked this taste of The Kazak Contract, then follow along with the rest of the blog tour. 

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