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Ostara Publishing

07 Jan 2010
Books: Time is an Ambush

Francis Clifford Biographical Details

 FRANCIS CLIFFORD was the pen-name of Arthur Leonard Bell Thompson who, as a young Captain in the Burma Rifles found himself in command  of a battalion of ‘Karens’ (native troops from the Karenni Hills)  in the rearguard of the British army retreat in the face of the Japanese invasion in March/April 1942. His unit’s defence and demolition of bridges and roads were commended as a “magnificent delaying action (which) saved the Chinese and British armies in Burma from encirclement.”

Thompson then lead his 60 or so surviving soldiers, with little ammunition, food or supplies, on an heroic 109-day march through over 900 miles of jungle and mountains to reach the safety of Allied lines. Thompson lost almost four stones in weight on the march and a year after reaching India, still weak and ill from his ordeal, was invalided back to England. There, in 1944, whilst serving in SOE (Special Operations Executive) he wrote an account of his escape from Burma with his beloved Karen troops, but the manuscript, entitled Desperate Journey, only came to light three years after his death and was eventually published in 1979.

From the late 1950s until his death in 1975, Francis Clifford wrote 18 novels and became one of the most respected of British thriller writers, widely admired for his grasp of character, carefully building sympathy for his beleaguered heroes. A contemporary of his wrote: “His novels are remarkable for their high level of tension, produced by a combination of people with whom one deeply sympathizes and situations carefully calculated to put them under most strain. To this he added a remarkable ability to conjure up scenes that an unknown reader will see and remember.”

Often referred to as “a crime writer’s crime writer” he was notably modest about his writing, once saying that his only secret was: “I use a very large rubber and a very small pencil.”

During his writing life, his work received consistent praise from the critics:

-        A writer who can tell a fast, exciting story and yet tell it with style, intelligence and purpose. (Sunday Express).

-        Clifford writes from a deep understanding of violence born of his own experiences but also – and this is his main strength – from compassion and a sensitivity to despair. (Times Literary Supplement)

-        He stands head and shoulders above most would-be serious thriller writers. (Sunday Telegraph)

-        Francis Clifford is almost unique in combining a deeply felt philosophical truth with the excitement of the thriller. (Guardian)

-        An exceptional writer, a thinking man’s Ian Fleming who manages to combine the pace and tautness essential to the thriller with many of the insights and subtleties considered the prerogative of supposedly more serious authors. (Daily Telegraph)

-        Not since Graham Greene was creating his adventures has there been a writer with such haunting quality, the sweet sound of sad beauty which Clifford engenders...All of Clifford belongs on the connoisseur’s bookshelf; he is unparalleled in hovering suspense and distinguished style. (New York Gerald Tribune)


Among the best known of Clifford’s books were Act of Mercy (1959), All Men Are Lonely Now (1967) and The Grosvenor Square Goodbye (1974). The film rights to his 1966 spy thriller The Naked Runner were bought personally by Frank Sinatra, who starred in the film version, directed by Sidney J. Furie.

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