Monique Dubois a.k.a. Vera Duval

Monique Dubois, who is known to her colleagues in MI5 in London as Vera Duval, is one of the two central characters in 'The Eye of Horus' and its predecessors, 'Hide and Seek', 'The Stockholm Run', 'Bloody Orkney', 'The Danger of Life' and 'Eyes Turned Skywards'. The other is Group Captain Robert 'Bob' Sutherland.

Monique’s story, which she told to Bob while the two were locked up together in the cellar of a Caithness hunting lodge in 'Eyes Turned Skywards' is a remarkable one. She was born in 1912 in Barnaul in Siberia. She never knew her parents, and was adopted by a couple who became her Danish father and her Polish/Ukrainian mother. After the Russian revolution in 1918 the family took their then 5-year-old daughter Vera to Denmark, where they bought a farm. After they moved to Paris in 1924 Vera attended ballet school. She was touring Europe with a ballet company by the time she was 16 and performing as a cabaret dancer in Paris when she was 17.

In 1930, aged 18, she met and married an exiled White Russian count, who turned out to be a drug dealer who was spying on the communists. She acquired a cocaine habit as a result and left him after a year, continuing her career as a dancer in Paris. In 1932 she was recruited by the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, to keep an eye on both the White Russians and the communists. Then, in 1936, she was (with MI6 approval) recruited into the Abwehr, the German intelligence service, by one of its senior officers, Hans Friedrich von Wedel. She subsequently married him, after her first husband had been shot as a spy in Russia. In 1938 Vera travelled with von Wedel to London to cultivate German sympathisers: while all along reporting back to MI6.

Von Wedel was killed in a car crash in 1940; and Vera was trained by the Germans in Norway to infiltrate Britain as part of the preparations for their planned invasion. On 29 September 1940, after the invasion of Britain had already been shelved, she was landed by seaplane with two other agents in the Moray Firth off Port Gordon, where they subsequently came ashore. All three were quickly arrested. Her two companions were later executed as spies, while Vera transferred from MI6 to MI5.

It was while working for MI5 that she first met Bob Sutherland, the year before their encounter in 'Eyes Turned Skywards'. Their paths crossed again in 'The Danger of Life' while she was running an MI5 operation in Glasgow that was in danger of going badly wrong. At the start of 'Bloody Orkney', Monique took up a secondment from MI5 to Military Intelligence 11 in Edinburgh, working alongside Bob. They became engaged in 'The Stockholm Run'; were planning their wedding in 'Hide and Seek'; and were married just before the start of 'The Eye of Horus'.

This is all pretty far-fetched stuff, isn’t it? No author in his or her right mind would invent a character like Monique Dubois or Vera Duval and expect their readers to accept her as credible? Fortunately, I didn’t have to invent her. Vera Duval is a fictional alias for a real woman. The real Vera Eriksen, or Vera Schalburg, or take your pick from any number of other aliases, had a story that was even more complex and even darker than the one I've given to Monique Dubois/Vera Duval. The real Vera Eriksen disappeared during the war after the two spies she landed with at Port Gordon were tried and executed. It is quite possible she took on a new identity.

I knew when I stumbled over Vera Eriksen's story while researching 'Eyes Turned Skywards' that I had to build her, as Monique Dubois/Vera Duval, into the novel as a central character. She has continued to play a pivotal role in my novels about her and Bob. I like to think she's paid me back with interest for drawing her into my books, as in my view the success of all of them depends critically on her involvement.

I've been asked who I'd like to play Monique Dubois in a film adaptation of any of my World War Two thrillers. To my mind, Emilia Clarke would be just right.