Five on Friday with Philip Gwynne Jones @PGJonesVenice

Today I’m delighted to feature author Philip Gwynne Jones. He is the author of the Nathan Sutherland series of thrillers, set in Venice. The first, The Venetian Game, was a Waterstones Thriller of the Month and reached number 2 in the Times paperback fiction charts. The Angels of Venice, the sixth in the series, was published in July 2022. Further titles are scheduled for 2023 and 2024.

Philip Gwynne Jones first came to Italy in 1994 when he spent some time working for the European Space Agency in Frascati, a job that proved to be less exciting than he had imagined.

He spent twenty years in the IT industry before realising he was congenitally unsuited to it, and now works as a writer, teacher and translator. He lives in Venice with his wife Caroline and a modestly friendly cat called Mimi.

He enjoys cooking, old horror films and listens to far too much Italian progressive rock. He can occasionally be seen and heard singing bass with the Cantori Veneziani.

Over to Philip:

Which five pieces of music/songs would you include in the soundtrack to your life and why?

Bauhaus, “She’s in Parties”. It’s 1983, it’s the night before my History O-level exam, and somehow I’ve managed to persuade my parents to let me go and see Bauhaus at the Swansea Top Rank. Everyone else looks like Dave Vanian or Siouxsie Sioux. I look like what I am – a sixteen year old schoolboy who, somehow, has managed to blag his way in. It’s an experience simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying and I think it costs me an ‘A’ in History. It was worth it, though!

(I was tempted to go for the better-known Bela Lugosi’s Dead, but the video to She’s in Parties – at a time when I was really getting into noir, horror and Expressionist cinema – made a huge impression on me.)


Hawkwind, “Seven by Seven”. Take cover, everyone, Jonesy’s going to bang on about Hawkwind again! This is the B-side of Silver Machine, and I think I might prefer it to the version on the mighty Space Ritual album. This, to me, is the soundtrack to my early twenties, drinking beer and playing pool with my mates in the Tenby House pub, and putting Seven by Seven on the jukebox. Then one day we arrived to find the vinyl jukebox had been replaced with a horrible CD one, and there was no more Hawkwind. It felt like the end of an era and, in a way, it kind of was.


Wagner, “Liebestod” from “Tristan und Isolde”. We’re in the early 90s now, and I’m working in Gelsenkirchen, an industrial town in north-west Germany. I’m on my own, living out of a hotel and, to be honest, I’m kind of lonely. Weekends are mainly spent travelling to other cities in the region, and pub crawling. And then I discover I can go to the opera in Essen and get change out of 20 marks. I give it a go, and my first one is Tristan und Isolde. And if you can do Tristan as your first live opera, then you’re hooked. This was lifechanging for me.


The Mutton Birds, “Come Around”. A wonderful New Zealand band that deserved to be huge but never quite made it. I remember walking through Edinburgh the day after I met Caroline. I remember the clothes I was wearing. I remember the weather. And I remember Come Around going round and round in my head. We used to sing along to it if we were a bit drunk. Perhaps it’s time we did so again.


Goblin, theme from “Profondo Rosso”. A happy little side-effect of living in Italy has been developing an interest (Caroline might say an obsession) with Italian horror and giallo cinema, and Italian Progressive Rock. This is the perfect marriage of the two, Goblin’s none-more-cool soundtrack to Dario Argento’s Profondo Rosso, perhaps the greatest giallo ever made. I listen to a lot of soundtracks whilst writing, and this is one of the best!


What five things (apart from family and friends) would you find it hard to live without.

Coffee

Red wine

Music

Film

Something to write with

Give five pieces of advice to your younger self?

Your life will work itself out. It really will. It’ll take a bit of time, that’s all. So, don’t worry about it.

You are not going bald. You will still have a full head of hair in your 50s. But that hairstyle is regrettable.

That girl in drama class who you’ve been agonisingly in love with for about a year? It’s possible she actually quite likes you. So, when she gives you a kiss at the Christmas disco, perhaps you could do more than just stand there rooted to the spot with fear.

Write to your sister more. Text her, email her, send postcards, whatever. Because there will come a day when you will wish you had done that.

This is the important one. You need to be at the Cloisters Bar, Edinburgh by about 10pm on July 23rd 1998. Okay? Don’t get this one wrong.

Tell us five things that most people don’t know about you

My friends and I were cautioned by border police for trying to smuggle a large pink furry hippo out of Czechoslovakia. I don’t know if they thought we’d concealed drugs in it, but it was just a present for my mate’s little sister.

I was mistaken for a priest by Ezra Pound’s daughter. It was All Soul’s Day in Venice, we were in the Protestant section on the cemetery island of San Michele, and I was wearing too many black clothes.

I once appeared on Dechrau Canu, Dechrau Canmol (kind of like the Welsh version of “Songs of Praise”), playing violin with the school orchestra. I was about ten years old and dead excited about it. The whole family sat down to watch it on Sunday night and… you could see the top of my head for about a second. It taught me that fame can be very fleeting.

I once stood on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square and read from Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time”. Sadly, I never made it as far as the madeleine.

I almost appeared on Radio 4 “Woman’s Hour” by accident. They actually meant to invite my near-namesake, the publisher Philip Gwyn Jones. I wish now that I’d tried to bluff it out…

Tell us five things you’d still like to do or achieve.

To be honest, I’ve been extraordinarily lucky in both my life and my (second) career. Anything else now would feel like a bonus. But, if I’m going to be honest :-

TV/film – not going to be modest here, I think the Nathan Sutherland series would make great Sunday night telly. We’ve had a couple of near-misses, but…one day, perhaps.

Win a CWA Dagger  – ah, let’s dream a little eh? To be honest, I’d be happy with being longlisted!

Learn Welsh – I gave this up after two years in secondary school. I regret that now. I’m having a go on Duolingo, so it’s coming back slowly.

Improve my German – I lived in Germany on and off in the 90s, but Italian has knocked most of the language out of my head. But as the Venice novels are doing pretty well over there, I’d like to be able to do events in German.

Write a novel set in Wales – at some point I’d like to demonstrate that I can do something other than Nathan Sutherland (don’t worry, I’ll never abandon him!) and, since becoming a member of the Crime Cymru collective, I’ve started to think I really should write a novel set in my home country.

Many thanks for joining me today Philip and for reminding me about Hawkwind! Silver Machine always takes me back to my early teens and a holiday I spent with a friend and her family as that record was continually played on the jukebox. Aaah awkward Christmas discos – we’ve all been there! I hope the hippo was appreciated when it made it home. I remember my sandwiches once being dismantled at customs in Tobago after they’d been carefully wrapped in foil (by the hotel’s kitchen) and clearly presented a drugs threat. Here’s hoping you get to achieve those dreams, a TV series sounds great as does that CWA dagger. I’m planning to go to Crime Cymru in Aberystwyth next year so I hope to get the chance to say hello.

Philip’s Books

(NB This post features Affiliate links from which I earn a small commission on qualifying purchases)

The Venetian Game

A game of cross and double-cross in Venice, one of the most beautiful cities on earth.

From his office on the Street of the Assassins, Nathan Sutherland enjoys a steady but unexciting life translating Italian DIY manuals. All this changes dramatically when he is offered a large sum of money to look after a small package containing an extremely valuable antique prayer book illustrated by a Venetian master. But is it a stolen masterpiece – or a brilliant fake?

Unknown to Nathan, from a vast mansion on the Grand Canal twin brothers Domenico and Arcangelo Moro, motivated by nothing more than mutual hatred, have been playing out a complex game of art theft for twenty years. And now Nathan finds himself unwittingly drawn into their deadly business . . .

Vengeance in Venice

Murder is the deadliest art . . .

An invitation to an exclusive event during the Venetian Biennale gives Honorary Consul Nathan Sutherland the perfect chance to drink prosecco in the sunshine and meet some of the greats of the art world.

And then a world-famous critic is decapitated by one of the installations in the British Pavilion. A terrible accident, it seems, until a postcard is discovered in the victim’s pocket: an image of Judith beheading Holofernes.

But this is not just a one-off. Before long, three more postcards have been sent out with deadly results. As the bodies pile up, Nathan finds himself getting closer and closer to the truth, but when he himself receives an image of Death bearing a scythe, it becomes a race against time to save his own life . . .

The Venetian Masquerade

A game of blackmail and betrayal is played among the backstreets and canals of Venice . . .

Carnevale is in full swing, the streets and waterways of Venice are crowded with masked revellers and Nathan Sutherland’s birthday is about to be ruined.

A night at the opera at La Fenice is always a memorable experience – and this time it will be so for all the wrong reasons as the curtain call is interrupted by a fatal stabbing. But why is the dead man carrying one of Nathan’s business cards in his wallet?

The mystery of the murdered stranger takes Nathan on the trail of a lost opera by Monteverdi. But what begins as a harmless treasure hunt leads to ruthless criminals asking the highest of prices for the lost score… and then a second body is found in the sanctuary of Venice’s English church.

The quest for the lost manuscript will bring Nathan back to the stage of La Fenice, where a final confrontation has deadly consequences…

Venetian Gothic

Even the most beautiful city on earth has a dark side . . .

It is November 2nd, 2017. All Souls Day. On the Day of the Dead, the citizens of Venice make their way to the cemetery island of San Michele to pay their respects to the departed. When an empty coffin is unearthed in the English section of the graveyard, a day of quiet reflection for Nathan Sutherland becomes a journey into the dark past of a noble Venetian family.

A British journalist, investigating the events of forty years previously, disappears. A young tourist – with an unhealthy interest in Venice’s abandoned islands – is found drowned in the icy lagoon.

A terrible secret is about to be brought to light, and a deadly reckoning awaits on Venice’s Isle of the Dead.

The Venetian Legacy

No happy ever after for Nathan and Federica?

Newlyweds Nathan Sutherland and Federica Ravagnan are looking forward to weeks of sunshine and relaxation on the island of Pellestrina, in a cottage belonging to Federica’s late father, Elio.

The weather is idyllic, the views across the lagoon are spectacular and the seafood is the best in Venice. But when the body of an eminent Venetian lawyer is dredged up by a fishing boat, members of the close-knit island community start to take an unhealthy interest in the two honeymooners, and whispers and rumours begin to circulate about Elio’s association with a recently-deceased gang boss.

As Federica struggles to comes to terms with her father’s troubled legacy, Nathan finds himself dragged into the search for the missing proceeds of an unsolved jewellery heist, and the unwanted centre of attention of the Mala del Brenta – the Venetian Mafia.

Clearly Pellestrina is going to be no honeymoon…

The Angels of Venice

It’s the night of 12 November 2019. The worst flooding in 50 years hits the city of Venice. 85% of La Serenissima is underwater. Gale force winds roar across the lagoon and along the narrow streets. And the body of Dr Jennifer Whiteread- a young British art historian, specialising in the depiction of angels in Venetian painting – is found floating in a flooded antique bookshop on the Street of the Assassins.


As the local police struggle to restore order to a city on its knees, Nathan Sutherland – under pressure from the British Ambassador and distraught relatives – sets out into the dark and rain-swept streets in an attempt to discover the truth behind Whiteread’s death.

The trail leads to the “Markham Foundation”, a recent and welcome addition to the list of charities working to preserve the ancient city. Charming, handsome and very, very rich, Giles Markham is a well-known and popular figure in the highest Venetian social circles, and has the ear of both the Mayor and the Patriarch.

But a man with powerful friends may also have powerful enemies. And Nathan is about to learn that, in Venice at least, angels come in many forms – merciful, fallen and vengeful…

To Venice with Love : A Midlife Adventure

Philip and Caroline Jones, a middle-aged couple living in Edinburgh, found themselves facing redundancy and an uncertain future. Until they received some advice from a complete stranger in a pub.

Their response was to sell everything in order to move to Venice, in search of a better, simpler life. They were wrong about the ‘simpler’ bit…

To Venice with Love recounts how they arrived in Venice with ten pieces of luggage, no job, no friends and no long-term place to stay. From struggling with the language to battling bureaucracy; the terror of teaching English to Italian teenagers, the company of a modestly friendly cat… and finally, from debugging financial systems on an Edinburgh industrial estate, to building an ordinary life in an extraordinary city, To Venice with Love is a love-letter to a city that changed their lives. It’s a story told through the history, music, art, architecture (and, of course, the food) of La Serenissima.


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