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FIVE QUESTIONS ... with Jonathan Payne

Updated: Oct 7, 2023

Welcome to FIVE QUESTIONS. In this feature on my blog, you'll learn about new and exciting books from the author's themselves. You'll hear about the book, their characters, the inspiration behind the book, and other insider details. All through five simple questions.

Today, we are hearing from Jonathan Payne about his new novel CITIZEN ORLOV, available starting today.

What is your new book about?

CITIZEN ORLOV is set in an unnamed European country at the end of the Great War. It follows the travails of an unassuming fishmonger who answers a phone call meant for a secret agent and finds that he's been hired by the ministry of security. Or has he? There are plots and counterplots regarding the protection of the monarch, and Orlov understands none of it. He's a straightforward, honest character who tries to do the right thing but, in doing so, finds himself on trial for murder.

What makes your protagonist unique?

Orlov is a non-spy protagonist in a spy novel. More than that, he has no idea what's going on. So, the fun for the reader (I hope) is following Orlov as he tries to work out what's going on and why. As the story develops, Orlov is forced to learn some rudimentary espionage skills just in order to survive. So, this is in some ways the opposite of a traditional spy thriller that follows a very capable spy like James Bond, Richard Hannay or George Smiley.

Of all the characters in your book, which one do you relate to the most, and why?

That's an easy one. There are some other significant characters, including a government agent named Zelle and a political activist named Vanev, but unquestionably Orlov is my guy. And I hope readers will feel the same about him. He's a down-to-earth, everyman sort of character who can't follow the various machiavellian schemes swirling around him. In a way, the character is an exaggerated version of how I feel trying to make sense of a world that's sometimes nonsensical.

What was the inspiration behind the book?

The immediate inspiration was a dream in which I was back in my government days and sent on assignment to a dangerous location where someone was trying to kill me. That dream relates to my final job for the British government, when I spent a year in Afghanistan. But the setting of the novel is inspired more by a trip I took from Austria, through Slovakia and the Czech Republic to Poland. That trip informs a lot of the sights, sounds and smells of the novel.

What do you hope the reader takes away from your book?

The first thing is that I hope readers have a lot of fun. It's ridiculous and absurd and it's meant to be enjoyed. I'll let readers decide for themselves if it has anything deeper to say. For me, there is something there about sticking to your values in the middle of a world that often seems not to have any. Orlov knows who he is and what he believes in. He might not be the sharpest guy in the world, but he has a moral compass that sustains him even in the middle of chaos and danger.


You can purchase CITIZEN ORLOV at the following retailers.


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