Jake knows what makes Australian tick and he utilizes that fully in his fiction.
Of all Jake Needham’s periphery characters, it’s Archie Ward that stands out for me the most.
Archie Ward is your iconoclastic Australian.
But don’t be fooled for one moment. As far as covers go, Archie Ward is one smooth operator, just as comfortable in the outback dunnies as he is in the humid cooker pressure world of espionage in Asia.
The wise fool, some might say. Or the freelance spy, who is selling his skills to the highest bidder.
Archie helps out Jack Shepard when he’s in a bit of a bind. The least questions Jack asks of the Australian Secret Sevice Operative, the better. It’s an unwritten law between the two.
“No fancy dinner out for me tonight; I don’t have a brass razoo.”
Well how about some intel, I can hear Jack thinking. In his working career, Jake has spent some time down under. He’s not only brilliant on the vernacular of his own people, but he does a pretty good job sending up Australians too.
Some characters stay with you longer than they should. They don’t haunt you but they leave an indelible mark that begs for a follow up as to why they are leaving such a lasting impression.
Archie Ward has cropped up a few times in the Jack Shepherd series. He’s not a main character. He’s a side player. He’s on the side, playing his part very well. You don’t get too many Australian’s appearing in Jack Needham novels but when they do, it’s best to pay attention.
‘It soon dawned on me that there were very few people who really wanted to go out and tackle the difficult work. I found there was money to be made in solving other people’s problems.’
Jack Shephard? Nope, it was Alan Bond.
Jack had no doubt that Archie really worked for ASIS, the Australia Secret Intelligence Service, ‘but following accepted etiquette in such matters, I pretended not to know. And for his part, Archie pretended not to know that I knew.’
Archie Ward, writes Needham in The Laundry Man, ‘was a redheaded, pathologically profane Aussie’ who Jack had met a few years earlier while tracking down a series of transactions for the HSBC bank in Hong Kong.
Their trip across Kong Kong on the ferry is about as espionage as it gets.
Who would have thought that this stuff goes on?
If Jake Needham is writing about it, then it must be going on.
‘I had a sudden flash of memory, a vivid image of balancing in the bow of the Star Ferry with Archie Ward as we wallowed thought the oily swells of Victoria Harbour.’
Meanwhile, Archie Ward was cautiously scanning the crowd around them, deciding on how much he was going to help Jack.
After a long discussion on what number to call Archie, Jack resigns:
‘Sometimes I thought Archie did this sort of thing for fun, and sometimes I thought he did to polish up his reputation for being a deeply irritating prick. But he also had a reputation for being uniquely well informed and incredibly well connected all over Asia, so I put up with nonsense like this. Sometimes I wondered how many people did.’
This is espionage to the bone.
One can never be too careful.
I should know, I change my number about once a month.
Here’s where Jake nails the guy:
When the Aussie accent was peeled away and the harmless prankster pose was back in storage, what you had left was a hard guy who knew his way around the back alleys of Asia. He knew where the bodies were buried, which made sense because he had buried a lot of them.
Jack can see through Archie’s facade which endears Archie to the troubleshooter lawyer.
Jack comments if Archie has been doing well.
‘Fair dinky, matey.’ Responds Archie.
Jack asks him if he’s been filling his empty hours.
‘I reckon,’ responds Archie. ‘I’ve been as busy as a cat burying shit.’
‘I believe that too many people give up too easily in life,’ once said an Australian tycoon, adding, ‘When you hit a brick wall you must work at getting over it or around it.’
And that was the impasse Jack was up against when he contacted Archie through a labyrinth of phone numbers.
In The King of Macau, Jake writes about how Jack’s second call was to a guy named Archie Ward.
‘Archie isn’t an easy guy to get in touch with.’
Though Archie isn’t a guy who answers his phone, continues Jake, ‘He may be the guy who knows everything that’s happening almost anywhere in Asia.’
This isn’t just a light go over of Australian traits, this is much more.
And without Archie Ward in Jake’s books, the world would be a bit less interesting.