Courier Duty

Courier DutyCourier duty is not really one of spy extraordinaire Carrie Ragnarok’s top ten assignments. Ferrying an object from point A to point B – that’s stressful, but not very exciting. Not even if the object in question is Shape No. 8, a hideously ugly and extremely expensive sculpture by obscure Bulgarian artist Vassily Bagdanorowsky worth 2.8 millions dollars. But an unexpected mugging can spice up even the dullest courier job…



Read an excerpt.

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More formats coming soon.

This book is also available in German.

Some background information:

  • This story is 3200 words long and was originally published in Thriller UK No. 6 under the title Shape No. 8. I changed the title for the e-book edition, because the story steadfastly refused to sell with the original title.
  • I created Carrie Ragnarok, spy extraordinaire, for an experiment with first person narration. Carrie basically tells her own story in her own voice. At the time, that was a big writing breakthrough for me.
  • Carrie initially starred in two never finished novels, Five Against the Apocalypse, in which she flies into space as part of an international team to save the world, and A Royal Wedding, in which she gets embroiled in a forced wedding and rebellion in an obscure and entirely fictional East European country. I might actually finish both some day, because they were a lot of fun. I also wrote a couple of other stories about Carrie. Shape No. 8 is the only one that was ever published.
  • A few of those other Carrie adventures are mentioned at the beginning of Courier Duty.
  • The Carrie stories are set in the very near future, which has the drawback that they tend to date very quickly. The mention of the Concorde and of a DVD art lexicon in Courier Duty are just two examples. I chose to keep them, because these references, albeit dated, are part of the world in which the story is set.
  • Talking about dated references, the “dangerous and crime-infested” New York portrayed in the story is based on a visit to New York City in the early 1990s before the great clean-up.
  • Carrie’s surname Ragnarok of course refers to the world-ending cataclysm of Norse mythology, which hardly anyone from my creative writing class got. Considering that she first appeared in an apocalyptic tale, the name is only appropriate.
  • Of all the characters I ever created, Carrie is probably the one whose voice comes most easily to me. Even though I am not a kick-ass international spy.
  • The “pop versus soda versus coke” linguistic controversy in the US makes an appearance towards the end of the story. In the original version, the mugger believes there is a “coke” in the supposed ice box, because I first learned English in Mississippi and that’s the term I grew up with. While revising the story for e-publication, I realized that the term “coke” wasn’t what a New Yorker would use and replaced it with “soda”. Carrie, alas, insists on using “coke”.
  • Courier Duty started its life as a writing exercise in my university creative writing workshop where the teacher gave us an object from his office and asked us to write about it. I ended up with a badly deformed piece of pottery, which eventually became Shape No. 8.
  • When I read out that early draft of what was to become Courier Duty in the university creative writing workshop, a fellow student compared the voice to Nick Hornby. That same student later went on to become an editor at a German publisher owned by one of the so-called “Big Six” publishing company. So I can confidently say that Courier Duty has been compared to Nick Hornby by a Big Six editor.
  • Bulgarian artist Vassily Bagdanorowsky never existed. Neither did his art movement Minimalist Brutalist Barbarianism. It does sound legit, though.
  • The description of his work with its “simplicity of form and sparse use of colour” was taken almost verbatim from the speech of an art professor (about a completely different piece of art) I filmed during my brief career as a documentary filmmaker. I must have listened to that bloody speech about a dozen times while editing the film, hence the words burned themselves into my memory.
  • The explanation for dynamic forward-tilting 1950s water pitcher was found in Fifties Homestyle: Popular Ornament of the USA by Mark Burns and Louis DiBonis.
  • I changed the title and cover, when the original edition of Courier Duty, then still called Shape No. 8, steadfastly refused to sell. The current cover image is a shot of an old briefcase belonging to my Dad with a pair of handcuffs. The handcuffs are genuine police handcuffs, by the way.
  • The original cover from the edition that steadfastly refused to sell can be found here. The cover image shows a vase belonging to my parents and dating from the late 1970s, turned into a piece of abstract art by the magic of Photoshop. My parents were very surprised by my sudden interest in an ugly old vase.